Unintended consequences are unforeseen outcomes of a purposeful action taken, usually on a large system, like the environment, to solve a problem. 

Examples include:

The Starling

In 1829 a New York Shakespeare fan, Eugene Schieffelin, so loved the Bard that he wanted to see the same birds as in Shakespeare’s Briton. With the support of scientists and others, he released 100 non-native starlings in Central Park.

The starlings thrived. The present population of these rather obnoxious birds is estimated to be as high as 200 million. With no natural competitors, they consume millions of dollars of crops, carry disease, and even cause fatal airplane crashes.

Forest Fires

Since 1905, the U.S. Forest Service regarded forest fires as the enemy, to be suppressed at all cost. Eventually, it became obvious that without naturally occurring fires. the undergrowth would choke the forest. Worse, when a fire did occur the large quantities of combustible material would feed mega-fires, destroying everything in their path. Even two hundred foot pines several thousand years old which had withstood all previous natural fires succumbed to these new deadly fires.

Fountain Grass

In the 1930’s, two varieties of a grass in the Pennisetum family were imported to the U.S.

Fountain grass was used as a landscape plant and Buffelgrass was brought to Arizona as a drought tolerant pasture grass, however, cattle do not like either one. Both became invasive and crowded out many native species. These huge stands of grasses are highly flammable, creating fires in the desert where there had been few fires before. Our native shrubs and cacti are defenseless against the intense flames. Currently, thousands of volunteers and countless dollars are being spent to eradicate these two pests.

Neonicotinoid

In 1985, Bayer patented the first of many insecticides with the active ingredient ‘Neonicotinoid’. Touted to be safe for mammals, neonicotinoid is absorbed by the plant with a very long residual activity. By 2013 neonicotinoids were used in ninety-five percent of corn, most soybeans, fruits, and vegetables. Unfortunately, scientists soon discovered that the chemical is absorbed by all parts of plants including pollen and nectar. It has been since linked to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees and even trace amounts have proven disastrous for other insect pollinators. Though many cities and countries around the world have put restrictions and outright bans on Neonicotinoid, the chemical is still widely used in the U.S.

The list goes on and on. Even today humans continue to try and ‘fix’ Mother Nature without asking the all-important question: ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

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