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« The Dark Side of Green | Main | Has Newsweek Sold Out to Big Pharma? »

Dark Side of Green, Continued

A reader has passed on a story about another green program gone awry, "Tire reef off Florida proves a disaster." Here's the intro:

A mile offshore from this city's high-rise condos and spring-break bars lie as many as 2 million old tires, strewn across the ocean floor — a white-walled, steel-belted monument to good intentions gone awry.

The tires were unloaded there in 1972 to create an artificial reef that could attract a rich variety of marine life, and to free up space in clogged landfills. But decades later, the idea has proved a huge ecological blunder.

Little sea life has formed on the tires. Some of the tires that were bundled together with nylon and steel have broken loose and are scouring the ocean floor across a swath the size of 31 football fields. Tires are washing up on beaches. Thousands have wedged up against a nearby natural reef, blocking coral growth and devastating marine life.

"The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area. It just didn't work that way," said Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University who was instrumental in organizing the project. "I look back now and see it was a bad idea."

If nothing else, these stories make me wary of schemes for counteracting global warming, such as the one that Mike Cook has been flogging in this space. But I still believe in green!


mike cook

The obvious downside of the reefs-from-tires experiment is that very little will grow on an old tire. Whatever nutrients there might have once been available in natural rubber are locked up by the vulcanization process.

Building reefs out of old cars, iron ships, even the high quality steel of old military tanks,however, seems to be a much better bet.

But let's face it, anything that man does deliberately will cause nature to react in a way that anticipates man continuing the perturbation. I agree that seeding areas of the oceans with metallic and other dust containing key nutrients would be a major, major decision. Once we start doing it we will become, in a way, morally responsible for a whole habitat that will quickly spring up. If we do it for several decades and then abruptly stop, in the newly deprived areas a lot of fish, dolphins, and whales will starve to death.

But, in a similar sense, the natural world has already made many adjustments to the presence of man. Cities that abruptly clean up their sewage discharges disrupt whole eco-systems that have learned to depend on those nutrients. Carbon dioxide can be considered an atmospheric fertilizer and that is not just a semantic trick, for green plants world wide have already binged on the 30% increase in that gas which man has caused. Suddenly absent man or our old behavior and things will have to change. Some things in some places just won't grow as readily.

I am not saying we need to be reckless, but I do see possibilities for relatively inexpensive programs to have enormous impacts, if we really think we understand the complete situation.

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