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You: Worse for Animals Than Chernobyl

[ 100 ] January 23, 2013 |

Where is this amazing photo of a wolf near a wetland taken? Chernobyl. As has been noted before, the most militarized parts of the earth (the DMZ for instance) and the most contaminated parts of the earth are the best places on the planet for wildlife to survive. Why? Because the sheer existence of humans is a disaster for 95% of the species on the planet. Worse than land mines, worse than nuclear meltdown.


Comments (100)

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  1. Charles says:

    Are you sure that’s not some kind of radiation-spawned werewolf?

    • NBarnes says:

      If it were, that would simply support the post’s thesis. Fiction to the contrary not withstanding, werewolves are delicate creatures who need remote wildernesses to survive. They simply cannot abide urban areas. Not even if there are sexually repressed but secretly insatiable human women who like guys with body hair there.

  2. Cody says:

    Wait till the full moon when it turns into a vodka guzzling Russian.

    WereRussians are terrifying.

  3. Halloween Jack says:

    Well, there goes countless post-apocalyptic sci-fi stories where we battle the giant sentient cockroaches for what’s left of the Crapsack World.

  4. TT says:

    Because the sheer existence of humans is a disaster for 95% of the species on the planet.

    Then what’s the solution? The shit’s pretty much out the donkey in terms of our existence and all.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      There is no solution.

      Not having children helps a little.

      • calling all toasters says:

        Repealing all gun laws?
        *ducks, tucks, and rolls away*

      • Tehanu says:

        Having fewer children, sure, good idea. Not having children would mean that humans alone among species would be prevented from reproducing because … why? Because we’re so inherently horrible and should feel guilty about our very existence? Eric, I usually like your stuff but I can’t let a crack like this pass.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      That’s not quite fair. There are possible policy solutions that would create large policed zones where it would be very difficult for humans to go into. Essentially, you create the DMZ. Or at least Rocky Flats. That is a legitimate solution.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Basically, you create Designated Wilderness Zones through out the world and prevent any human entrance. It would work but I doubt you can get a lot of people to agree to it.

      • mpowell says:

        What is the problem with the national park system? Yeah, the existing ones get kind of crowded, but if they were much larger and more numerous, I don’t think this would be an issue. Is the presence of humans really the problem as opposed to their cars, guns, houses and related stuff?

        • One of the Blue says:

          In Canada they actually do keep people out of all but the fringes of a lot of their national parks. I wonder if anyone here has any sense of how that works for wildlife conservation.

          • Aaron says:

            The Canadian model, as I understand it, is to put their parks in more remote places and have younger, more formidable mountain ranges. We should try that. ;-)

            Many years ago I did a hike in Jasper that required you to sign in and out at a ranger station (because otherwise, if you don’t come out, nobody knows to look for you), and hiked through a region virtually devoid of people. It’s not so much that you can’t get into areas like that, it’s that not many people want to do so – and even fewer, when they’re going to be backpacking for several days.

            I’m also reminded of visiting national parks in Chile – wonderful, accessible areas that, were they in the U.S., would be completely overrun. I was told that Chile’s largest national park gets about the same number of visitors per year that Yellowstone gets in a day.

        • TRV says:

          I think much of the problem with humans is their infrastructure requirements. Seems like it is the roads, fences, pipelines etc that disrupt many migratory species.

          • rm says:

            Yes, parks are islands, but that’s not enough for a lot of species.

            Also, climate zones shifting is screwing up a lot of habitats.

            I am just waiting for the Vulcans to arrive and explain to us how to run our planet rationally. Unfortunately, we have to have a global war and invent warp drive before they will show up.

      • Ken says:

        I shall add it to my “To Do” list for when I become world dictator. I warn you, it’s not going to displace my #1 priority, mandating that all house numbers be lighted at night.

    • Morbo says:

      Clearly the only answer is clone Genghis Khan.

    • Njorl says:

      The solution? Learn to like humans!

  5. Marek says:

    What part of “dominion over” do you not understand?

  6. Andrew says:

    So what? That is a serious question. I certainly agree that good stewardship of the Earth is in our long-term best interest as a species, but that’s not what you’re saying, is it?

  7. CaptBackslap says:

    Are we watching a supervillain origin story unfold here?

