Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The night the Akerselva River died

“Nesten alt liv er borte i Akerselva”—this was the front page headline in this morning’s edition of the Aftenposten newspaper. It translates as follows: ‘nearly all life is gone in the Akerselva river’. Apparently one of the pipes in the Oslo water purification plant up in Maridalsvannet developed a crack Tuesday evening of last week that was not discovered until early Wednesday morning. By that time, about 12 hours later, 6000 liters of highly-concentrated chlorine had leaked out into the river and taken the lives of most of the fish, crayfish, and river insects along the river’s approximately six-mile length. Scientists who have evaluated the river during the past week have found no signs of life. River life was annihilated in the space of one night. These are the kinds of headlines that make me want to scream and cry. Scream in frustration and cry from heartbreak. I simply cannot understand how such accidents can happen in 2011, and yet they do. There will be a police investigation and blame will be placed somewhere, but it will not bring back the fish and the other life that died without ever knowing what hit them. I only hope that the many mallard ducks that live along the river, even in the wintertime, are unaffected. I really don’t think I could take knowing that their numbers were also decimated. I feel so sorry for the fish and the other life that died before they had a chance to live out their short lives on this earth, and also for the ducks, because all these wonderful creatures are completely at the mercy of humans. I feel sorry for us too, the humans who love this river, who walk along it in all seasons, marveling at the ducks who tackle the ice and snow and cold, hardy birds that show us that it is possible to survive these winters. I never tire of watching the ducks and the bird life in general along the river. But it’s hard to imagine that the ducks or any of the other birds will stay without food in the river. I dread the thought of what the river will look and sound like in the summertime—empty, lifeless, dead, silent.

What happened to the Akerselva river last week is a tragedy. Our lives go on, but a beautiful living river died in the space of one night. Scientists say that it will take two to three years before the river comes alive again. But right now, all I can focus on is the loss--the immense loss of life. We are not doing our jobs as caretakers of this earth when we let animals and birds die due to chemical spills, oil spills and pollution. They cannot talk, cannot tell us what they need, and cannot tell us that they are sick or dying. So we need to pay attention to them. We need to interpret for them; we need to ‘see’ them, to see how valuable their lives are. We need to ‘see’ so many things. We have to start living as though our lives depended upon the happiness of the lives we have been charged with protecting. Because the reality is that our happiness does depend on this. Without animals, birds, fish and plants, we are nothing. They may provide food for us, but mostly they provide beauty and another way of looking at the world, a better way. They remind us that all life is precious and should be respected. They are a constant reminder that all life is sacred.  

(Some links to Norwegian news articles about this environmental tragedy:


  1. I can't tell you how sorry I am to hear about this. I grieve along with you. I haven't stopped grieving my lost forest from last summer's fire, so I know full well how you must feel. I must constantly counsel myself that the earth can recover itself, but so rarely in our lifetime, and seemingly hopelessly if we humans don't help it along. A New Yorker in Arizona sheds tears mingled with yours. Let them help form a clean and safe new river.

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  3. Thank you so much for your comments and empathy. They help. I thought about your forest when I wrote this. The sorrow makes you want to scream. Even though I know the river life will come back in a few years, I feel so sorry for the life that died. Nature is so fragile.