We love nature, of course, but we never cease to be wary of it, to seek to tame it and sometimes to destroy it to the point of compromising our shared future.
The first conflict between humanity and nature began when one of our ancestors broke the tree branches to hunt down an animal.
About 10,000 years ago, when humankind became peasants, they began to select and park animals and plants and give birth to new species often unable to survive in the wild.
Then, our ancestors transform the forests into permanent fields or rice fields. They also founded towns to house an ever-growing population and dig the earth, searching for precious minerals.
Nature, in turn, has avenged its destruction in the form of famine, landslides, flooding, wiping away half the human population.
Each of us knows nature is essential, and in the war between humans and nature, though nature hast to suffer, nature will always win.
Still, humanity has not learned from the lessons taught by nature and gave to the most devastating events in human history.
This article has listed the top 10 conflicts between Humanity and Nature that resulted in the worst devastation ever recorded.
Table of Contents
- 1. Black Fog, 536 A.D.
- 2. San Calixto Hurricane, 1780
- 3. Ecocide in Vietnam, between 1961 to 1971
- 4. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, 1989
- 5. Operation Desert Storm, 1991
- 6. EL Nino and East Africa Droughts, 2019
- 7. Australia Fire, 2019 and 2020
- 8. South Asia Floods, 2019, 2020, 2021
- 9. Sixth Mass Extinction, Ongoing
- 10. Rising Sea Level, the current crisis
1. Black Fog, 536 A.D.
A group of scientists identified the worst year in human history – 536 AD when fog descended on Europe, which plunged it into darkness for 18 months. This phenomenon was observed in the Middle East, as well as in parts of Asia.
Researcher Michael McCormick of Harvard University calls the year 536 AD the starting of one of the worst periods in human history.
In 536, a mysterious fog covered a significant part of the planet. Twilight continued for 18 months in Asia and Europe, even during the day.
In summer, the temperature dropped to 1.5-2.5 degrees, due to which the crop failure hit, in particular, Ireland.
A similar phenomenon was observed in China, where snow fell in the summer – 80% of the population died from hunger in the northern part of the country.
The hungry years continued in the future – the decade from 536 to 546 is considered the coldest in 2300 years.
Finally, the bubonic plague, which began in 541, killed a significant part of the surviving but weakened by hunger, inhabitants of Europe and the Middle East.
Completing the picture of disasters is the fact that during these years, the Byzantine Empire was actively fighting in Italy, destroying many large cities.
To find the source of the fog that covered Europe, scientists took samples of snow from mountain glaciers in the Swiss Alps, which is a kind of “chronicler” and stores information about volcanic eruptions, sandstorms, or active mining by humans.
All changes in the atmosphere’s chemical composition are reflected in the layers of snow.
Specialists at the University of Maine in the United States examined the obtained snow samples, “cut out” areas dated in the spring of 536, and found microscopic volcanic glass particles in them.
It turned out that these particles correspond to volcanic rocks from Iceland, where, as scientists established, a powerful volcanic eruption occurred in 536.
As a result, a cloud of ash enveloped the northern hemisphere. In 540 and 547, several more eruptions followed, which, coupled with an epidemic, plunged Europe into a state of prolonged decline, which lasted until 640.
2. San Calixto Hurricane, 1780
The Great Hurricane of 1780, or San Calixto, is a tropical cyclone of enormous power that raged in the fall of 1780 near the Caribbean archipelago.
It became the deadliest hurricane ever known. According to the documents of that time, more than 20 thousand dead are known.
And since in the eighteenth century the statistics were very relative, compared to today, we can safely argue that the number of victims was much greater.
The great hurricane hit the islands of the Caribbean, from Newfoundland to Barbados, passed Haiti, and destroyed up to 95% of all buildings.
The hurricane was accompanied by strong waves at sea, sinking many ships both in port bays and at some distance from the coast.
Part of the French and British fleets, which took part in the US Civil War, went underwater. About a hundred ships ran aground in the water area.
3. Ecocide in Vietnam, between 1961 to 1971
The U.S. Army conducted the war from 1961 to 1971. South Vietnam is the only place on the planet where an attempt was made to deliberately destroy natural tropical ecosystems and agricultural land.
The term is called ecocide, which means the deliberate action of one state to destroy the environment of another state.
American biologist Arthur Galston introduced the term. In the 1950s, Galston was part of a group of scientists developing Agent Orange, a synthetic blend that causes cancer and genetic mutations.
Agent Orange was sprayed by the U.S. Armed Forces in South Vietnam. The name “Orange” comes from the orange color of the barrels used to transport this chemical.
The chemical contained dioxin, a harmful drug classified as highly hazardous persistent organic pollutants, as they are highly resistant to photolytic, chemical, and biological degradation.
This drug caused artificial leaf fall in the jungle, depriving the Vietnamese guerrillas of their natural and central refuge.
