Environmental journalist Fred Pearce picks the five scariest places he’s been around the world – from natural habitats under threat to spots where the effects of climate change are plain to see. Yet he remains optimistic.
I've visited some 70 countries in the last 20 years trying to make sense of the world – its people, its environment and their worsening predicament. Along the way I've written a bunch of books, most of the recent ones published by Eden Project Books, and several million words of journalism.
I try to be optimistic. I do still think our fate as a species is in our own hands, and that the planet and its ecosystems will survive our depredations one way or another. But sometimes I just have a stop and wonder at the chaos we are causing. Here's a list of some of the scariest things I've seen.
1. Muynak, Uzbekistan: Standing on the old sea front and looking out across the old Aral Sea. The water is now 100 kilometres away over the horizon, replaced by a new unexplored desert – thanks to water abstraction to grow cotton.
2. Svalbard, Arctic Ocean: Stripping off to sunbathe less than a thousand kilometres from the North Pole, with polar bears in the hills. Global warming did this.
3. Gambella, Ethiopia: Watching thousands of white-eared kob running at high speed across the bush – a migration second only in Africa to the Serengeti’s wildebeest. And visiting an Indian company constructing a vast plantation across their path. Why has the world not heard about this?
4. Huayuankou, China: Standing on the spot where, in 1938, a Chinese general thwarted Japanese invaders by dynamiting the dykes of the Yellow River, but also drowned nearly a million of his countrymen. Today, behind its dykes, the silty river flows 20 metres above the surrounding plain. The next breach could kill even more.
5. Sumatra, Indonesia: Watching 44-wheel ‘road trains’ dragging virgin timber from the world’s second largest rainforest to two giant paper mills. Most scary of all, the corporation responsible claims it is helping the environment – by employing poor people who would otherwise trash the forest.
Fred Pearce is an environmental and science writer, many of whose books have been published by Eden Project Books, including his latest, Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash.
Find out how the Eden Project is helping tackle climate change by reducing the impact of its own operations and engaging the public on the issue, through its Climate Revolution programme.