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Published May 3, 2014

4 Global Catastrophes That Aren’t Actually Catastrophic

Turn on the news anywhere and you’ll see the word “catastrophe” thrown around a lot. It’s true that news organizations benefit from being all scary and threatening, because scary and threatening makes people actually want to sit and watch two people in suits fumble their small talk for a half an hour.

But hey, there has to be a nugget of truth to those sensationalist stories with global ramifications, right? Well, I’m here to paraphrase Frued so you don’t have to. Sometimes a nugget is just a nugget.

 

1) Genetically Modified “Frankenfood” Is Poisoning Americans

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are the latest in a long line of things the average person is told to fear by folks who like to tell people to be afraid of something. Proponents of the emerging technology rationally explain that altering the genetic code of food crops has lots of beneficial uses, including increases in yield, decreases in vulnerabilities to diseases, and expanded amounts of nutrients per bushel. Opponents rally against the practice by claiming that messing with genetics might give everyone a catastrophic supervirus that finally kick-starts the Zombie Apocalypse.

Messing with genetics is concerning, until you read the actual evidence. For those non-clickers out there, that’s one of many published papers that reinforces the general consensus of the scientific community, that GMOs are no more dangerous than everything else we eat on a daily basis. It seems that scientists aren’t shuffling genes like a deck of cards, and actually do know what they’re doing.

RELATED: Food Science: Why We Shouldn’t Fear Lab Burgers and GMO’s.

Feeling frightened by complex science is normal. However, some really extreme folks are getting so scared that they’re disregarding every advance in food science in the last ten thousand years and are going Paleo. The Paleo diet significantly reduces sugar and salt, but also eliminates essential grains and dairy products in the name of eating like Homo Habilis. Paleo Dieters are actually doing more damage to themselves than they would if they had just read more than a couple headlines.

 

2) We Are Killing All The Trees And Becoming A Barren Wasteland

According to the EPA, 27% of all municipal waste in America is paper waste. Rainforests are under constant threat from loggers looking to profit, eliminating the homes of rare wildlife. Something must be done, or we’ll lose those rainforest critters forever! The solution seems simple. Reduce the amount of trees killed by recycling the paper we already have in circulation. Recycle, reduce, reuse, baby! Go go Captain Planet!

Hold on. It’s important not to misrepresent the facts here. While it is true that more and more patches of rainforest are being cut down, and the lumber is indeed being sold to make copies of Twilight and bathroom tissue, that sweet paper mill money is not the main reason for the clear-cuts. That would be a need for farmland. The money the logging companies make is secondary compared to the amount of food local communities need to not starve to death. The more people there are, the more cleared land is needed.

In America, 26 million acres of forestland is set aside for Tree Farms.
In America, 26 million acres of forestland is set aside for Tree Farms.

In America, 26 million acres of forestland is set aside for Tree Farms. They’ve been around for over 70 years, and are used for paper production the same way apple orchards are used for apple production. They’re planted, harvested, and re-planted, year after year. If we need more paper, they plant more trees. This feels counter-intuitive because all of our lives we’ve been told that we shouldn’t use paper bags to save the trees, but that makes as much sense as trying to save lettuce by not ordering a salad. It turns out we recycle to reduce landfill space, not to save trees.

 

3) World War III Is Totally Right Around The Corner

War is one of those never-ending aspects of life on this planet. Human beings are just built to pick fights with one another and then glorify the results. It seems like just as one war ends, two more begin. The U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan after long, unpopular tours of violence and destruction just in time to see Russia’s trigger finger get itchy over Crimea. It wasn’t long ago that world wars claimed millions of lives, and guns, grenades, and bombs just make killing that much easier. We are a bloodthirsty species.

Actually, the level of violence and number of fatalities per year are at the lowest levels they’re ever been, and that number is still declining. The wars we see today are historically comparable to small skirmishes, and are ended quickly compared to wars of the past. It may not seem like things are getting better it when it’s reported that, sadly, 3,427 coalition forces lost their lives in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, but compare that to the Battle of Gettysburg, which claimed the lives of around 4700 people, on one side, in just three days.

We feel like tragedy happens more often than it does because we’re able to see it more, not because it happens more.

 

4) Nuclear Power Increases Guarantee A Radioactive Dystopia

Three-mile island. Chernobyl. Fukushima. These are the three worst nuclear disasters in the short history of nuclear anything. Nuclear power carries a heavy cost along with its power generation: the possibility that a meltdown will poison everything around it with deadly radiation. The word “nuclear” is practically synonymous with “catastrophe waiting to happen.” The U.S. has long had an uneasy relationship with nuclear power plants, and some communities are actively working on adopting alternative energy sources specifically to shut down the existing nuclear facilities for good.

RELATED: Nuclear Bomb Mishap: The Day North Carolina Was Almost Destroyed.

People can’t be blamed for not wanting a meltdown in their backyard, but let’s look at the numbers. Across the globe, there are 439 nuclear power plants in operation, providing 5.9% of the world’s energy supply. To date, there have been at least 33 reported incidents since 1957. The majority of incidents since Chernobyl’s meltdown in 1986 haven’t been much more dangerous than “control rod malfunction” and “overexposure of a worker at a power reactor that exceeds annual limit.” The most dangerous incident was Fukushima’s partial meltdown, and in less than three years of decontamination efforts, citizens are returning to their homes in the hot zone. The most evident threat in Fukushima is an increased risk for cancer for those closest to the plant, and there have been zero reported fatalies.

The majority of incidents since Chernobyl’s meltdown in 1986 haven’t been much more dangerous than “control rod malfunction” and “overexposure of a worker at a power reactor that exceeds annual limit.”
The majority of incidents since Chernobyl’s meltdown in 1986 haven’t been much more dangerous than “control rod malfunction” and “overexposure of a worker at a power reactor that exceeds annual limit.”

That bears repeating: the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl only spread enough radiation give some residents the same cancer risk as a casual smoker, and that only happened because it took a 7.1 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami to crack open the reactor like an egg. Compare that to literally every other power source, and nuclear’s safety record is downright amazing. So perhaps it’s time to admit that nuclear power deserves a second chance.

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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