    Because that would be awesome.

  8. Urban Garlic says:

    I’d be curious about disease rates, particularly cancers, and causes of death for Chernobyl versus, say, Yellowstone. I have a vague recollection of having read that, for Chernobyl in particular, it’s a lot farther from a healthy ecosystem than it looks, the animals all have lots of tumors, and low life expectancy compared to other wild populations.

    DMZs are probably a different story, of course, they might actually be healthy ecosystems.

    It’s striking that, by approximately the same reasoning, we can conclude that the best environment for humans is densely populated urban slums.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      As the article linked states, the reality is that most of the animals are at the very least showing few overt signs of mutation. It’s not great obviously. But their population numbers are thriving.

      Also, the comparison to urban slums doesn’t work. Sure, it’d be better for wolves if they could survive in areas that aren’t contaminated with massive amounts of radiation. But they can’t because humans kill them all. If we were saying that humans could only live in dense urban slums because the world’s dominant species, let’s say cats, would murder us with cuteness masking a deeply murderous and evil streak every time we left the inner city, then sure.

    • Jeremy says:

      Yeah, the animals in STALKER were pretty freaky.

  9. rea says:

    the sheer existence of humans is a disaster for 95% of the species on the planet.

    It’s a bit more complicated than that. In the US, for example, we’ve screwed up the environment by eliminating a lot of predators, which means that we end up up to our asses in deer.

    My own densely populated suburban neighborhood has rabbits, groundhogs, racoons, skunks, moles (who look like something out of the Cthulhu mythos), and the occasional deer or wild turkey, as well as squirrels and chipmunks–suburban backyards can be nice habitats for some species.

    This is not to say that we’re creating a healthy ecosystem. But, there are plenty of species who coexist just fine with humans.

  10. Cody says:

    If you really believe pollution isn’t a problem, you should go live atop a coal plant smokestack for a couple weeks breathing in the fumes.

    Or drink water directly downstream from illegal waste dumping.

  11. simple mind says:

    You are so right, Eric. The Discovery Channel has a series called “Yukon Men” about a handful of families on Canada’s Yukon River. I had no idea that the SOBs build gigantic contraptions to pull salmon out of the river during the run. The scale of the takings is appalling. And that’s just a handful of humans. And these human predators lament the declining catch.

    We need a Parliament of Wildlife with human advocates to give these creatures a chance.

  12. calling all toasters says:

    So you’re saying if I nuke a town 50 miles away (and downwind) my raccoons will go away? Hmmmm.

    • Ken says:

      You might end up with a higher density of racoons in the long run, since the nuked zone would have a higher population that could spread out. Or maybe not. Stats on wolf presence just outside the Chernobyl zone would be a useful data point.

  13. Not “existence,” “presence.”

    People living ten miles away in a compact community isn’t the problem.

  14. Tosh says:

    Wowser! There was a show on PBS a while back documenting the return of wildlife to the Chernobyl wasteland. It wasn’t just wolves either, beavers are restoring the marshes for fish, waterfowl and moose.
    The abandoned buildings in the area have become wild animal shelters.

    It was called Radioactive Wolves.

  15. Latecomer says:

    Fascinating. So could dirty bombs be used to create instant nature preserves?

  16. shah8 says:

    Forgive me for being a little pissy, but Club of Rome sentiments are neither liberal nor progressive. More than that, practical and real world implications are genocidal, given the history of that sentiment. Lastly, human impacts are not solely related to human populations. Much of this is about dysfunctional social and economic effects that could and did occur with widescale negative impact when there were fewer humans.

    Increasing human welfare and spending the profits of such on environment issues are the far better way to go. Well off people have fewer and happier kids. Well off people burn natual gas for central heating, rather than cut every little bush on some hillside down for their inefficient stoves. Well off people don’t let their lands be dumping grounds for whatever exportlandia corporation or mafia that happens to be by. Well off people with don’t let polluting mines with little profits (gold in Greece or Rare Earth Metals in China) continue to run on their fractions of a penny profits.

    Club of Rome folks are just not separable from the Peterson Institue deficit scolds.