As a result of the use of the Orange Agent defoliant, flora and fauna of the soils of many regions of South Vietnam have undergone significant changes.
The war turned most rainforests into savannas; many coastal mangroves have been destroyed and will take hundreds of years to recover spontaneously; lost fertility on large tracts of arable land.
4. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, 1989
Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in 1989 off the coast of Alaska. 40.9 million liters of oil spilled into the sea, and about two thousand kilometers of the coastline were polluted.
Thousands of animals died soon after the accident: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 12 river beavers, 300 seals, 247 bald eagles, and 22 killer whales, and killed billions of salmon and herring eggs. The spill itself killed about 40% of the 6,500 sea otters that lived there.
Decreases in the population of various species of ocean animals were noted, and a delay in the growth of the pink salmon population.
In subsequent years, there was a high mortality rate among sea otters and ducks as they consumed food from contaminated soil.
Scientists tested the otters for multiple gene expressions that would indicate continued exposure to the oil.
Sea otters taken and tested in 2008 still exhibited elevated signs of these genetic expressions, but animals caught just four years after did not.
This accident was considered the most destructive that occurred at sea until 2010.
5. Operation Desert Storm, 1991
It is a military conflict that took place in Kuwait and the surrounding Gulf territories in early 1991.
Retreating from Kuwait, the Iraqi invaders detonated more than 500 oil wells with explosives. A significant part of them flared up and burned for six months, poisoning a large area with harmful gases and soot.
Oil gushed out from boreholes that did not ignite, forming large lakes and flowing into the Persian Gulf. The blown-up terminals and tankers also poured a large amount of oil here.
As a result, close to 1,554 km of the sea surface, 450 km of the coastline, where most birds, sea turtles, dugongs, and other animals died, were covered with oil.
Fire torches burned 7.3 million liters of oil daily, equal to the volume of oil imported by the United States daily.
Clouds of soot from the fires rose to a height of up to 3 km and were carried by winds far beyond Kuwait’s borders – black rains fell in Saudi Arabia and Iran, black snow – in Kashmir (2,000 km from Kuwait).
Air polluted with oil soot harmed human health since soot contained many carcinogens.
The following was the notable contribution of the gases that cause the greenhouse effect: the emanated was equivalent to 60% of the dioxide emitted by the electricity companies in the United States, at that time the world’s leading polluter, and 2% of all the carbon dioxide released across the planet over a year.
6. EL Nino and East Africa Droughts, 2019
An unprecedented drought hits Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Parts of Uganda and Djibouti are also affected.
At least 12 million people are now at risk of famine, including nearly 3.7 million in Somalia.
East Africa is suffering its worst drought period in 60 years, the impact of which continues to intensify.
The worst drought period in more than half a century is a consequence of climate change and the weather phenomenon El Nino.
Almost all countries along the East African coast are affected by the drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon. But Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya are particularly hard hit.
According to United Nations’ information, more than 40 percent of the Somali population is already dependent on dietary supplements.
In addition, over 360,000 children are malnourished, and around 70,000 are in mortal danger.
In Kenya, the drought-hit is roughly half of the country hard. 70 percent of the water sources have dried up in northern Kenya.
El Nino is having a severe impact in Ethiopia. According to U.N. figures, 10 million Ethiopians were already dependent on food donations last year.
Additional refugees from neighboring Somalia are now a further burden for Ethiopia. The drought is spreading further.
In Tanzania further south, where 70 percent of the people live from agriculture, the ordinarily green Burundi and parts of Mozambique are also struggling with dried-out fields, missing harvests, and dying herds of cattle.
Climatic variations, speculation, and the production of agrofuels are, among other things, pointed out to the volatility of food prices.
Another impact of the drought is the mortality of livestock. In some regions, 60% to 90% of the cattle died.
The situation worsens in the lack of adequate donations, funds, and political initiatives.
7. Australia Fire, 2019 and 2020
The moving and viral images of firefighters and anonymous citizens rescuing injured koalas in their attempt to escape the flames brought us closer to the apocalypse that Australia suffered from the last months of 2019 to the first of 2020.
The country was enveloped by a thick layer of polluting smoke until the torrential rains that announced the arrival of the austral summer did not begin to assist in the arduous tasks of extinguishing those forest fires.
Thirty-four people lost their lives in the fires and 417 indirectly due to smoke inhalation. About 18,000 Australians had to move. The fire destroyed 5,900 buildings, of which more than 2,800 were houses.
The smoke from the Australian fires triggered an additional 400 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, accounting for more than a third of Australia’s annual CO2 emissions.
1.5 billion animals died in the fires, 49 threatened species had their habitat affected in at least 80% of their area, and about 113 species required urgent aid intervention after the fires.
Forty-seven threatened plant species (out of 272 listed in the affected areas) lost 80% or more of their habitat due to the flames.
There is concern that tropical forests on the Australian east coast are not regenerating naturally and are being replaced by dry eucalyptus forests.
