Tag Archives: environment

Pictures not words

The Aral Sea, before and after:

The cause? River in-flow to the inland sea diverted by the Soviets for irrigation.


The US Dust Bowl

The cause? Drought + inappropriate farming practices. Ploughing destroyed the prairie grasses needed to hold the top soil down. One Black Blizzard [pictured above], blew all the way east and covered the Statue of Liberty.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

One of five areas in the Earth’s oceans where plastic rubbish collects due to the action of ocean currents.

The cause? Our rubbish, flowing into rivers and from there into the ocean. Our fishing nets, lost or dumped overboard.


Radiation causes mutation in plants, animals and humans. Wild animals around Chernobyl are still radioactive because they eat radioactive plants.

The cause? Our nuclear power plant[s]. Other notable nuclear accidents include Three Mile Island [US] and Fukushima [Japan].

France – The Red Zone

The Red Zone is a no-go zone that was created by ordnance and chemicals left behind by 2 world wars.

The cause? A war that happened more than 100 years ago.


Maralinga in South Australia

A few words for this one:

‘The plutonium contamination at Maralinga was caused by these minor trials, two of which involved burning plutonium and detonating fissile material using conventional high explosives.

As a result just over 22 kilograms of plutonium-239 was dispersed around the site.

Plutonium-239 has a radioactive half-life of more than 24,000 years. This dangerous carcinogen is hazardous to humans if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through breaks in the skin.’

Two clean-ups were necessary.

‘Between 1996 and 2000, all but around 120 square kilometres of around 3200 square kilometres of Maralinga country had been cleaned to a standard considered safe for unrestricted access.’

‘In the worst-contaminated areas, 350,000 cubic metres of soil and debris were removed from an area of more than 2 square kilometres, and buried in trenches. Eleven debris pits were also treated with in-situ vitrification*. Most of the site (approximately 3,200 square kilometres) is now safe for unrestricted access and approximately 120 square kilometres is considered safe for access but not permanent occupancy.’

*In-situ vitrification is a process that melts things, including soil, into something similar to glass. Apparently it’s good for radioactive waste.

The cause? British testing of atomic weapons on Australian soil.


These are not the only examples of man-made damage, but they are the ones that resonate with me. I’m sure people can think of, or find, many other examples.

We may not have been capable of changing the planet 300 years ago, but we are now. In fact, if you include nuclear weapons, we have the capacity to destroy all life on the planet, many times over.


p.s.¬†And as a small aside to Aussies only – let’s not forget the Cane Toad, the foxes, the rabbits, goats, pigs, horses, waterbuffalo and camels.














Autism – nature PLUS nurture?

‘A new study is offering a clue into the origins of the disorder by finding a single dysfunctional protein may be responsible for coordinating expression in all the genes that result in autism susceptibility.’

I took that quote from an article on autism research published by New Atlas. I strongly recommend reading the entire article but the gist is that:

  1. Researchers have found hundreds of genes implicated in the Autism Disorder spectrum, not just one ‘master’ gene.
  2. These genes are like switches that can be turned on or off.
  3. While these genes are ‘off’, the person may have a tendency towards autism, but they will not be autistic – i.e. there will be no symptoms of autism.
  4. There is a protein called CPEB4 which ‘…is vital in embryonic development, assisting with neuroplasticity and helping regulate the expression of certain genes during fetal brain development.’ In other words, this is a good protein.
  5. In mouse models, not enough of this protein leads to brain structures and behaviours that are characteristic of autism. In other words, the lack of this protein causes those autism-related genes to be switched on and the result is Autism-like behaviour.

Now, mouse models are just an approximation of the human condition, but they do lend support to the idea that autism is not just a genetic condition/disorder. Instead, it may well be a case of environment acting on an underlying pre-disposition. And if that is the case, then maybe one day we’ll be able to keep those Autism related genes switched off.

Have a great weekend,



Dune is 50!

Dune cover 1975Happy Birthday Arrakis! And apologies for the huge picture. It’s a photo of the front cover of my copy of Dune, and I wanted you to see the loving wear and tear on this precious, 1975 version.

I first read Dune in 1971 or ’72, when I borrowed it from a university friend, but as you can see, I have re-read it many times since. Not only is story just as compelling as it was all those years ago, it also brings to light something new with each re-reading. I guess it’s time to re-read Dune again because I was not consciously aware of its environmental credentials. Oh I knew and loved the whole desert environment and the small scale terraforming the inhabitants were attempting, but it was not until I read this commemorative article in Flavourwire this morning that I realised Dune’s connection to Silent Spring:


I highly recommend reading the article as it points out some rather interesting facts, facts I have never known, such as:

  • Fact 1, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962.
  • Fact 2, Silent Spring was instrumental in the banning of DDT, but it did not touch the awareness of the masses in the way that Dune did.

Published just three years after Silent Spring in 1965, Dune has been re-printed many times. It has also spawned more than one movie version, all of which have kept the level of public awareness ticking along for 50 years. In fact, I personally know of one, highly popular group on Goodreads that is dedicated to discussions about Dune.

Nevertheless, I believe Dune’s greatest contribution to environmental awareness has come about indirectly, via the novels and movies that owe some part of their creation to the concepts popularized by Frank Herbert’s master work.

Novels have power. Great novels change the world. I wish Frank Herbert were still around to see the fruits of his labours. Or maybe not. I fear he might be disappointed.



Allergic to Life trailer

I’ve been a fan of Kathryn Treat’s book ‘Allergic to my Life’ since it first came out – I literally could not put it down. And now I’ve been touched all over again by the trailer for the book. Filled with lovely family photos, the trailer is like a snapshot of Kathryn’s life, before and now.

If you like the trailer please vote for it, and Kathryn’s blog, right here.



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