    Also, Chernobyl is an astoundingly unhealthy place to live for anything. That plants grow, and critters run around, does not change the fact that there are few choices for them to live anywhere else. We don’t idolize itinerants that squat in a Superfund site, now do we?

    • The Dark Avenger says:

      “Natural selection–because it’s natural”:

      NYT Green Blog

      Initial surveys that Dr. Mousseau’s team conducted in Chernobyl indicate that numbers of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians follow similar patterns in relation to contamination. Clean areas of the exclusion zone may attract more animals, he said, but their populations remain quite low in highly contaminated sections.

      “Over all, it’s a myth to suggest that animal abundances are higher in the Chernobyl exclusion zones,” he said, referring to the assertion that Chernobyl’s radioactive exclusion zone is in effect one big wildlife reserve. “There’s evidence that some species perhaps evolved better genetic repair mechanism in the face of mutagens in the environment, but clearly others have not.”

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Yet as astoundingly unhealthy the place is to live, it’s still better for a lot of species than having humans around.

      All I’m doing here is pointing out the reality of the situation. Like it or not, 95% of the species on this planet are likely to be extinct in the next 2 centuries. 99% of those are because of humans.

      • Eric Holder says:

        Like it or not, 95% of the species on this planet are likely to be extinct in the next 2 centuries.

        Most species on the planet are insects, and most of those will do fine.

      • shah8 says:


        The premise behind your post was that a person was worse for some as yet unidentified animal/animal population than a place where a massive industrial accident occurred.

        Forget the nonsensicalness of this premise. Think about the sheer nihilist passivity behind the sentiment. There isn’t really a thought about coexistence, or maintenance, or anything but that “one way we’ll be gone, and beetles will skitter about the remains of our once enormous power”. You know what? Percy Bysshe Shelley did a better job.

        Read this (inevitably again), and tell me you’re not bested.


        I met a traveller from an antique land
        Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
        Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
        Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
        And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
        Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
        Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
        The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
        And on the pedestal these words appear:
        “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
        Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
        Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
        Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
        The lone and level sands stretch far away.[1]

        • Erik Loomis says:

          “The premise behind your post was that a person was worse for some as yet unidentified animal/animal population than a place where a massive industrial accident occurred.”

          Compare wildlife populations in the Chernobyl area to the rest of the Ukraine.

          Compare wildlife populations in the DMZ to the rest of the Korean Peninsula.

          Compare Mexican spotted owl populations at Los Alamos National Laboratory to the rest of the Southwest.

          I could go on and on.

          You might hate what I say about this.

          But find me the evidence suggesting I’m wrong.

          • shah8 says:

            I don’t hate what you say about it. I’m not actually emotionally invested in what you say about it. Like I’ve said before, what you’ve said is nonsensical if anyone cares to think about it.

            Not least because it takes a human to stop humans from going and exploiting some place. Unless there are no humans, by which then, there is no more reason to be any more invested in that future than Ozymandias himself was in some far future himself, whatever his vainglory might suggest.

            Besides, people have been here for roughly 65 thousand years or so. They’ve been here altering the environment on a wide scale for 10 thousand years. Places like Greece or the Eastern Mediterranean reflect that exhaustion. As tool using, land altering creatures, humans have always been about shaping their environment. That pretty much means that the only question is about how we shape the environment. Not even how many people. A few tens of thousands of people wiped out North American and Australian megafauna. Not too many more helped create the Sahara and other deserts by overgrazing. Colonial enterprises that feature a consistent presence of a few hundred men denuded large islands, and trapped many lucrative animals to extinction, even those one thought utterly inexhaustible, like carrier pigeons. Numbers of humans have nothing to do with nothing, unless it’s zero, and that means nothing.

            It’s how we live that matters. And as destruction is inevitable, so is creation, one way or another.

        • shah8 says:

          Ah, and one more thing:

          Most of these extinctions are happening because of knockon effects of whatever people are doing somewhere else, not because people are at that location. Think the Great Coral Reefs, or the reefs of the Carribean. Oceanic acidification and heating. Think imported disease like Dutch Elm Disease or pestilential nonnative plants and animals, say cats on certain South Seas islands.