Experts agree that persistent high temperatures and prolonged drought conditions were the keys that opened the door to wildfire activity on an unprecedented scale.
According to data recorded since 1880, the last forty years have been the warmest in Australia.
Since, in 1960, the country broke its temperature record by 50.7 oC, the heat has not given up until it reached the six warmest years, from 2013 to 2019.
These environmental conditions contributed to the spread of the fires, which dragged unbreathable air behind them.
In some areas, pollution levels exceeded twenty times those considered safe by the government.
8. South Asia Floods, 2019, 2020, 2021
The Red Crescent Societies and International Federation of Red Cross report that flood victims in South Asia have risen to 9.6 million.
India, Bangladesh, and Nepal were most affected by the disaster. More than 600 people have already died in floods.
Floods have affected a third of Bangladesh. 2.8 million people were affected, among them, cutting off about a million from the world.
In India, the disaster affected 6.8 million people. Millions of people in Nepal became refugees during the flood.
Monsoon rains claim hundreds of lives in the region almost every year, but such events are becoming more common. Only recently, India and Bangladesh were hit by a sea storm of record magnitude.
Many factors influence the formation of heavy rains and storms, but climate plays an increasingly important role.
With each decade, more precipitation will fall during the rainy seasons and less during the dry seasons.
Bangladesh and India are more likely to suffer from the effects of climate change than other countries in the world.
9. Sixth Mass Extinction, Ongoing
The new study authors are convinced of this, the results of which were published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.
In the course of the study, a team of 17 leading ecologists and climatologists of the world corrected forecasts of an impending anthropogenic disaster, having studied about 150 works of the world’s leading universities on environmental change.
It turned out that the conditions of the surrounding world have become much more dangerous than previously thought.
In particular, scientists expect that about 20% of all existing species will be threatened by extinction over the next several decades.
According to their calculations, about two species of mammals disappeared every hundred years for every 10 thousand species of animals that lived at that time. In the 20th century, this figure increased 114 times.
In other words, the number of species that have ceased to exist during this time usually disappears in 10 thousand years, and not in one century.
The extinction rate of animals in the past two centuries, as scientists note, is rapidly approaching the rate at which representatives of flora and fauna disappeared 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and pterosaurs disappeared.
As the reasons for this situation, the authors cite soil degradation due to the continued growth of the human population, an increase in the production of synthetic compounds, and hazardous disposable plastics, which aggravate the growing toxicity of the earth.
Although the planet has already entered the era of the sixth mass extinction, which was provoked by humanity, people continue to engage in the sale of wild animals, the exploitation of toxic elements, and other actions that negatively affect the environment.
10. Rising Sea Level, the current crisis
It has long been known that a consequence of global warming is a rise in sea levels. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2019 wrote in its special report on the oceans and the cryosphere (the ice masses) that the global mean sea level had risen by 16 centimeters from 1902 to 2015.
In addition, the authors of the report found that sea-level rise has accelerated in recent decades. From 2006 to 2015, the sea level rose by an average of 3.6 millimeters per year. This annual rate is 2.5 times as large as those from 1901 to 1990.
Are these few millimeters’ rises in sea level negligible? Perhaps not. Some regions are at or even below sea level (such as parts of the Netherlands or many atolls).
In addition, the higher sea level ensures that storm surges are even more devastating than they already are. They are more common and stronger in many regions.
The rising sea level threatens coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests or marshlands. These particular areas are often home to animal and plant species that are precisely adapted to the prevailing conditions.
To a certain extent, such ecosystems can grow further inland to compensate for this. Here, however, human activities often block the way.
According to the IPCC, around 50 percent of coastal wetlands have disappeared over the past 100 years. It is mainly due to humans’ land use and rising sea levels.
Such coastal ecosystems not only store CO2 and are havens of biodiversity, but they also protect the coast from erosion. The rising sea level reduces this protection due to the more frequent and stronger storm surges.
If the salty seawater floods larger land due to the higher sea level, it can also salinize the groundwater on site. It endangers the drinking water supply and local agriculture.
Sea level rise will continue to accelerate in the course of the 21st century. Many places expect extreme floods annually around 2050 or at the latest towards the end of the century. It otherwise only occurred about once a century.
The situation will be particularly problematic in the tropics, as tropical cyclones will also increase.
The first islands may become uninhabitable in this century.
In the worst case, the atmosphere and oceans will warm up so much that Greenland and Antarctica will become utterly ice-free in the next millennia.
The conflicts between humanity and nature listed above have been arranged chronologically to indicate that the conflict between nature and humanity had begun from the early period of human civilization.
It has been ongoing since then, and it is continuing. War and conflict never bring one-sided results. There is no winner; both the participants always lose.
The war between humanity and nature is also demonstrating the same consequence. There is no winner; the sufferers are humans and nature.
We need to learn to live by nature co-habit alongside to preserve the planet for the future generation.