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Sometimes I get asked, "Why don't you have kids?  How come you don't want to have kids?"  It's a very simple answer, really.  I don't want to be responsible for bringing someone into what is sure to be a profoundly shitty world in the future.  And, lets say I have a kid when I'm 40 in 2010.  My son has a kid when he is 40 in 2050.  This is what my grandchild will have to look forward to -

Drought threatening the lives of millions will spread across half the land surface of the Earth in the coming century because of global warming, according to new predictions from Britain's leading climate scientists.

"This is genuinely terrifying," said Andrew Pendleton of Christian Aid. "It is a death sentence for many millions of people. It will mean migration off the land at levels we have not seen before, and at levels poor countries cannot cope with."

This scenario has already played out in an advanced economy -

Aralsk Harbor, Kazakhstan

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Pretty grim.  However, it is pure luck that I sit here in lush, water sated Northern Virginia.  We could just as easily be someplace like the mass of humanity in Africa, where drought is commonplace.  But I don't think world desertification will play out like in Africa, which is still relatively undeveloped and, for lack of a better word, "primitive", where economies still depend on peasant farming and herding.  There is one place on Earth that has already desertified in a relatively industrialized society.  I think it will play out more like this -

This is the Aral Sea

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Myinak, an Uzbek town, has become a symbol of the Aral Sea's tragedy. 30 years ago Myinak was a prosperous port-town. Local people were proud with wonderful beaches and plenty of fish in the Sea. Today Myinak is located more than 100 km far from the Aral Sea. And perhaps the old harbor of Myinak (nowadays called "the graveyard of ships") makes the grimmest impressions on visitors: rusty ships are standing in the sand with the flocks of goats roaming among them.

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The Aral Sea - a fishery that employed 60,000 people in the 1960s and was a major supplier of fish to the Soviet Union now supplies no fish and employs none because the last indigenous fish died out in the 1980s. An island that was a major testing ground in the Soviet Union's biological weapons program for decades is now a part of the mainland -

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A once productive agricultural region, turned into a cotton monoculture in the 1950s, is now turning into a alkaline salt desert.  The environmental conditions are horrific - One report estimates that life span in the "disaster zone" is almost 10 years less than in surrounding areas.  The former port town of Nukus, Uzbekistan, now experiences 10 dust and sand storms a year due to the changing climate brought about by the retreat of the sea.  One source reportsthat "The water level has dropped by 16 metres and the volume is reduced by 75 percent, a loss equivalent to the water in both Lakes Erie and Huron. The ecological effect has been disastrous and the economic, social and medical problems for people in the region catastrophic. All 20 known fish species in the Aral Sea are now extinct, unable to survive the toxic, salty sludge."

     How did it come to this?  The disaster was entirely predicted from the beginning and man-made.  Just like man-made climate change.

     In the 1950s, the Soviet goverment decided that the region should become a cotton monoculture region to rival Egypt and the American South.  But cotton is a thirsty crop and Uzbekistan is a desert.  So what was the solution?  Divert the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers to provide water for acotton monoculture.  Not only did the river diversions send water into fields when it should have been going into the Aral, it also irrigated one of the biggest financial swindles in history, one that probably accelerated the fall of the Soviet Union.  Pretty ironic that a massive financial swindle occured at the height of the Brezhnev era, huh?

If we are to speak about cotton and irrigation in the former Soviet Union, we must not forget Sharaf Rashidov, the late First Secretary of the Uzbekistan Communist Party Central Committee. He held the position from 1959 until his death in 1983... the republic's statistics before 1984 were a fiction. The investigations revealed that between 1978 and 1983 alone 4.5 million tons of raw cotton were produced on paper only. This cost the state 4 billion rubles (US$6.7 billion) in total, half of which went into the pockets of the leaders.  One day in 1983, First Deputy Prime Minister Aliyev, who was the chairman of the Azerbaijan KGB, from Moscow, visited Rashidov in Tashkent to pass on Andropov's tacit message. The next day, Rashidov suddenly died. Then, the Uzbek affair took a new turn, as the investigations spread through the whole country. Usmankhodzhayev, Rashidov's successor, vowed at the funeral that Uzbekistan would keep Rashidov's pledge to produce 6 million metric tons of raw cotton. He was able to do this by ordering the chairman of Uzbekistan's Council of Ministers to pad the figures by another 240,000 tons. All told, nearly 1 million tons of non-existent cotton were "produced" that year. When the cotton swindle in Uzbekistan was exposed, 18,000 people were expelled from the Party, and 330 people from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor's Office, along with 600 leaders of the government and the Party, were prosecuted. However, the social structure did not change...No one was ever charged with a crime...

