I hadn’t planned a
follow-up to my last column about Earth Day, but Mother Earth
decided last weekend that she wanted to contribute to the discussion
so I thought she deserves more attention.
On Saturday evening in a
phone conversation, I thanked my son for sending me Simon
Winchester’s bestseller, “Krakatoa,”
which I’m reading this month. Building up to that devastating
volcanic explosion of 1883, Winchester gives the history of the
discovery of plate tectonics, which I’d forgotten was only
acknowledged by science in 1965.
Recalling now: In my
youth, we schoolchildren who noticed that Africa and South America,
seen on a map, clearly seemed to fit together, were not taken
seriously by our teachers. Scientists hadn’t yet proven that indeed,
the two continents had been part of one land mass in the earth’s
past, before the sliding of the earth’s internal plates drove them
apart. Mostly, it was “settled science” that the earth’s foundation
So as I expressed my
fascination with the book, my son asked if I’d heard the news that
day about the
earthquake in Nepal. We immediately saw the connection, that
Nepal lies on one of the places where tectonic plates — the
Indo-Australian and Asian plates that originally created the
Himalayas — line up for an inevitable crash — and that inevitability
occurred last weekend. As I write this, 4,600 people have been
confirmed dead, from the 7.8 quake itself and the avalanche it
caused on Everest.
“Plate tectonics is, in
essence, the way by which the world deals with its steady loss of
heat... which is slowly cooling the earth to its ultimate frigid
darkness...” (from “Krakatoa”).
So, Mother Earth, trying
to avoid the frigid darkness that we can probably agree will be
worse than global warming, releases the heat from its molten core
through processes that cause great damage to her surface and kills
thousands of human beings, for which she cares nothing, despite our
efforts to please her by banning plastic bags.
Never mind. The earth is
destined to someday fall into the sun, thereby ending the frigid
darkness. Long before these events, the human race will have
destroyed itself, a process that seems to be accelerating if one
pays attention to the news of the day. Another thing I learned in
school was that we were destined to get better until we evolved into
angels; this doesn’t seem to be happening.
And yet... I saw a story
last week about a pregnant woman who
fell onto the train tracks at the MBTA, and was rescued by six
men who jumped down and hauled her up just before the train arrived.
We read stories in this newspaper about the charity runs and
benefits, the medical triumphs, the professional, education and
athletic achievements of real people in just this region alone.
Aid workers are rushing to
Nepal to rescue if possible, to help in rebuilding. Does this urge
to save, to build, balance the deliberate destruction of parts of
Baltimore, which is entirely human-caused and not to be blamed on
Mother Nature? Somehow it’s easier to process the impersonal
destruction of natural events, even when thousands are affected,
than having to watch the trial of one man for mindlessly
killing/maiming a few innocents at a marathon race for charity.
Easier to understand tectonic plates than try to imagine human
My own solution was always
“fewer humans.” Here’s a quote from Dan Brown’s novel “Inferno,”
“Open your eyes! We are on
the brink of the end of humanity, and our world leaders are sitting
in boardrooms commissioning studies on solar power, recycling, and
hybrid automobiles. ...Ozone depletion, lack of water, and pollution
are not the disease — they are the symptoms! The disease is
So, this week there’s
another strained study linking extreme weather to global warming and
Pope Francis announcing a Vatican meeting to address human
impact on the climate. Seriously? Do you think there will be a
break-out session on birth control? I’m starting to see the funny
side of this debate.
Just for balance though: A
friend reminds me that the entire human race could fit into a small
section of the United States. I looked it up and, National
Geographic News says that, “Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, the
entire world’s population
could fit within the 500 square miles of Los Angeles.”
Some of the existing LA
population, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, is living on
top of itself in high-rise apartments, but nevertheless – it looks
as if at least 4 billion more illegal immigrants from third-world
countries actually could fit into Southern California!
Well, summer is coming,
probably bringing all those “extreme weather” settled science
hurricanes that haven’t arrived yet. On the bright side, a friend
emailed me that “with the burning of fossil fuel we are putting back
into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that was buried millennia
ago, during the Carboniferous Period, when ferns grew to the height
of trees and poured so much oxygen into the atmosphere that
dragonflies had three-foot wing spreads.” Wow!
In case you wonder why
people live in high-risk areas like Nepal (when they could live in
Los Angeles on the San Andreas Fault), let me remind you that in
1755, there was a 6.0-6.3 earthquake right here in
Eastern Massachusetts, at the same time as the
Lisbon Earthquake with its epicenter near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Since then, much new
construction in Boston has been
built on fill, with older buildings made of crumbly stone and
brick — and of course much of the Central Artery is now underground.
A 1990 study of the potential damage from another earthquake has led
to the updating of building codes in the city; is that another
skyscraper going up there on the horizon?
I remember when I moved
here there was concern about building the
Seabrook nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault. I asked an
official about it and was told “don’t
worry, there hasn’t been an earthquake here in over 200 years.”
He was later killed by lightning while hiking in the Rockies.
And as sad at that is, the
lesson to us all: don’t worry, life is dangerous, the earth and its
climate are not necessarily your friend but have provided many good
things when combined with human resourcefulness; appreciate, enjoy,
and laugh at the hubris of the human condition while helping
innocent victims when we can.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem