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Birding in Suchitoto

Birding In Suchitoto

Birding in Suchitoto

H. Bradford

6/14/20


In January 2019, I traveled to Central America with Intrepid Tours.  I had a great time, as there were plenty opportunities for free time exploration, choices of things to do, and included group activities. One of the highlights of the tour was time spent in Suchitoto, El Salvador.  The time spent there was marked by an extensive walking tour, visit to the columnar basalt formations of Los Tercios, and a hiking and historical tour of Cinquera Rain Forest Park to learn more about the civil war in El Salvador from an ex-FMLN fighter turned park ranger.  Suchitoto is a great place to learn about history, see colonial architecture, go for a stroll, spend time in nature, enjoy  local art, eat pupusas, and learn about the history of indigo.  If that isn’t enough, another highlight of Suchitoto was two birding tours that I participated in!

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Los Tercios


The two birding tours that I enjoyed were organized through Intrepid with a local tour operator.  I believe the local tour operator was called Suchitoto Adventure Outfitters. One tour involved a birding boat trip around Lake Suchitlan and the other was a kayaking birding trip also on the lake. It is important to note that Lake Suchitlan is an artificial lake which was created in the mid-1970s to serve as a reservoir for the Cerron Grande Hydroelectric dam. The lake bed was once served as a home and farmland to over 13,000 people who were displaced by the project. Thousands of acres of land were flooded in a project that the government claimed would solve the country’s energy problem. The life of these farmers was meager to begin with, as they worked subsistence plots in an area dominated by large sugar cane estates. They attempted to organize for land distribution, price controls on agricultural inputs, and better wages during the 1960s and early 1970s. Organizers were imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes murdered. The thousands of displaced peasants were compensated poorly or not at all, so it is little wonder that the area became a stronghold for the FMLN.  During my visit, many houses and streets in Suchitoto waved FMLN flags. Thus, although Lake Suchitlan is a tranquil haven for birds, it is not a natural lake and is a lake connected to the political and economic struggles of El Salvador.

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Decades later, Lake Suchitlan is the largest freshwater body in El Salvador and consists of over 100 miles of inlet pocked of shoreline and 33,360 acres of water surface area.  It provides habitat for many native and migratory birds, including the largest duck populations in El Salvador. The first tour that I participated in left early in the morning. Participants were offered coffee, juice, and a light snack, as well as binoculars, life vests, bilingual guides and access to bird guide books. I kept a list of the birds that we saw during our journey around the lake.  Among the first birds that I saw were a large number of barn swallows, mangrove swallows, and a few Gray breasted martins. It is honestly difficult for me to differentiate these quick moving birds, which perched on a line across the lake. The branches hanging over the lake hosted a few species of kingfishers, including Amazon kingfishers and the more familiar Belted kingfishers. Several species of flycatchers also made an appearance, such as the Great kiskadee, Tropical kingbird, and Scissor tailed flycatcher.  I have seen Scissor tailed flycatchers in the southern United States and they are always an amazing bird to see. Various species of herons were also easily spotted along the shoreline,  including Green herons, Great blue herons, Cattle egrets, Snowy egrets, and Great egrets.  The lake is home to twelve of the fourteen species of native fish found in El Salvador, which provide a tasty meal to many of these birds.

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


There were also many raptors spotted during the boat ride.  A Laughing falcon, ospreys, Black hawk, and Roadside hawk were among the raptors we saw. Innumerable Neo-tropical cormorants, Black vultures, and turkey vultures were also seen. Another highlight was a White-bellied chachalaca.  As a matter of reference, I brought the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America with me. This was one of the same guides that the birding guides used in the tour. The guides were very knowledgeable about birds and seemed to be glad to have someone who was excited about birds on their tour.  The other guests on the tour were not avid birders nor as interested in birds, but seemed to enjoy helping me spot birds and the opportunity to enjoy nature.  As for myself, I had tried to study the bird guide before and during the tour, so I was happy that I was able to identify some birds I had never seen before. In all, we were on the lake from before 6am to nearly 10 am.

