22 April 2010


In any contest between man and nature, nature inevitably wins, as evident in the recent grounding of all flights in Europe due to ash from a volcano in Iceland. With but a few more volcanic eruptions the disaster could have been far worse, resulting in a pronounced climate change. This has occurred many times in the past. Another eruption in Iceland in 1783 was noted by Benjamin Franklin while residing in Paris. He realized that a large amount of volcanic particles in the atmosphere would reduce the earth’s temperature by blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the surface. The Tambora eruption in Indonesia in 1815 resulted in a “year without summer” across the globe. These have occurred in relatively recent historical times, but have been happening continuously across the ages.

Earth has been a fireball, and was utterly transformed into a frozen snowball over the eons. The continents have reconfigured themselves in unrecognizable forms over millions of years as the earth beneath our feet literally continues to move. Geological changes are constant over time and can have a profound effect on life on earth. We as a species began populating the earth and expressing ourselves only 40,000 years ago in relatively sweet time. This is but a fragmentary moment in processes that have gone on for millions; billions of years. These benign conditions allowed our civilization to develop some ten tnousand years BC with the beginning of agriculture and towns.

Throughout all of our history we have been subject to the forces of nature. For most of that time these were attributed to often angry gods and it was only in the twentieth century that the full scope of geological time and effects was fully comprehended. The world of today is but an infinitesimal moment in long term processes that will continue with or without us, but upon which we can no effect whatsoever.

Alongside these forces the impact of man-made global warming is negligible. Even controlling for that, at a cost of trillions of dollars, will not immunize us against the forces of nature. Beyond volcanic eruptions, a change in solar flares would have immeasurably more impact on the planet than anything we have done. Given this reality rather than attempting to stop inevitable climate change we should be devoting resources to ameliorating the consequences, rather than to self-destructive, quixotic prevention. This includes greater emergency preparedness, better intelligence regarding natural forces, and steps to avoid the consequences of unstoppable changes. For the fact remains that even if we could slightly alter the debatable effects of human activity we can do nothing to stop the forces of nature.

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