April 21, 2010
Big Nature and Tiny Us
By Bruce Walker
Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano has forced tens of thousands of airline flights in Europe and the North Atlantic to shut down. The last time this volcano erupted, in 1821, it continued for two years. No one knows when the eruption will stop this time. This uncontrolled and unpredictable explosion of nature's power upon our lives steps across our puny civilizations with frightening ease.
Nineteen years ago, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines coughed up twenty million tons of sulfur dioxide. In Mexico, nine years earlier, the Chichón eruption perceptibly cooled the planet. Recent human history has other examples of globally cooling volcanoes. Mount St. Helens, erupting in 1980, threw gases and particles in the sky which were clearly visible for hundreds of miles.
The Icelandic Laki eruption in 1783 was believed by Ben Franklin to have cooled the planet, and thirty-two years later, the Tambora volcano in Indonesia produced the "year without a summer," in which distant New England experienced snowfalls in July. Krakatau, exactly one year after Laki, was twenty times more powerful than Mount St. Helens and cooled the planetary temperature perceptibly. These volcanoes are dramatic evidence of a mundane truth: We exercise very little power over our environment.
At a juncture of science and ideology in which acolytes of the global warming faith warn us that we appease the wrong gods, in spite of the fact that their theories show remarkably little predictive power, it should sober us all to realize that nature is much bigger than us. No one needs a hockey stick-generating software program to prove that a simple, natural volcano produces very real global cooling. What if the incidence of volcanic eruptions, as evidenced by Pinatubo, Chichón, and Eyjafjallajokull results in a significant cooling of Earth?
The Pinotubo volcano spewed twenty million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which caused the global temperature to drop by one degree Fahrenheit. The Icelandic volcano is spewing 750 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air each second, according to the Icelandic Institute of Earth Sciences. That does not sound like a lot until one does the math: That is 2.7 million tons an hour, or 648 million tons a day. How much of that is entering the stratosphere? Atlantic Monthly reports that the ash cloud is extending seven miles into the stratosphere. So maybe this volcano will cool the Earth for a year or two.
The headline, though, is this: Big Nature and Tiny Us. Humans and their technologies are helpless against the whims of volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and the other burps and hiccups of our planet. We have known for many decades that someday in the near future, California and most of the Pacific Coast might be violently tossed by the shifting of the San Andreas Fault, and whole cities and states might quickly wind up on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. What would that do to "the environment"? In the narrow and petty minds of Warmers, the consequence would be that tens of millions of internal combustion engines and modern homes would stop ruining the environment, but of course, the true impact would be vastly more deadly to man and his tenuous hold upon life here on Earth...and upon the environment of our world. Why are these busybodies not working on ways to keep plate tectonics from producing this calamity? Because no one can really stop the drift of continents, or the volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes which nature causes.
One fine day, a meteor or an asteroid may -- no, a meteor, asteroid, or similar interstellar object will -- smash into our planetary home. We will have little advance warning. There is not much we can do to stop it. We can scarcely predict when this will happen. The impact could easily cause the destruction of all human life, as well as the extermination of much animal and plant life on Earth. Despite the conflict about man-made global warming in the scientific community, there is no disagreement at all about what such a collision would do to our world. Yet the clergy of the Church of Global Warming proposes virtually nothing at all to meet this threat, which the dark ocean of outer space whispers is not an "If?" but a "When?"
Why the intense focus on a dubious and minor problem, man-made global warming, and indifference to an unquestioned and lethal problem, some future collision with an object in outer space? And why are Warmers not trying to figure out how we can stop volcanoes? Liberated man is the enemy of Warmers, and human liberty is the hated object of these Warmers. Their goal, in the simplest terms, is raw political power, whatever harm this power causes to the rest of us. They must portray man as a creature which must be regulated, licensed, and taxed into regimented slavery in a vast empire of pseudo-science. The truth -- that nature is enormous and we are puny -- would lead us to conquer what we can to make our lives safer, richer, and happier.
So, like Druid or Aztec priests before them, what we innocently do can cause spring not to come, the sun not to rise, or fire to come from the sky. Only by making sacrifices which this priestly caste defines as acceptable can our offense against nature be placated. All mischief must have a cause in the conduct of man, because otherwise we could discard our chains and live as free men, knowing that nature is so vast that we cannot comprehend it and that taming nature to our use will bring abundance and joy, rather than the wrath of invented pantheons.