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A not so great photo of a Laughing falcon


The second tour included another early morning adventure, this time combining bird watching and kayaking. I found this a little harder to balance, as it was hard to paddle, use my binoculars, take photos, and take notes of the birds that I saw.  We used tandem kayaks and explored a different area of the lake. I was unable to multitask.  Again, this was a morning tour. Highlights of this tour included large numbers of Red winged blackbirds. Although this is a common bird in Minnesota, it was a treat to see and hear these familiar birds in early January. While Minnesota was enveloped in the silent cold of winter, the beloved birds of spring and summer were enjoying their winter in the warmth of El Salvador. Trees of wood storks, orioles, warblers, flocks of pelicans, shy Northern jacanas, and many of the birds seen the previous day marked the morning journey.  The kayaking adventure ended with a trip to a hot spring, where I searched for more birds as others in the group enjoyed the springs.  Near the springs, I found a Turquoise-browed motmot, Golden fronted woodpecker, Ruddy ground doves, and parakeets. The Turquoise-browed motmot is the national bird of El Salvador.

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No photo description available.

 


Lake Suchitlan is an important wetland area, but it is also heavily polluted. Several rivers empty wastewater and sewage into the reservoir, including the Suquiapa, Sucio and Acelhuate rivers. Untreated sewage from at least 154 municipalities flow into the lake, resulting in an astonishing monthly flow of 8.5 million tons of fecal matter. This is a sad testament to the underdeveloped water and sewage management systems in El Salvador, where this waste typically flows into bodies of water. Scientists have found mercury, copper, cadmium, and aluminum in the water, plants, and fish.  According to The Social Life of Water, 90% of rivers in El Salvador are polluted with industrial waste.  Water issues, such as insufficient waste management, lack of access to clean water, and industrial waste are connected to neoliberal policies imposed upon El Salvador by the World Bank and Inter-American Development bank since the 1990s.  Neo-liberal policies seek to reduce the role of the government in providing and regulating socially important services in the interest of privatization and corporate profits. Lake Suchitlan is one of the most contaminated bodies of water in Central America.  The pollution has resulted in overgrowth of invasive water hyacinth and algae.  I would also be suspicious of the safety of swimming and fishing in the lake, even though locals do fish on the lake.  Investment in the infrastructure and regulations that can keep the water clean, provide ongoing habitat for wildlife, and secure a healthy life and potable water for residents means challenging to the dominance of the neoliberal policies and institutions which advance U.S. imperialism.

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Birding in Suchitoto was a wonderful experience. The area is abundant with bird life.  At the same time, it is a location of resistance. From farmers who were removed from their land to FMLN fighters who hid in the local mountains,  the area is a geography of exclusion. Today, it is a tourist destination and upcoming birding destination, but submerged beneath the surface of fun and recreation is struggle. In 2007, Suchitoto residents peacefully protested the privatization of water and demonstrators were attacked with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas.  Seventy five people were injured. In 2008, a local water rights activist named Hector Ventura was stabbed to death after meeting with the mayor.  This is always the dilemma of being a tourist.  A tourist passes through the world, enjoying nature, birds, historical sites, art, foods, or any number of the wonders this world offers. But for all the wonders the world offers those who can enjoy them, it is also a world of suffering and struggle.

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Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

locusts

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/17/fighting-the-plagues-of-locusts-and-covid-19/

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

H. Bradford

Written 4/17/20

Posted 4/20/20


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of Africa, South East Asia, and the Middle East are facing another plague. A dangerous outbreak of locusts has ravaged multiple countries since last year, laying waste to crops and threatening millions of people with food insecurity. The current wave of locusts is the second this year and scientists predict it will not be the last. Currently, the hardest hit area is East Africa, where in February eight countries faced an initial swarm and now are hit by a second wave of the voracious insects. It is the largest locust infestation in the region in seventy years. This pestilence arose from the perfect storm of climate change, war, austerity, and imperialism.


The insect behind this scourge is Schistocerca gregaria or the desert locust. Desert locusts are a species of grasshopper found in North Africa, the Middle East, and Indian subcontinent. Owing to accounts in the Bible, Koran, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, they are the most famous species of locust, though various species are distributed around the world, such as the Australian plague locust, Migratory locust, South American locust, and High plains locust. Like other grasshoppers, locusts are often solitary, but under the right conditions they become gregarious. In their gregarious phase, they band together in large, devastating swarms which have plagued humanity for thousands of years.


Typically, swarming occurs when food becomes abundant due to wet conditions, resulting in a population boom. The perfect conditions for an outbreak of locusts began in 2018 when Cyclone Mekunu struck an area of the Arabian peninsula called the Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali, a sand desert which includes portions of Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Normally, this area of desert would dry out, controlling locust populations. However, according to a February article in National Public Radio the Empty Quarter was struck by a second cyclone in late 2018 and another in December 2019. “PBS NewsHour” noted that there were a total eight cyclones in 2019, an enormous deviation from the annual occurrence of one or zero. Prior to a year of flooding and heavy rains, there was three years of drought. Beyond the unusually wet conditions of the Empty Quarter, Space.com reported that the Horn of Africa received four times more rain than usual between October and December, in the wettest short wet season in 40 years. These conditions also fostered locust breeding once the insects moved into the region.


