Joanna Gaskell joins us to discuss dead zones, the deforestation of Easter Island, the Dust Bowl, the Great Sparrow Campaign, the desiccation of the Aral Sea, the draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes, and mountain top removal mining. Also: shape-changing testicles in pop culture!

Charity O’ the Week: Nature Conservancy
Music: “Dust Pneumonia Blues” by Woody Guthrie




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  • William Geiger

    The section about the war on pests in China it reminded me of Camp Makajawan in Wisconsin. We had contests for killing mosquitoes and would award a “Merit Badge” after killing so many of them. Surprisingly, a mosquito carcass remains fairly intact after being swatted. 🙂

  • Pai

    ‘Pom Poko’ is an otomatopoeia for a drumming noise. The title translation is “The Tanuki War Drums Go Pom Poko”.

    • Toren

      Thank you Pai!

  • Ben

    I’m honestly surprised (and rather infuriated) that you talked about Studio Ghibli in the ecocide episode and didn’t mention Princess Mononoke (What I consider to be the best animated film ever made) or Nausica of the Valley of the Wind (Another fantastic film by Ghibli). I recommend that you check out Princess Mononoke because it does a brilliant job outlining that in the human progress VS nature conflict there is no good or evil. Also it looks amazing. Maybe you could give it a mention in a follow up episode.

    • Toren

      Both were in my notes but, surprise surprise, we ran out of time. Nausicaa is my favourite Miyazaki film. Mononoke is probably my fourth or fifth.

      • Pai

        The Nausicaa manga is far better than the film, as well (though both are great imo). The movie only covers the first book of the full story (and has a ‘fake’ ending because the manga wasn’t anywhere near complete when it was made). So if you liked the film I really recommend checking out the manga!

  • hyrax

    I was 7 when Fern Gully came out, and Hexxus legitimately terrified me. I was a very outdoorsy kid with hippie parents, and in the early ’90s pollution and the ozone hole were very much on my radar as Bad Things that were destroying the world. (Basically, I was the target demographic for that movie.) Of course, Tim Curry’s voice probably added significantly to the terror factor…

  • Matthew

    You mentioned that there should be a law that forces mining companies to return the mountain tops the way they were found after the resources have been removed. This is actually the way they do it in northern Ontario. There are massive areas where the mountains have been hollowed out, and held up with enormous cables underground. Once they have the metals, they fill it with concrete and keep the surface untouched. It’s frightening.

    • Jon Paynter

      Mountains in northern Ontario????

      • zuzu

        Canadian shield through and through up here.

  • Derek

    Ahem, Turkik? Turkish, perhaps. 😉 Oh, and “makebelieve” is what we say in Australia, but it’s a single word. No idea where it came from, but that’s what I’ve said since being a kid. I heard a They Might Be Giants song call it “fakebelieve” though, so that might be more familiar to you.

    Christmas Island (an Australian territorial island just south of the Indonesian Island of Java – yes, it’s much closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland) is another place that you might argue has suffered ecocide, or at least is at significant risk. Like the island of Nauru (we say “nar-roo”) that you mentioned in the Greed episode, Christmas Island had a very thick layer of Potassium-rich guano on top of it, produced by the indigenous sea birds (including Abbott’s Boobie, which makes me giggle because our Prime Minister is currently Mr Abbott (NB Mr Costello, the Treasurer, retired at the 2007 election)), and though industrious mining of it, all but about 30% of it is gone and a lot of the wildlife is threatened. The wildlife includes, other than a number of varieties of Boobies, little red crabs that live in the forests but swarm down to the beach in thousands very so often for breeding, and coconut crabs that look like enormous spiders that could eat your head (check out — hey, what about a crab episode? Sir David Attenborough has been there in a few of his shows, so Toren might be familiar with the place.

    I assume the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster will be covers in an oil spill episode (I haven’t finished the ep yet, but I’m up to pop culture, so I assume it wasn’t covered in detail this time round). Looking forward to it. The way things are going there’s bound to be one or two destructive events on the Great Barrier Reef for you in the near future (they’ve decided it’s perfectly safe to dredge giant ports in the reef to support more coal exports out of Queensland (North Eastern Australia). Sigh.

