Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Perfect Storm of Ignorance

A couple years ago there were blizzards and record snow fall (at least since humans have been keeping records) and there have been hurricanes, like Katrina that decimated New Orleans and the coastal areas in the Gulf, and typhoons, and tornadoes, and all kinds of extreme weather. Everywhere I turn someone is wither howling about the End of Days and the Second Coming being heralded by the weather or creaming at nonbelievers that the extreme weather is the result of global warming and human intervention. It is all a lot of tempests in teapots. Someone is always screaming about the end of the world, either by god's or man's hand. It is inevitable.

What is not inevitable is any sign of reason. Extreme weather has been with us since the beginning when this planet was formed. If you want extreme, you should have been here when the world was nothing but volcanoes and magma and clouds of miles of towering ash clouds that reached to the heavens. That is extreme.

The most devastating Atlantic hurricane in the record books was in 1780 in Puerto Rico when 22,000 people lost their lives. I believe that was before the advent of cars and chemicals spewing into rivers, lakes, and the oceans eating a hole in the ozone. In fact, until fairly recent memory when the hole in the ozone was discovered over Antarctica, I doubt anyone can prove whether there was or wasn't a hole there before it was discovered.

The volcanic eruption from Mt. Tambora on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia in 1805 was more devastating that Krakatoa in 1883 and 52 times more destructive than the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Notice that the volcanic eruption was before the time of human technology, cars, and man-made chemicals and was not born in a lab in Manhattan or tested at White Sands.

The devastation from Mt. Tambora had a profound effect on the weather in the United States with frost in the middle of summer and snow in June in New England, Newfoundland, and Labrador half a world away, termed the year without a summer in 1816. No cars, no chemicals, and no global warming, except for the warming trend that followed the nuclear winter which was the result of Mt. Tambora's devastating volcanic display.

Benjamin Franklin wrote a paper about the unusually cool summer of 1783 on the volcanic dust and sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere due to the volcanic eruption of Laki in Iceland. Franklin might have blamed it on man if he'd had our technology to track storms and prognosticate about the weather, but all he had was his intellect and the power of observation.

The great famine of 1315-1317 was theorized to be the result of the volcanic eruption of Kaharoa in New Zealand and the effects lasted for 5 years.

Unseasonal weather, crop failures, and famine from 535-536 could have been caused by a comet strike sending a veil of dust that blotted out the sun and cooled the earth, as Procopius wrote, but it is more likely that Rabaul in Papua New Guinea erupting was the cause.

Volcanic winter about 71,000 to 73,000 years ago was probably the result of a super-eruption of Lake Toba in Sumatra that deposited a record amount of sulfuric ash over the following 6 years that has been measured to be the highest level of ash in the past 110,000 years. The result of Mother Nature's temper tantrum at that time significantly deforested Southeast Asia and global temperatures dropped 1° C, reducing the animal and possibly human population and increasing continental glaciation. In plain speak, it was so cold the glaciers advanced across the European continent, making it so cold that animals and humans died in vast numbers.

I could continue with more statistics and history that encompass thousands of years of recorded history of natural disasters and extreme weather. What it all boils down to is that this planet has seen much worse natural disasters than Hurricane Sandy and more devastation that nuclear bombs and man's latest technological and technical innovations to make this world a more habitable place. What we seem to forget is that no place on Earth is safe to live. Where there are volcanoes, coastal shores, lands reclaimed from the sea that are still below sea level, beautiful alpine and forested slopes near dormant or sleeping volcanoes, verdant stretches above earthquake faults, and pastures and mountain tops in ancient paths of glacial advance, there is nowhere that nature cannot find us and destroy us. It is not god's will and it is not manmade global warming, but life on a turbulent planet constantly changing and reforming from within and without. Tornadoes, typhoons, earthquakes, comet and meteor strikes, glacial advance and retreat, and any number of natural disasters, like wildfires, will happen. If we choose to live here on this planet then we will be affected -- effectively destroyed and decimated.

The temperatures rise and they fall. Climate changes and levels of soot, sulfuric acid, volcanic debris, and sunspot activity on our big yellow sun and factors too numerous to count and fully understand will happen. The planet cools and the planet warms. How much humans have added to the mix is insubstantial compared to what has been thrown into the atmosphere from Mother Nature's latest temper tantrum. To claim human intervention as the major cause is understandable since people are too sophisticated to believe that some capricious deity is behind the destruction and upheaval, but that belief is as arrogant and superstitious as the belief that our actions have caused the gods to punish man for not saying his prayers or sleeping with someone else's husband.

We exist on a living planet that grows and changes every day. We may be convinced we know the causes of such extreme weather, but it is more likely we see and understand the tip of a vast iceberg, the bulk of which lies beneath the waters of our ken. All we can do is what humans have done since their first appearance on this world -- live through it and rebuild.