The rare and climate crisis driven bombardment of cyclones to an otherwise arid area increased vegetation and resulted in an explosion of the locust population. The Guardian reported that the second cyclone alone resulted in an 8000 fold increase in the locust population. Locusts reproduce with unstoppable speed as a single female can lay 300 eggs, which hatch in as little as two weeks and take only two additional weeks for larvae to mature and begin reproducing. Once mature, locusts can travel up to 90 miles a day. Their population grows exponentially, increasing 400 times every six months.


The locusts spread from Yemen, hitting Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia the hardest. National Public Radio reported that the locusts crossed the Gulf of Aden last year, arriving first in Somalia and Ethiopia.They were later spotted in Kenya in December 2019, some forming a swarm of over 192 billion insects in a mass three times the size of New York City. The United Nations has cautioned that a swarm the size of ⅓ of a square mile can eat as much food as 35,000 people in one day. The Guardian warned that East Africa is currently being hit the hardest, though owing to climate change and war, Yemen has also been hit hard. According to “PBS NewsHour” the latest wave of insects is 20 times larger than the February swarm, owing to heavy rains in March. It is currently planting season in East Africa and another wave of locusts is expected to hit during June, which is harvest time. Already, 33 million people in the region endure food insecurity.


The impacts of the infestation are already catastrophic. Al Jazeera reported that a half million acres of farm land in Ethiopia has been ravaged and 8.5 million Ethiopians experience acute food insecurity. As of early April, over 74,000 acres of crops were destroyed, including coffee and tea which make up 30% of Ethiopia’s exports.  In a Los Angeles Times report, Somalia had already lost 100% of  staple crops such as corn and sorghum loss by January. In Kenya, 30% of pastureland has been lost and as of mid-March, the pests had destroyed 2000 tons of food in the country. Over 173,000 acres of cropland in Kenya has been decimated, including corn, bean,and cow pea crops. Agriculture accounts for 25% of Kenya’s economy. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda are among the African countries currently under attack by locust swarms. As of late March, swarms were forming elsewhere in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.140,000 acres of crops have been destroyed in Pakistan. The swarms are expected to hit Pakistan’s cotton industry hard, as the textile industry is the country’s largest employer and accounts for 60% of exports. In Pakistan, it is the worst locust outbreak since 1993.


Efforts to stop the spread of locusts have been hampered by COVID-19 and the social problems already facing these countries. Locusts are usually controlled with pesticides, which are either applied by aircraft that target adult locusts through aerial spraying or by ground crews which target eggs and young locusts that can not yet fly. Closed borders and a global slowdown of shipping has slowed the transportation of pesticides. Reuters reported that in Somalia, an order of pesticides expected in late March was delayed. Surveillance of locust swarms is conducted by helicopters, but lock downs have made helicopters harder to secure. In Kenya, helicopter pilots from South Africa have had to quarantine for fourteen days before they could begin work. On the economic side, 60% of Kenya’s GDP went to servicing debt before COVID-19 and locusts hit.The economic impact of both plagues makes this debt even more punishing than it was before. As of 2017, nineteen African countries were spending more than 60% of their GDP on debt.


Somaliland, a self declared republic in Somalia, has no resources to fight locusts. Keith Cressman of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said that South Sudan and Uganda also lack programs for outbreaks. In South Sudan, 200,000 people live in UN camps, already in close conditions and at risk of food insecurity and COVID-19. Cressman noted that social distancing makes it hard to train new people to tackle the problem as this involves gathering people together in classrooms. Despite lockdowns and curfews, workers tackling the locust outbreak have been given exemptions for travel. Thus far, nearly 600,000 acres of land have been treated with pesticides and 740 people have been trained to do ground locust control. The FAO has obtained $111.1 million of $153.2 million it requested to fight the swarms. Because most of the world is focused on fighting COVID-19, additional aid to combat the locusts has been hard to come by.


