Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mother Earth - Mover and Shaker

So first there was the volcano erupting in Iceland and bringing aviation to a crunching halt. Now we have earthquakes - a massive one in China where there have been many lives lost (although we must be thankful it doesn't look like it's going to compare with the Haitian one in January where the death toll was simply horrendous) and, comparatively speaking, some minor ones (below 6.0) in South Australia a couple of days ago followed by one in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia this morning (neither causing major damage) and there have most probably been others worldwide - all in a week. This is Mother Earth going about her business while we cling, rather precariously, to her surface deluding ourselves that the ground we stand on is secure.

Like anyone with even a basic knowledge of the action of tectonic plates, I'm not surprised at how many earthquakes there are world wide each year - twenty six so far over 6.0 in 2010 and many more below that. Most are minor, causing little more than a shaking that is barely noticed. When you live, as we all do, on drifting land masses collisions are inevitable and we have a fair idea of the main areas where fault lines occur so we just need to accept it.

Unfortunately we have sometimes built major cities in less than stable areas in the past when we had a less accurate understanding of the complexities of the planet and this does create problems. Our forebears arrived somewhere that had ample water, fertile soil and lush vegetation and it seemed like just the place to settle. They may have been there for hundreds - even thousands - of years, unaware of any danger from the volcanic crater on the side of which they had built or the hidden fault line their town straddled.

Then the warning would come in the form of an eruption or an earthquake. But they were settled there. Maybe a god lived in the mountain or under the ground and they had annoyed him or her so they would repent, sacrifice and it wouldn't happen again - at least not in their lifetime. Maybe they would think that it was just some strange aberration and when it didn't recur, well, there was no need to worry, was there. By the time it happened again the village would have grown - into a town or a city - with all the infrastructure and population that comes with that. More sacrifices to the gods maybe or, if they were people with enquiring minds, they might work out that these incidents would possibly happen again and they would try to take steps to mitigate the damage. They could shift away but the effort - all that work of dismantling an entire civilisation and lifestyle and rebuilding - well, they could take a chance it wouldn't happen again. So they stayed.

And that's exactly what we are still doing. The benefits of staying put outweigh the work of moving and finding somewhere more suitable. I can understand that. We all make these sorts of decisions - is something worth the work involved - in our lives on a daily basis. If you live on the slope of a volcano where the soil is so fertile that your crops grow almost like magic staying seems a better option than deciding to move because of a possible but not certain future eruption. Just look at any volcanic region in the world. The same applies if you've built a city with a population that numbers millions. The logistics and the cost are enormous even if you can find somewhere to move to. There are cities built on major fault lines - San Francisco and Teheran are examples - and we pretty much cross our fingers and hope that it won't happen.

Sadly, it isn't always the right decision. You just have to look at the loss of life in Haiti in January to see that. It's not always a matter of personal choice either. Our society has become increasingly city centric since the Industrial Revolution began and people have to go where the work is. While I wouldn't want to go back to living according to pre Industrial Revolution ways I suspect this issue is going to have to be resolved one day, I hope without a massive loss of life as an entire city crashes down or is covered in volcanic ash.

But if we can't solve these world problems we can at least help those who, for whatever reason, are suffering as a result of natural disasters. Relief funds have been set up worldwide to aid areas where the major earthquakes that have occurred and I urge you to give what you can. It's not only immediate loss of life that is the problem. In many of these disaster areas people remain homeless and injured long after the world's attention has passed by.

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