So the waters of two rivers were diverted to irrigate non-existant cotton.  The sea began to retreat.  Today, one can walk 30 miles across a salt desert from what used to be a harbor in Aralsk before you reach the water.  Winds blow 75 million tons of dust a year into the air, settling on an area once known as the Aral Sea, now known as Aral Kum. Image Hosted by 

One artist continues on -

''We cannot save the Aral and soon you will be able to see it only in pictures,'' claims Uzbek painter Rafael Matevosyan, whose work has portrayed Central Asia's shrinking and dying Aral Sea for more than 40 years.

''As the sea dries, it is leaving behind a new desert that produces dust, sand and salt storms,'' the painter said in an interview, explaining why he has followed the fate of the Aral Sea. ''The land around the Aral is covered with salt and toxic chemicals, which are blown into the atmosphere and spread to the surrounding area.''

''The people living there are suffering from a lack of fresh water and, as a result, they are suffering from diseases,'' he adds.

The population around the Aral shows high rates of cancer and lung diseases, as well as other diseases.


What are the health effects?  

T he process of degradation in the Aral region caused progressive crises in the social and economic spheres. The primary victims of the crises were the most vulnerable layers of population, namely children, women, ill-paid inhabitants of cities and rural areas. The region has the highest child mortality rate in the former USSR (75 children per 1000 newly born), high level of maternity death: about 120 women per 10,000 births. Diseases such as TB, infections and parasites, typhus, hepatite, paratyphoid always accompany poverty.

The disease rate has a tendency to increase. In the epicentre of ecological disaster, anemia, disfunction of thyroid the gland, kidney and liver diseases are wide spread. Blood, oncological diseases, asthma and heart diseases are progressing. Medical research proves that the incidence and growth of these diseases are directly dependent on ecological disaster.

Not only are the old, usual diseases, thought to have been banished with the advent of modern medicine returning, but there is another, more sinister disease source - Vozrozhdenie Island.  This CNN article is just the tip of the iceberg -

In the 1960s, Vozrozhdeniye was merely a tiny island in the vast Aral Sea.

Today, with the sea reduced to half its former size, and a much larger Vozrozhdeniye closing in on the shore, some U.S. researchers believe the island is a toxic time bomb set to infect central Asia with some of the deadliest germs on Earth.

The article is a little outdated because the island is already part of the mainland -
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Aral Sea 1964 - The Bio Warfare center is "safely" in the middle of the sea.

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Aral Sea in 1987 - As the last fish is dying.

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The Aral Sea on September 1 - That spit of land bifucating the sea is where the facility was.

Vozrozhdenie Island is a very interesting place and worth a whole diary on it's own.  The Soviet Union did experiments on the weaponization of anthrax, tulerimia and other diseases.  Puddles of tulerimia littered the island.  Monkeys were chained in cages as MiGs dropped bombs filled with weaponized anthrax in tests on the effectiveness of delivery methods.  More may be found in Ken Alibek's book, "Biohazard" director of the lab before he defected to the United States.  

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Desertification is much more than that.  In the years leading up to 2100, one can extrapolate from what happened in the Aral basin to a world wide scale.  Rivers diverted in vain attempts to irrigate crops, worsening the situation in the long run.  Alkaline deserts formed as croplands are abandoned when they lose productivity.  Ports 20 miles from the water, rusting hulks standing as testimony to Man's folly.  The destruction of entire freshwater fisheries.  World wide dust storms kicking up clouds of salt and pesticides.  Diseases we thought went the way of the Model-T, resurgent.  Corruption on a scale that makes Enron look like a dime store robbery as elites struggle to steal what they can in a vain attempt to make their kin more comfortable.  By then, will anyone give a shit about Mark Foley?

Crossposted at ...if you can keep it

Originally posted to calipygian on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:03 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wow! Powerful! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WI Deadhead, calipygian, Mary Mike

    Thank you for writing this.  I didn't know this story at all.

    "The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government." --Thomas Jefferson 1809.

    by Buffy Orpington on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:03:24 PM PDT

  •  thanks bud (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    calipygian, bluewolverine

    and recommended...the Aral Sea (late) breaks my cold hard heart.

    also related, this is the general area where the USSR tested all its nukes.

    and terrifying, yet again we're fucked.

    things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

    by terrypinder on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:08:57 PM PDT

  •  Very sobering diary. Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Then we need more babies, not fewer, (4+ / 0-)

    we're going to need all the help we can get, from people raised to give a shit, so we can put this planet on a more positive course.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

    by ohwilleke on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:12:06 PM PDT

    •  Well, no (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WI Deadhead, bluewolverine, jimraff

      Overpopulation is the root cause of all the world's problems, and the world is desperately overpopulated now.