Pesticides are an imperfect solution to the problem. When the pesticides are applied, villages must be warned to move livestock. According to a Kenyan news source, Daily Nation, one of the pesticides that the FAO recommends is Diazinon, which the U.S. banned from residential use in 2004. The pesticide works by affecting the nervous system of insects. However, human exposure can result in symptoms such as watery eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, coughing, and runny nose. Longer exposure can cause seizures, rapid heart rate, and coma. The Pesticide Action Network (Panna) warned that it can be harmful to children and can cause birth defects. A Pakistani news source named lambda cyhalothrin, chlorpyrifos, and bifenthrin as pesticides against locusts and cited worries that the chemicals could impact drinking water, cause respiratory problems, and irritate skin. Ground crews responsible for spraying the pesticides may be at risk. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and strained supplies of PPE, workers may not have necessary protections.


According to Science, the FAO has also used biopesticides in the form of fungus in Somalia. An article in the Zimbabwe news source, The Herald expressed concern over both pesticides and biopesticides, which mainly rely on spores from Metarhizium sp. The spores may not be as effective because they work best in moderate temperatures and high humidity, conditions that are not common in the areas most impacted by the locusts. The spores take fourteen days to take effect and are mainly used against young locusts. While it is unknown if this is the current practice, the French research program LUBILOSA, which developed the fungus, suggested that the spores should be dissolved in paraffin or diesel, both of which are carcinogens. Pesticides and biopesticides also risk harming other insects. Linseed oil and neem may have some potential as safer, natural insecticides. Likewise, The Locust Lab of Arizona State University has found that locusts prefer carbohydrate rich foods and lower carb crops may deter locusts. For instance, locusts do not care for millet. In the face of such the immediate, cataclysmic attack of locusts and the risk of famine, research into less harmful alternatives is something for future exploration.


A socialist solution to tackle locust outbreaks should begin with prevention. Unusually wet conditions and the bizarre frequency of cyclones last year was a catalyst for the current crisis. To stop the climate crisis, capitalism must end. Anything short of this will only result in more frequent and severe natural disasters and less predictable weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Africa will experience a 20% increase in cyclones, coupled with 20% decrease in precipitation. These conditions will make future locust swarms more likely. Droughts, mudslides, floods, and infectious diseases are all predicted to increase with climate change. Agriculture that relies on water could drop 50% in some countries and wheat production could disappear by 2080. Climate change will only make the continent more food insecure at the cost of countless lives.


Another immediate concern to socialists should be organizing against imperialist wars. The locusts spread from Yemen, which could have played a crucial role in halting their migration towards Africa. Yemen was in no position to tackle this problem because it has been beleaguered by a brutal war lasting over five years between the U.S. supported Saudi-led coalition and Houthi fighters. The country has suffered through outbreaks of cholera, diphtheria, measles, dengue fever and now COVID-19. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been two million cases of cholera since 2016. Last fall, when the locust population exploded, ten million people in Yemen needed food aid and were already at risk of starvation. When the swarms appeared, people in Yemen actually began to collect them in bags, sell them, and eat them. Locusts are eaten by people outside of starvation conditions, but after experiencing the worst famine in the world in 100 years, they were a welcome bounty to some.


The war has cost at least 90,000 fatalities and the U.S. is complicit in the destruction. The U.S. has provided weapons and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and its allies which have conducted over 20,000 airstrikes, of which ⅓ were against military targets. Hospitals, ports, mosques, and schools are among the civilian targets. Prior to the war, the Ministry of Agriculture was usually able to control outbreaks of locusts. Presently, control of locusts is divided by government and Houthi forces. Both lack the resources to adequately address the problem. Locust infestations must be caught early and perhaps with better infrastructure or the plethora of other social problems faced in Yemen, it might have been addressed more effectively. Several of the countries now facing the desolation of locusts have similarly been destabilized by wars. This hampers their ability to organize a response.


All of the countries impacted have been saddled with debt and stunted by their economic dependency to wealthier nations. The plague hits the economies of these nations particularly hard because of their high debt and dependence on agricultural exports such as coffee, tea, and cotton. The reason these countries lack the medical infrastructure to combat COVID-19 and means to fight locust swarms is a direct result of colonization and the subsequent export economies, austerity, and debt that maintain dependency. Africa will always be a continent of crisis as long as hefty profits can be extracted from it. In this moment, all international debt should be forgiven and aid given unconditionally to prevent the threat of starvation. But, development of impoverished countries cannot happen within the framework of capitalism. The wealth that has been taken from Africa should be reinvested with a commitment to build infrastructure and capital based upon relationships of solidarity over dependency.


