The neighborhood I live in is beautiful…rolling hills, lots of trees, and several small rivers running through it that lead (eventually) to the Chattahoochee River, one of the largest in Georgia. One of the reasons we chose this neighborhood was because of this natural setting. Luckily, our home sits on a huge hill because a couple years ago, those tiny little tributaries flooded in a storm that brought so much rain that I started looking for an ark! People who were not even living in a known flood zone lost their entire house, (up to the roof line in some towns) to the flood waters. Mother Nature is a powerful force and when she is angry, there is no stopping her!
Floodgates and levees are often built to protect low lying areas from flooding in the case of extreme rainfall and runoff. This allows people to build homes in areas that would otherwise not be build-able. The most obvious and well know levee system is probably New Orleans…unfortunately it wasn’t quite strong enough to hold up to Katrina’s wrath.
This past May, the people living in the delta of the Mississippi River had to deal with the worst flooding in recorded history. Thousands of home were ordered evacuated, people died, and floodgates were opened to help save threatened neighborhoods from the deluge. The flood waters headed downstream is a huge rush, and ended up in the Gulf of Mexico. Homes were saved, the waters receded, and eventually everything went back to normal.
It is just in the last few weeks that an unanticipated consequence has been discovered…Apparently all that fresh water rushing into the Gulf has effected the water’s salinity (how salty the water is) and as a result, oysters are dieing off in record numbers. Oysters (unlike shrimp and other types of sea critters) are not mobile…they are stuck living wherever they happen to be so they can’t just up and move to saltier waters. The oyster harvest may be cancelled altogether to give the population a chance to bounce back. The fishermen on the Gulf that rely on that money for their financial survival are not sure how they are going to pay their bills.
Ecological Engineering gained popularity in the 60’s. Basically, it is the act of trying to fit human populations where nature really didn’t intend them to be but without too much damage to the environment. People really seem to want to live in places like mountainous cliffs, beautiful beaches, and the edges of rivers. Unfortunately, this often results in mud slides, flooding and major erosion issues when humans start building without thought to how their actions will effect the ecosystem.
Think About This: According to the United Nations, the world population is growing by nearly 74 million people per year. They predict that the world population will reach 9.0 billion around 2050. We have to put those people somewhere, right? Those people need houses to live in, roads to drive on, and food to eat. And each one of those humans uses the earth’s resources for their continued survival.
What we have to stop and think about is how our actions, as humans, effect our environment as a whole. I bet no one thought that opening the levees to save the Mississippi delta would put oyster fishermen out of business 6 months later. (and I am not saying the oysters are more important than the Mississippi people….just that our action of opening the levees had uninteded consequences!)
Or that building a beautiful neighborhood on the slopes of the mountains in California results in excess erosion, causing a major landslide.
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Or that DDT would have such far reaching effects on both humans and wildlife.
As humans, we have the intelligence and physical ability to engineer our environment to our exact specifications. We can build hills where valleys once stood and control the path a river takes as it heads to the sea. We can introduce a new species where it has never lived before or genetically alter a new food so that it contains a vaccine for Polio.
The real question is: Should we?
If you need something else to think about this Thursday, check out Confessions of an Overworked mom and see how she is paying it forward!
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.