Yes. In fact disasters create the largest incentives for change since, unfortunately, it is difficult to motivate organisms that are hard wired for self preservation to make a decision that will indirectly benefit the collective, but not directly benefit themselves. So it often takes a terrible event that threatens the well being and survival of countless individuals before they will take action.
One such event was the great American Dust Bowl. The dust bowl created by severe drought on top of the widespread appropriation of prarie ecosystems for agricultural use. The ensuing horror motivated farmers and policy makers to ensure crops were rotated, soil was not depleted of nutrients, and windbreaks were placed in between fields.
Luckily the dust bowl was a relatively localized event caused by extenuating environmental circumstances. Next time, we may not be so lucky.
The Love Canal Tragedy
In the 1950’s, a residential development was built on top of a hazardous waste disposal site of the Hooker Chemical Company. The Company had sold the land to the city for $1. In time, the waste began to leach from the soil, contaminating everything on site. Trees and lawns turned black. Nauseating odor permeated the community. Puddles of strange colors and substances appeared on playgrounds, backyards. Then birth defects turned up among the children, today the surviving are suffering from many serious health problems. The community was eventually evacuated. Cleanup and mitigation followed immediately and are probably still occurring. This tragedy have sparked the creation of many federal environmental laws, such as Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act. This latter legislation imposes requirements on those producing, handling and disposing hazardous wastes to do so in such way to minimize human and environmental impact. The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, arose from this tragedy as well. This law governs the cleanup of toxic waste sites and sets liability responsibilities on the responsible parties. . Its unfortunate that change only occur when something terrible happen. This particular environmental history has had a profound change on US environmental law. Ever since this tragedy, real estate development are carried out with better planning and consideration of the enironmental conditions.
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