The humankind’s disregard for our planet, environmental sustainability and the diversity of species in fauna and flora has been the cause of many ecological catastrophes. Even though an exhaustive list would contain numerous disasters of large scale, it is useful to highlight several most shocking examples of human carelessness for the environment. For the purposes of this essay, I have chosen three such occurrences: the explosion of Chernobyl, a nuclear power plant in the USSR, the Kuwait oil fires during the Gulf War, and the destruction of the Aral Sea. The explosion of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in 1986 was the largest nuclear power-related accident in history. Millions of people were exposed to direct contamination and have suffered horrific health consequences. The irresponsible actions of the Soviet Union’s government have amplified the negative effects, as the Kremlin poured resources into limiting the spread of information about the environmental catastrophe rather than worked to save its own people. The Chernobyl catastrophe is the seminal case of nuclear disasters for a civil and environmental engineer. The effects of radiation are still being studied decades after the explosion, and the old plant remains an environmental and security risk for the government of Ukraine which inherited the problem of Soviet Union’s negligence. (Cardis 128-129) From the perspective of environmental engineering, Chernobyl is both the case study of a wrong response to a nuclear accident and an impetus to develop effective preventive mechanisms to avoid such catastrophe in the future. Moreover, the accident has had a lasting impact on the environment, which is still the subject of studies in different areas. These studies help engineers understand the risk factors associated with accidents on nuclear plants.
Secondly, the burning of Kuwaiti oil wells has had one of the most disastrous environmental effects in the region. The wells were directly targeted by the Iraqi government during their invasion of Kuwait. The smoke clouds lingered after the burning and affected the coalition troops deployed for the Gulf War against the Iraqi army. (Cowan, 777-781) This case is especially noteworthy as a deliberate man-made harm to the environment rather than a result of human negligence. The immediate negative impact was a drastic decrease of the air quality and subsequent acid rains. (Al‐Damkhi, 31-44) The case of Kuwaiti oil fires offers an interesting perspective for environmental engineers who are interested in studying environmental impact of armed conflicts and warfare in general. I am especially interested to work on engineering responses to the deliberate harm to environment.
Thirdly, the desiccation of the Aral Sea is a striking example of how human’s thirst for industrial and agricultural productivity damages the landscape of the Earth. During the past 10,000 years, the Aral Sea has existed as one of largest terminal lakes in the world with the drainage basin that currently extends to seven different countries in Central Asia. The unsustainable development of agriculture at the expense of draining two major tributary rivers of the Aral Sea – Amu Dar’ya and Syr Dary’ya – has led to big decreases in the lake level, surface area, and volume. The associated effects have gone well beyond changes in geography to destroy the lake fauna and induce climate change around the lake’s shores. Even though there have been some improvement efforts, it is most likely that the disaster of the Aral Sea will not be completely reversed in the foreseeable future. For an environmental engineer, this situation is a resourceful study of poor regard for environmental consequences in expanding agricultural production. Furthermore, it is a contemporary example of a catastrophe of such scale where the engineering effort is applied to remedy the thoughtless human activity in the previous decades. (Micklin 47-72)

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