In the tragic aftermath of nuclear destruction, it is hard to find how there could possibly be a positive side. With nuclear accidents occurring back to the mid 1950’s, there have been considerable loss of lives, harmful effects due to radiation, and evacuation of towns surrounding nuclear plants and reactors. In 1986, the most notable nuclear tragedy in history occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Kiev, Ukraine. The devastation of the explosion killed thirty people within just three months from acute radiation poisoning and would go on to affect thousands with either cancer or bodily malformations (World Nuclear Association).
Since Chernobyl and surrounding cities were evacuated after the explosion, humans have not inhabited the “exclusion zone” for nearly thirty years. In those thirty years, plant and animal life have begun to thrive in a location where humans have been removed from the equation. Coincidence? Jim Smith, an earth and environmental sciences professor at the University of Portsmouth, would argue that “human habitation and development of the land are worse for wildlife” than nuclear destruction and radiation (Wendel).
Throughout history, humans have been one of the main destructors of animal and plant habitats. The Native American inhabitants of North America had a greater respect for the land and plant and animal life prior to the arrival of the Europeans. For example, though they did hunt the bison, they only hunted enough to survive and used every part of the animal. However, the Europeans would kill bison simply for their fur or horns to sell. When the Europeans arrived, commodities and the creation of those materials (i.e. the cutting down of trees for timber, the man made alterations to waterways, etc.) affected animal habitats and led to a decline in number for many animals ranging from beavers to deer. The alteration of waterways depleted certain species of fish because they could not longer pass dams but yet could not survive in such large numbers in a small area (Steinberg, 16, 126).
Pollution is also one of the main destructions to wildlife habitats. And wherever there are humans, there is bound to be a great deal of pollution. In his book Down to Earth, historian Ted Steinberg explains the history and environmental impacts of leaded gasoline. Though important to automobile production, lead does not breakdown over time like other radioactive waste. Because of this, the lead that has polluted the environment remains in the land, water, and air (Steinberg 206-208). Little known to most people, lead poisoning also has the same effects on animals as it does on humans (Merck Veterinary Manual).
Wildlife that has not inhabited the area of Chernobyl for centuries has begun to flourish in the wake of the nuclear disaster, specifically the European lynx and brown bear. Even an endangered species, the European bison, has found his home in the exclusion zone. This is no freak accident. There are other cases in which a lack of human presence has lead to an increase in wildlife population and plant life, one of which being the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
The zone, which separates the two enemy countries, is made up largely of land mines, bunkers, and military men, but off limits to civilians. Because of this fact, many rare species have made it their home. For example, the Asiatic black bear, Amur goral, and spotted seal inhabit the environments land and marine habitat. The continuous tension between the two nations means the it could remain a haven for wildlife for a long time, however, a fear still remains that if Korea were to unite once more, what would happen to that wildlife? (Brady)
It cannot be claimed that humans do not have a great impact on plant and animal life with these examples (and many more, I might add) in mind. From the European arrival to present day, humans are the greatest threat to wildlife habitats globally. Steinberg and Fiege have pointed out the many ways in which man has affected the environment, but here is a great example of the way the absence of man also affects the environment. Which one is more positive?
For more information, see:
Wendel, John. “Chernobyl and Other Places Where Animals Thrive Without People.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. (Online) Link:
Davis, Jay. “Chapter 11: Wildlife and Pollution.” Wildlife and Pollution. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. (Online) Link:
Brady, Lisa. “How Wildlife Is Thriving in the Korean Peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone.” The Guardian. N.p., 13 Apr. 2012. Web. Oct.-Nov. 2015. (Online) Link:
National Geographic Chernobyl Incident
Merck Veterinary Manual
World Nuclear Association