Locusts are often imagined as an act of God, but they exist in a material reality like everything else. The reality is that the climate conditions of the planet are increasingly unstable. One hundred year floods, one hundred year storms, and even, one hundred year locust hatchings are becoming frighteningly normal. The ability to mobilize resources to alleviate hunger and fight these pests is obstructed by war, economic dependency, and a global pandemic which already demands what few resources might be marshaled. In a brighter, socialist future, this insect that has tormented humans for thousands of years might again be minimized to a solitary grasshopper, controlled by sustainable and diverse agricultural practices, early detection, and stable climate conditions. In the case of a swarm, food would be abundant enough to be shared, rather than left to rot in the anarchistic, false abundance of capitalism.

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/13/chernobyl-fires-threaten-to-unleash-radiation/

(It should be noted that yesterday the fires drew dangerously close to Pripyat and that conditions can change rapidly. )

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

 

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

Written 4/12/20

Posted 4/14/20

H. Bradford


April 26 marks the 34th anniversary of Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. By some estimates, the ruins of the Chernobyl reactor will remain highly radioactive for 20,000 years. Decades after the catastrophe, the dangers of radiation persist as forest fires rampage across the exclusion zone. The recent forest fires are only the latest in recent years to threaten the region with radioactive ash and smoke. This problem is compounded by the dual impacts of climate change and capitalist profit motives.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster occurred in the early morning of April 26th, 1986 when a safety check to test if the Uranium 235 fueled reactors could remain cool during a power outage went catastrophically wrong. At the time, there were four graphite-moderated nuclear reactors at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, with two more under construction. The reactors were situated two miles from Pripyat, a Soviet city of 50,000 people. Pripyat was constructed in 1970 with amenities such as quality schools, a supermarket, and sports stadium. The reactors were nine miles away from Chernobyl, a city of 12,000. In all, there were over 115,000 people living within an 18.6 mile radius of the power plant and five million people living in contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. During the fateful test, Reactor Four experienced a meltdown resulting in two explosions that unleashed 400 times the radiation of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The accident shrouded 77,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia in radiation.

 

It took ten days for emergency workers to extinguish the graphite fueled fire, resulting in the deaths of 28 workers from acute radiation syndrome in the months immediately after the accident. Over 200,000 people were mobilized to clean up the disaster, exposing these liquidation workers to high levels of radiation. In all, 600,000 people in Soviet Union were subsequently exposed to high levels of radiation, including radioactive isotopes such as Iodine-131, Plutonium-239, Strontium-90, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137, which were unleashed during the explosion. As a result, there have been 20,000 thyroid cancer cases between 1991 and 2015 in people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the accident. 115,000 people were evacuated in 1986 and another 220,000 people were later evacuated and resettled. A 30 kilometer (approximately 18.6 miles) exclusion zone was established around the reactor. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, trees near the reactor died off, becoming what was called a “Red Forest” to denote the russet tone of dead pine. In the decades since, the exclusion zone has become a refuge for returned wildlife and a collection of desolate ghost towns slowly vanishing into the overgrown forest.

 

The cautionary tale of Chernobyl does not end with the return of nature or the story of countless generations tasked with stewardship over the sarcophagus encased Reactor Four. Recent wildfires threaten to release Chernobyl’s radiation. According to NASA Earth Observatory, wildfires in the exclusion zone began in early April and firefighters have been working to put out the blaze since April 4th. The impacted areas include Denysovets, Kotovsky, and Korogodsky forests. On April 8th, the fires blew towards Kiev, which is located about sixty miles to the south. On April 9th, people were evacuated from the village of Poliske. Poliske is a sparsely inhabited village located within the exclusion zone. A few hundred people, mostly elderly women in their 70s or 80s, reside illegally within the exclusion zone. According to BBC News, conflict in the Donbass region has sent some families to seek safety in the area just outside of the exclusion zone, where the housing is the cheapest in Ukraine. The New York Times stated that as of Saturday April 11th, 400 firefighters had been deployed to the area and 8,600 acres had burned the previous week. The article further mentioned that the blaze has increased radiation levels in Russia and Belarus. Live Science reported that the fire is near the abandoned village of Vladimirovka. According to Ukraine’s Ecological Inspection Service, radiation readings near the blaze are 2.3 microsievert per hour. Typically, the exclusion zone’s ambient radiation is .14 microsievert per hour and .5 microsievert per hour is the threshold considered safe for humans. This calls into question the safety of firefighters working to extinguish the blaze as well as the people living in the region.