      •  The world is not overpopulated. (0+ / 0-)

        People are ill matched to resources, yes.  But, it can support the 6 billion people alive now, and the 10 billion people it is anticipated to have at its peak if population trends continue.

        The world is certainly capable of making enough food for 10 billion people -- much of the world's population now relies on extremely inefficient subsistance farming with hand tools.  Also, there is vast room for better use of agricultural food resources in the developed world, for example, by reducing meat consumption and increasing direct consumption of food now used to feed livestock.

        The world has enough fresh water for everyone.  Even in places where thirst is a problem, like parts of the Sahel, wells could be dug, but the social infrastructure is so weak that keeping wells with pumps running or creating basic water and sewer systems isn't happening.  Moreover, the main shortage of water in the world is not of fresh water, but of potable water.  Purification of water, rather than lack of it, is the bigger issue.

        The world has plenty of real estate to go around.  There are crowded places, like coastal China and much of Europe.  But, there are also plenty of relatively uncrowded places -- much of non-coastal North America, for example.

        The world is producing too much pollution, leading to global warming.  But, it is certainly technologically possible to maintain a non-primative life style for 10 billion people without doing so.  Nuclear, wind, hydro, wave, geothermal and solar power all have almost no C02 emissions, and we waste plenty of relatively low CO2 emission (compared to other fossil fuel) natural gas in flare offs now, that could be used for better purposes.  It is possible to build electric cars and to make thing like freight transport far more efficient -- for example, favoring rail over trucks, and designing communities that require less driving.

        Africa, which is already not densely populated, is actually facing a population slump as a result of the massive impact of AIDS.  China's population has greatly stablized.  Mexico has dramatically reduced the number of children per family in a generation.  Most of the developed world has declining populations, or is near zero natural growth in population.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

        by ohwilleke on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 09:42:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  This: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      calipygian, subtropolis

      I don't want to be responsible for bringing someone into what is sure to be a profoundly shitty world in the future.  And, lets say I have a kid when I'm 40 in 2010.  My son has a kid when he is 40 in 2050.  This is what my grandchild will have to look forward to -

      This is why faith and religion are adaptive.  This diarist feels a sense of personal responsibility for the well-being of his potential offspring; if you believe in god then kids are a gift and god is ultimately responsible for looking after them.  

      Simply put, religious people have a lot more kids than atheists, and that's the real reason why religion is adaptive in humans.

      Mark Twain -Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.

      by Kingsmeg on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:06:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  FWIW (0+ / 0-)

        I'm an atheist with kids.  I feel personal responsibility for my offspring and potential offspring, and that involves making the world a better place, not refusing to have any.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

        by ohwilleke on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 09:28:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  An alternative to reproduction (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      subtropolis, Morrigan
      Mrs. Deadhead and I adopted two children.
    •  I like your sig. n/t (0+ / 0-)

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -Voltaire

      by poemless on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 12:02:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rec'd - Haven't been keeping up with this one (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WI Deadhead, calipygian

    But we all should.

    "To such thinking you have only to say 'the land you loved is doomed' to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it." -Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 1938.

    by Yamara on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:16:11 PM PDT

  •  Man, o man (4+ / 0-)

    I knew about the sea disappearing, but not about the cotton scam and NOT about the bio-weapons makes me furious, furious - especially now that our leaders are no better than those old Soviet 'deciders'.

    I join you in childlessness by choice and it is something I never talk about, because of all the folks who have children, but I often think " thank heaven I don't..."

    "if your toes each represent one trillion dollars, then each little piggy is fucking screwed!!" BiPM

    by Dvalkure on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:19:17 PM PDT

  •  Do you know what you just cost me? (11+ / 0-)

    As I was reading this, the school I graduated from called me.

    Now I have to give $250 to the College of Natural Resources and the Environment.

    I was weak, dammit....and it is all your fault. <wink>

  •  calipygian (3+ / 0-)

    Great diary. On the plus side, global warming will end up killing us all off except for a few survivors near the Arctic circle which will be a temperate clime in the near future...oh, wait, I guess that's not actually on the plus side is it.

    We can but try. Sherlock Holmes.

    by Carnacki on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:24:11 PM PDT

  •  WEll (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I though that the governments in the region were trying to do something to at least stop the death of the aral sea. I read in a book that they are trying at least to bring back the northern part of the sea, while letting the southern part dry up. Haven't there been efforts taken to reverse the decline of the Aral? For DC related travel advice, please visit that link.

    by jiacinto on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:26:20 PM PDT

    •  I did read something lately (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WI Deadhead, calipygian

      about re-diverting the rivers back to the sea in order to start to bring it back.  

      However, there is so many toxins in the salt and sand that it is doubtful the sea will ever be useful agian.  I think it will be a sterile sea scape if it does get filled back up.

