In an attempt to recreate the past we create the illusion that we control our present. And therefor future. Whereas in reality it is a rather dark view of an irrevocably damaged nature born out of a human longing to find meaning with and within the natural world. It is a manmade way of staving off the inevitable loss that we have brought upon ourselves. Of holding onto the past and trying to reconnect to memory.
Nowhere is this more poignant than in the museum of Natural History in Aralsk, a former Soviet fishing port in Kazakhstan. The poor state of the museum is in a rather odd way a fitting reflection of the ecological disaster that has troubled this region for the past five decades since the Russians decided to divert the water from the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, the two rivers that fed into the Aral Sea, in order to develop the cotton industry in one of the driest regions in the world. Resulting in the disappearance of the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake comparable in size to Ireland. And instigating up to this day one of the greatest ecological catastrophes of the 20th century. Leaving behind failing economies, incongruous borders and a vast salt flat close to 300 kilometers wide.
At full size, the Aral acted as a giant climate buffer. As it shrank and turned into a vast man-made desert summers became hotter and winters colder. Climate change however has exacerbated all of this. Winters have become unpredictable and summers even hotter. Creating violent dust storms that will sweep up tons of salt and sand infused with pesticides from decades of agricultural run-off from the cotton industry. Resulting in an increase of lung and throat cancer. And with no reliable protein source in the absence of fish thousands of locals are suffering from anemia.