 

At the moment, fires are not located near the entombed reactor. However, Uranium-238, Cesium-137 and other radionuclides jettisoned from Reactor Four and have since been absorbed by vegetation and dirt. Fires can unleash these from the environment and ash condenses the radionuclides sequestered within vegetation. NASA Earth Observatory stated that smoke plumes can carry radiation long distances and that the severity of wildfires has only increased over the years. According to a study published in Ecological Monographs by Timothy Mousseau of University of South Carolina, wildfires that broke out in 2002, 2008, 2010 redistributed 8% of Cesium-137 released by the original Chernobyl disaster. Wildfires in 2015 came a mere 12 to 15 miles from Chernobyl’s reactors.

 

The most recent wildfire has been attributed to local farming practices, wherein fields are burned in spring and fall. While this may contribute to fires, climate change is certainly the main culprit. A report released by the Atlantic Council in January 2020 noted that the 2019-2020 winter in Ukraine was mild with little snowfall. According to the report, 2019 was the warmest year on record for Kiev and the yearly average temperature in Ukraine was 2.9 degrees celsius higher than average. In 2019, 36 temperature records were broken. Last year, there was 25% less precipitation than average. Droughts have nearly doubled over the last 20 years in Ukraine. In 2015, an article in the New York Times anticipated increased wildfires in the exclusion zone due to drier conditions. Likewise, in 2015 New Scientist reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted more fires near Chernobyl in the future.

 

Climate change driven droughts are one of the catalysts for the fires, but radiation itself contributes to the problem. Radiation slows the decay of leaf litter and inhibits growth of microorganisms, which creates more fuel for fires. In the absence of people, forests have expanded, which also generates more combustible material. The danger is amplified by the fact that local firefighters have seven times fewer crews and equipment than elsewhere in Ukraine. The IPCC predicted a similar outcome for Fukushima, which also has significant forests. They also posited that there is no threshold of radiation with zero effect. Climate change driven droughts, expanded forests, slow decay, few local resources, and strained water resources to fight fires create a recipe for disaster.

 

Behind the climate crisis is capitalism itself. All manner of environmental problems can be traced back to the profit motive in capitalism. The drive for lower wages, unsafe working conditions, fewer environmental regulations, the endless creation of waste, the lack of storage for the waste created, the generation of pollution itself, the shuttling of hazardous production and wastes to the third world and oppressed communities, the anarchy of too much production, and the insatiable need for growth are all connected to endless drive for profits. Therefore, sustainability and safety are anathema to capitalism. In the context of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, logging trees within the exclusion zone garners tens of millions of dollars in profits. Since 2004, limited amounts of timber can be cut from the exclusion zone as long as it is scanned for radiation. 90% of this timber is used for furniture. According to a January 2020 article in Al Jazeera, fires within the exclusion zone are started purposefully to justify the sale of timber. In a report released after the 2015 wildfires, Mykola Tomenko, head of parliamentary environmental commission stated that fires can conceal illegal logging. Two thirds of illegal profits derived from the exclusion zone are from timber. In 2007, state inspectors also found radiation contaminated charcoal sold in Ukrainian supermarkets. While the more recent fires have not been connected to the timber industry, the search for profits brings capitalists to the radioactive wilds of the exclusion zone to extract resources no matter the impact on consumers or the threat of unleashed radiation.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident is a horror story in the closing chapter of the Soviet Union. It is a tale that will last for thousands of years, written in elements with the potential to outlive humanity itself. If there is a moral of the story, it is that nuclear power is dangerous. Despite the threats, there is little motive within capitalism to mitigate the dangers. The only motive, as always, is the profit motive. Fires will certainly revisit Chernobyl and potentially visit Fukushima, once again spreading radiation. Beyond Chernobyl, wildfires have threatened the Hanford Site, a former nuclear production facility in Washington several times. In 2000, the Department of Energy declared an emergency when fires neared a building where nuclear waste was stored. In 2017, a wildfire burned part of the Hanford Site,though no buildings were threatened. Again, in 2019, wildfires burned more than 40,000 acres near the site. The Hanford Nuclear Waste Site is the largest nuclear waste dump in the U.S. and contains 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The danger of aging nuclear reactors in the United States, the question of where nuclear waste is stored, the connection to terrifying weapons of war, and the catastrophic consequences when things go awry are just a few of the many reasons why nuclear energy must be nationalized and ultimately abolished.

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