      The industrial pollution is one big reason for the shortened life spans, and high number of cancers along the borders of the former sea.

      If you are looking for Truth, you better be ready to change your mind.

      by jimraff on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:20:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Im trying to edit my diary (0+ / 0-)

    and its not letting me.  Is it the site or is it me?

  •  Some more info on the Aral (6+ / 0-)

    Wikipedia Article about the Aral Sea

    "Work is being done to restore in part the North Aral Sea. Irrigation works on the Syr Darya have been repaired and improved to increase its water flow, and in October 2003, the Kazakh government announced a plan to build a concrete dam (Dike Kokaral) separating the two halves of the Aral Sea. Work on this dam was completed in August 2005; since then the water level of the North Aral has risen, and its salinity has decreased. As of 2006, some recovery of sea level has been recorded, sooner than expected.[1] "The dam has caused the small Aral's sea level to rise swiftly to 125 feet, from a low of less than 98 feet, with 138 considered the level of viability." [2] Economically significant stocks of fish have even been returned, and observers who had written off the North Aral Sea as an environmental catastrophe will be surprised by unexpected reports that in 2006 its returning waters already were partly reviving the fishing industry and producing a catch for export as far as Ukraine. The restoration reportedly gave rise to long absent rain clouds and possible microclimate changes, bringing tentative hope to an agricultural sector swallowed by a regional dustbowl, and some expansion of the shrunken sea. [3] "The sea, which had receded almost 100 km south of the port-city of Aralsk, is now a mere 25 km away."

    The South Aral Sea, which lies largely in poorer Uzbekistan, was largely abandoned to its fate, but the project in the North Aral has brought at least faint glimmers of hope: "In addition to restoring water levels in the Northern Sea, a sluice in the dike is periodically opened, allowing excess water to flow into the largely dried-up Southern Aral Sea."[4] Discussions are underway to possibly recreate a channel between the somewhat improved North and the desiccated South,[5] along with ambitious but uncertain wetland restoration plans throughout the region. As it has dried, the South Aral has left behind vast salt plains, producing dust storms, and making regional winters colder and summers hotter. Attempts to mitigate these effects include planting vegetation in the newly exposed seabed."

    So there may be some (small) hope still. For DC related travel advice, please visit that link.

    by jiacinto on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:41:13 PM PDT

  •  Oh yeah, another thing... (4+ / 0-)

    One day in 1983, First Deputy Prime Minister Aliyev, who was the chairman of the Azerbaijan KGB, from Moscow, visited Rashidov in Tashkent to pass on Andropov's tacit message. The next day, Rashidov suddenly died.  

    The Aliyev in this story would be none other than Heydar Aliyev, the third Prime Minister of an independent Azerbaijan.  

    Heydər Əlirza oğlu Əliyev (often transliterated Heydar Alirza oglu Aliyev; sometimes Heidar Aliev or Geidar Aliev from the Russian Гейдар Алиев) (May 10, 1923? – December 12, 2003) served as president of Azerbaijan for the New Azerbaijan Party from June 1993 to October 2003, when his son İlham Əliyev succeeded him. Əliyev dominated the political life of Azerbaijan for over 30 years, but left his oil-rich country with a problematic legacy of gross corruption. (See also Politics of Azerbaijan.) He was married to Zərifə Əziz qızı Əliyeva, who died in 1985, and was survived by his son and daughter.

    His son continues to rule Azerbaijan to this day.  

  •  And the sheep look up..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    esquimaux, curmudgiana

    ( that too inside-basebally)

  •  Fabulous Diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WI Deadhead, jimraff, curmudgiana, Elco B

    I recommend it and recommed that you cross-post it here:

    I've been aware of this, but my take on the Aral Sea is like most Americans' take on our country: It's just so fucking insane and bad that I don't wan't to think about it.

    Thanks for making me think about it.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -Voltaire

    by poemless on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:16:46 PM PDT

  •  As Long As We're Looking at Catastrophes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    calipygian, RogueStage

     This post by Arclite on the latest in Global Warming projections is pretty ominous - and suggests Aral Sea on a continental scale.
       Meanwhile, another likely catastrophe is quietly ticking away, probably to happen when the scenario Arclite writes up is at full blast.It's a little matter in the Canary Islands.
        It's a pity Jared Diamond didn't see fit to include the Aral Sea story in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
        And, don't forget to mark October 17 on your calendars. I work for a state agency that keeps track of certain statistics; this news was in my e-mail the other day.


    The population of the United States is slowly approaching 300 million. It
    is estimated that it will reach that mark on October 17, 2006. The
    country’s population was estimated to be at 200 million in the year 1968.
    Thus it took only 38 years to complete the third century million mark.

           Nothing like too much of a good thing, eh?

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:52:08 PM PDT

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