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William Shakespeare…Eco Warrior?

February 26, 2023

The Environmental Effects of the War on Ukraine Will Last for Generations

The first anniversary of the war in Ukraine has passed, and its effects on the people and the environment will last for generations to come. Thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced, and ecosystems degraded. Water systems and farmlands are polluted, threatening not just Ukraine but neighboring countries.

Removal of an unexploded FAB-500 bomb that was dropped on a nine-story residential building in Kharkiv by a Russian aircraft in March 2022. Pyrotechnicians unscrewed the fuse but they could not remove the bomb due to ongoing shelling. | Credit: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

According to a preliminary report from the UN Environment Programme, damage has been done to nuclear power plants; oil pipelines, storage, and refining facilities; and industrial sites that stored hazardous materials including solvents, ammonia, and plastics. The UN conservatively estimates that more than 600 industrial or critical infrastructure sites have been destroyed or impacted.

Greenpeace and EcoAction Ukraine have shown in a map how the Russian invasion has caused vast damage—from ammunition shells that leach chemicals into the soil to flooded coal mines that pollute groundwater. Yevhenia Zasiadko, an official with EcoAction told the BBC that some of the hardest-hit areas are in the southern and eastern regions where there’s the most fertile soil.

Parts of the country are covered with land mines making farming difficult and affecting food security, and demining efforts are taking place in residential areas first. Mines in the Black Sea threaten marine life and shipping.

Among other problems, the Ukrainian government reported there are 3,000 destroyed Russian tanks and other vehicles that present a significant clean-up challenge. Ukraine’s environment minister, Ruslan Strilets, told Politico that the total number of cases of environmental damage is over 2,300 with a total cost of over $50 billion.
The Guardian reports that governments, NGOs, and universities are documenting what could be the most detailed tally of wartime environmental destruction ever undertaken, including even more than during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.

Officials and Residents Worry About Another Contaminant After Train Wreck

More than three weeks after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, there are new concerns over possible contamination from a chemical that can stay in the environment for a long time. People near the area where tanker cars carrying vinyl chloride were burned could have been exposed to a group of toxic compounds called dioxins.

Norfolk Southern contractors removing a burned tank car (benzene, residual) from the crash site | Credit: Environmental Protection Agency

According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are mainly byproducts of industrial processes. They are linked to cancer and can affect reproductive and immune systems. One scientist told the Associated Press that the smoke plume from burning the chemical could have carried the compounds onto nearby farms. While the compounds can get into human bodies through skin and lungs, the main path is through consumption of meat, dairy, and fish that have been contaminated. Dioxins can persist in soils for decades and contaminate crops and other plants, accumulating up the food chain.  

Residents, environmentalists, officials, and both U.S. Senators from Ohio are calling for state and federal agencies to test around the site. The Guardian reports some experts speculated that the EPA may not be testing for dioxins because it is difficult and expensive. In addition, authorities have not tested for PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” that may have been in the firefighting foam used at the site.  

Meanwhile, there were plans to ship the toxic water from the train wreck to a facility in Houston and the contaminated soils to a landfill near Detroit.  According to the Guardian, the water is to be injected in deep wells in the same county as Houston and the soil disposed of in a landfill on the edge of Detroit a few miles from Ann Arbor.  However, on Saturday, the EPA halted the shipments amidst fears that the waste could end up in the environment in other places. Texas and Michigan authorities have said they weren’t warned that contaminated materials from the derailment would be shipped to their states.

New Book Examines Shakespeare’s Environmentalism

William Shakespeare’s works are timeless and universal because his characters and themes are part of the human experience from love, death, and jealousy to ambition, power, and…environmentalism?

Credit: University of Huddersfield

A new book says the Bard’s later works show he was deeply concerned about conservation and the exploitation of natural resources, following the accession of King James I to the throne in 1603. In Shakespeare Beyond the Green World - Drama and Ecopolitics in Jacobean Britain, Dr. Todd Borlik of the University of Huddersfield examines the dialogue, plots, and settings of plays and shows how Shakespeare was tackling issues like overfishing, mining, the fur trade—and the peoples’ displeasure with actions being taken by the country’s ruling classes.

For example, Borlik says at the time Shakespeare wrote the Tempest with themes of exploitation in a far off Caribbean island, there was much controversy at home about draining the Fens—the vast wetlands in the eastern part of England—for agriculture and hunting by the wealthy. There was a lot of popular resistance to it at the time with acts of sabotage in what today some would categorize as eco-terrorism.

Shakespeare often humanized animals that were hunted for furs worn by the elite and used settings to push back on environmental degradation such as the “blasted heath” in Macbeth, mining in Timon of Athens, and overfishing of the North Sea in Pericles.

According to Borlik, Shakespeare recognized that spending more time in nature is the antidote to human arrogance and in plays like Macbeth and King Lear sent his characters out into the wilderness to have an epiphany or come-uppance to smack down any notion that Earth’s bounty is there for the taking.

Attention, Clowns! Balloons Aren’t Welcome in This Town

Clowns, take notice! Starting in 2024, balloons will be prohibited in Laguna Beach, California, because for that seaside community, plastic pollution is no laughing matter.

Credit: Ocean Conservation Society

The coastal town about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, adopted an ordinance prohibiting the sale, public use, and distribution of balloons on public property, citing their damage to marine ecosystems and potential to start wildfires. Long after the birthday parties or graduation celebrations end, balloons can inadvertently escape and get caught on tree limbs or tangled in power lines, where they can cause outages or fires.

According to the Ocean Conservation Society, balloons are often made from either mylar or latex. The plastics in mylar balloons never biodegrade and instead break down into bits, which can be ingested by wildlife. Latex balloons, which are made from rubber but treated with various chemicals, are the most common type found in the stomachs of dead animals. In both cases, the strings tethered to balloons can strangle wildlife.

Most balloons contain preservatives (to sit in warehouses or store shelves for months), foils so they can be glittery, or dyes to add color—all of which can make them tantalizing to marine life. A study by University of Tasmania researchers found balloons were the number one cause of death to shore birds. In a separate study the scientists found that claims of “biodegradable balloons” were inflated.

The move by Laguna Beach is intended to reduce the amount of plastic trash on the community’s scenic shoreline and is part of a growing trend in the U.S., where several states have laws against releasing balloons, according to the website “” But we don’t have to be party poopers. There are plenty of alternatives to balloons such as streamers or bubbles. An added bonus? It will save helium, which is increasingly in short supply.