Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The Virus and the Fires

When things are dire, humans accomplish amazing feats.

Here’s a real life story from 30 years ago. Iraq invaded its small neighbour, Kuwait, in August 1990. In February of the following year, its military surrendered and agreed to leave. On the way out, nearly 700 oil wells were surrounded by landmines and set ablaze.

Five million barrels a day were going up in smoke. The environmental damage was extreme. Those billowing, toxic, 1000°C fires shut out the sun and turned the sky black. Experts predicted it would take five years to extinguish them. Smart people hypothesized the entire planet would experience conditions akin to nuclear winter.

Now the happy ending. Teams of people, from dozens of countries, converged on Kuwait with thousands of tons of heavy equipment. First they cleared the mines. Then they built new roads. Then they flipped the oil pipelines. Instead of shipping oil to the coast, the pipes brought water inland.

Numerous innovative solutions were developed on the fly, onsite. The Hungarians repurposed a Russian tank, equipping it with MiG-21 jet engines that blew out the flames. The Texans used dynamite. The Canadians invented a foam-based solution.

Working together, with brains and brawn, we saved the day. It took only nine months to cap those fires.

The coronavirus is like an oil well fire. It’s scary and dangerous, and it’s metaphorically darkening the sky.

But humans are smart and brave when we need to be. We’re already innovating. Different teams in different countries are working on a range of responses. Drugs. Vaccines. Diagnostic tests that provide results in minutes rather than days.

We’re going to beat this thing. The sky is going to clear again.



Fires of Kuwait
How unorthodox, innovative problem solving
averted environmental disaster.





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This entry was posted on March 25, 2020 by in ethical & philosophical, health, historical perspective and tagged .
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