    Thanks for wonderful guest appearance, Joanna, and great work on that Aral Sea pic too, Toren. 🙂

  • Derek

    I might make some White Gold tonight too (awesome answer, Kevin!). 🙂

  • MissFelis

    I can actually comment on why the snow was probably red! I’m pretty sure Joanna was right about the Dustbowl soil being clay-heavy. I grew up in the American Great Plains area, and the soil was red, rich clay. Red snow also sounds like it should be the title of a Norwegian metal album.

    Seconding the disappointment about you guys not talking about Mononoke, it’s one of my top ten favorite movies. The rest of the episode was great, though, and Joanna has such a great voice for podcasting!

  • Gregory Muir

    Concerning unobtanium, I’m always flummoxed when geeks laugh at that. It might be a dumb name if Cameron coined it for the film but its actually a word with quite a pedigree.

    Quote: In engineering, fiction, and thought experiments, unobtainium is any fictional, extremely rare, costly, or impossible material, or (less commonly) device needed to fulfill a given design for a given application. The properties of any particular unobtainium depend on the intended use. For example, a pulley made of unobtainium might be massless and frictionless; however, if used in a nuclear rocket, unobtainium would be light, strong at high temperatures, and resistant to radiation damage. The concept of unobtainium is often applied flippantly or humorously.

    This is a huge nod to science buffs and should be one of the in-jokes everyone is nodding and smiling over. And in-universe, given what the thing can do, I can easily see scientists saying that’s what this stuff is like and the flippant remark entering the public domain, much like the Big Bang or god particle.

  • Steve

    Sorry Kevin, the best 3D movie is OBVIOUSLY Gravity!

  • Derek Weber

    Hmm, came across a topical link:

    I had some comments about Dr Suess books but I might need to relisten to the episode. I think they revolved around it being necessary to view a number of his books about being written in the 1950s. The Lorax, in fact, is more relevant today than many of his others. The Oncler is the only one who hangs around, and the book starts in the Truffula tree-less, very polluted, smoggy world, and a little kid finds some things to trade with the Oncler for the story of what happened. The Oncler just happened across the Truffula trees and decided to make Thneeds (which everyone needs) out of them, and the Lorax rocks up, like some sort of tree spirit, popping of the first stump. Despite the Lorax returning time after time saying that he’s speaking on behalf of the trees, and the Barbaloots, who at the Truffula fruits, and some sort of local fish and birds, the Oncler insists that a) there are plenty of trees, and, ultimately, b) everyone needs them and he’s well within his rights to continue his business. It’s not clear why he stays in the end, as his family all leave (they came in to help him run his Thneed factory). In any case, he gives the boy a Truffula seed and says it’s the last and that he should take care of it and grow it and that if the trees are going to come back then it’s up to people like him – it feels a little kitch, but I imagine to a kid reading it (or having it read to them, more like) it could be a bit inspiring, which I suspect is the point.

    Anyway, there are some other Dr Suess’s which just feel very wrong these days, like Scrambled Eggs Super, in which a kid (Peter T Hooper) gets bored of chicken eggs and then goes to great lengths to steal eggs from all sorts of birds to make a “Scrambled Eggs Super dee Dooper, Special deluxe ala Peter T Hooper” (can you tell I’m still reading these to my kids?). And “If I ran the zoo” relates that the kid would kick out all the old animals and go and find some more fantastic ones (e.g. a 10-footed lion, given that “a four footed lion’s not much of a beast”). There’s nothing about conservation or education regarding animals and nature and ecosystems, etc, at all.

    For the record, the Lorax is one of his harder reads, Kevin. Look to The Foot Book or Hop On Pop for the easy stuff (there’s no way you could make films out of them, but I dare ya to try!). 🙂

  • Derek Weber


    “More than 10 per cent of Australia’s native mammals have become extinct since European settlement, a new study has found.”

  • Derek Weber

    New, improved, Mercury in your environment! Apparently there’s twice as much in our environment than we thought. Woot (not)!

  • Andrew

    Making an account to tell you every second leading up until the Swiffer picker upper pipes system was absolutely worth.

    Thank you for being awesome as always,still the only podcast I listen to.

    • Generaleesimo

      Thanks for listening, and being a conscientious podcast objector!

      Spread the word, get all your friends and family to subscribe! Keep the fans coming so that we can keep the podcasts coming!