Earth, humanity moving in different directions
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 30, 2015


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 was stable.

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 stupidity.

My own solution was always “fewer humans.” Here’s a quote from Dan Brown’s novel “Inferno,” 2013:

“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 overpopulation...”

So, this week there’s another strained study linking extreme weather to global warming and leading to 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 Great Lisbon Earthquake with its epicenter near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge tectonic plate.

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 News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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