          So it’s incredibly stupid to think of Chernobyl, or the Korean DMZ, not as any old haven from the rough and tumble of the human world, but as human created second, third, and worst best resort for desperate habitation. Would a wolf rather live in Montana than Chernobyl? Sure! Well, why can’t wolves live in Montana? Because ranchers believe it’s their god-given right to wipe out any wolves out of pure spite. You alter human laws and activies, not necessarily human presence, tho’ that usually part of it, too.

          This is a self-loathing, self-pitying distraction from doing what needs doing, if only for our own welfare let alone all the other species.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Of course those spaces are human-created. In 2013, all spaces on the planet are human-created on some level. But the point is that there are not any actual humans (or very very few) in those places. If you can’t see what that tells you, I don’t know what to say.

            • shah8 says:

              I think I wish to reflect that “I don’t know what to say.”

              I just don’t think you can hold up Chernobyl. Or the DMZ. They are among the *most* human created places, and neither places are truly friendly to the needs of non-humans, beyond the immediate impact of human development. Neither place escapes the impact of human presence.

              The Yanomami tribe, among the other Amazonian tribes, live okay there, but the chief danger to the Amazon comes from ranchers, miners, and global warming in the form of long term drought. Generally, it’s the drought that’s really killing.

              You have to think straight about this sort of thing, not be all romantically depressed and shit.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                I’m not holding up those places as some kind of great thing. I’m noting that the most horrible human-created polluted landscapes allow far greater biodiversity than where humans live in any meaningful numbers.

                And I’m not “romantically depressed.” I simply think that human beings are the most destructive species in the history of the planet, something that humans themselves are loathe to admit despite the overwhelming evidence.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Funny how making a fairly straightforward observation gets one labeled as self-loathing innit?

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Like my technology posts, I’m noticing that people get really sensitive about subjects that (I hope) get them to question fundamental ideas of progress.

                  Of course, I may be tooting my own horn too much on that. But it kind of seems that way to me.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Definitely worth the effort IMO.

                • shah8 says:

                  Granted, I live in a place where I can easily access alot of biodiversity, and up a few hours to the areas near Chattanooga, I can easily match anything what Chernobyl could offer, and probably the DMZ as well. I also understand what threatens this diversity, and I can easily think of ways to help preserve it through human processes.

                  So I can’t help but think that this is pretentious, entitled, whining.

                  Kudzu don’t care. Termites don’t care. Neither do catfish or crownrot fungus. The Universe don’t give a shit, Erik. That leaves us murdering, rapacious, humans as the only candidates for kindness, generosity, and wisdom (and the power to wield them). I can’t stop your from your misanthropy. You’re entitled to it. I’m entitled to it, too. Don’t mean we have to agree on *why*, in particular.

                • Leeds man says:

                  When a fairly mild, and pretty obvious, observation brings accusations of pretentiousness, entitlement, whining, self-loathing and misanthropy, it’s a solid indication that a sensitive nerve has been tweaked. A+ on the anthropocentrism too!

                • shah8 says:

                  Leeds man, you have contributed not one whit to this discussion, and as anyone can see, you value it like a Republican–it’s about who is pissed off for you, isn’t it?

                • Theobald Smith says:

                  Eric, why do you hate the Enlightenment?

                  This is actually a serious question.

                  I think that the idea of progress–that your children can and should have a better life than you do–is one of the greatest intellectual achievements in human history. It overthrew absolutist monarchy, it gave us all of the greatest improvements in human welfare, and not least, it gave us the ideas of democracy and equality before the law.

                  Why do you attack the intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment?

                • Leeds man says:

                  shah8, Erik writes something that is short, simple and fucking obvious. What’s to discuss? You’ve certainly contributed a lot of wordage which amounts to “I don’t like to hear what you’re saying”. Is there something controversial about this graph?

  17. Tasty Pie says:

    No one’s remarked on how Kinkade-esque that picture is. I want to know if it comes framed and matted, suitable for hanging.

  18. Barry Freed says:

    The title of this post makes it clear that Loomis will not rest until he sees all of our heads on sticks.

    • Gorillas can be trained and then they can do Erik’s last.

      Other thing: there are still people foraging there. They’re in and out quick but do things like pick nice yummy blueberries. I found food in Ukraine pretty tasty, but that could have been the gamma radiation.

  19. Pseudonym says:

    Why is biodiversity a moral good?

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