building a sustainable and resilient community

Taking a Sharpie marker to the map

Posted on | April 4, 2010 | No Comments

Do you have a globe in your home?  Well, it’s time to break it out.  Spin it over to Asia, and try to find the Aral Sea.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, east of the Caspian Sea.  What color is it on your globe?  It’s probably blue, right?  Since it was once the fourth largest lake in the world…

All right, now take a look at these two satellite photos.

Image courtesy of

Now, go dig out your black Sharpie marker, and go back to your globe, and fill in that blue of the Aral Sea.  Because it’s not there anymore. It vanished.  Just like this:

Image courtesy of

What happened, exactly?  How does the fourth largest lake in the world just go away?  Can you imagine if you used to live in Michigan, and you went back to visit one day, and you visited the lake front, and there was NO lake front, because Lake Michigan had just disappeared?

What happened is that people REALLY screwed up their environment.  Specifically, the rivers that fed into this lake were diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region, and now it’s shrunk by 90%. And that’s not all:

“The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.”

I think that the Aral Sea is a phenomenal example of how much humans can really affect their environment.  Regardless of how you think about climate change, whether you think that it’s man-made or just some “natural cycle of the Earth”, I think the Aral Sea shows us that not only are humans as a species capable of vastly impacting the natural environment, we’ve already done quite a job on it.  So if we can muck it up that badly, aren’t we also capable of fixing it?  We can only hope…

Oh and keep your Sharpie-d up globe handy, for the next time somebody says that humans couldn’t POSSIBLY have that big of an impact on the Earth.  Well, yes, actually we can… you can see it right there.  On a MAP OF THE ENTIRE EARTH.



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