Connected, like it or not

A weekly column from Jim Taylor.

I had quite a different column prepared for today’s paper. But that was last Friday, before Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

I watched as offices toppled. Buildings swayed. Roads split. People dodged debris crashing onto streets.

And then the tsunami washed boats inland and swept whole parking lots of cars out to sea. A tidal bore of mud and wreckage sluiced across fields, across airports, erased entire villages…

I scrapped my column. My earlier concerns seemed so petty by comparison — almost as petty as the commercials that kept interrupting coverage of the disaster in Japan.

The overtly religious society of our past would have called the earthquake “an act of God.” No doubt some commentators still did. When you define your deity as Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, through whom all things exist and by whom all things are done, who else can you blame?

And we do seem to need to lay blame, to hold someone responsible. Lacking a divinity to blame, Canadian news hosts tended to personify “Mother Nature” – as if nature had intentionally targeted Japan for a display of her raw power.

I’m waiting to see how Glenn Beck will manage to blame it on Islam. Or leftists.

Perhaps finding someone to blame reflects an increasingly secular society’s scientific mindset — if there’s an effect, there must be a cause.

There have been a lot of those effects recently. Five of the 20 most destructive earthquakes in history have happened in the last decade.

In just the last seven years, major earthquakes have occurred in Indonesia (2004); Pakistan (2005); Peru (2007); China (2008); Samoa (2009); Haiti and Chile (2010); and two already this year in New Zealand and Japan.

Are they connected? I would say yes. But not as some kind of master plan inflicted on humans by a punitive deity. Or by malevolent nature.

They’re connected because the tectonic plates that make up the skin of the planet are all connected. Earth’s surface consists of vast continental and oceanic plates that move constantly like ice floes. As they grind against each other, tension and pressure build. Until something snaps.

Then we have an earthquake.

Seismologists initially warned that the Japanese earthquake increased the risk of an earthquake off Vancouver Island. Later they downgraded their warnings.

But I think their warning makes sense. Every earthquake alters the equilibrium of the whole planet. Some grinding edges have pressures eased. Others have it increased.

Did the readjustment under New Zealand affect the interlock off Japan? There’s no scientific proof that it did. But why wouldn’t it?

Earthquakes are not isolated events. The whole planet is interconnected. That’s the point.

Life is not a carefully controlled laboratory experiment. Every action spreads a ripple of reactions. Tiny inputs can have huge consequences. A butterfly’s wings may alter the path of a hurricane. A one-cent rise in Canadian wheat prices can overthrow a government in Africa.

There are no boundaries. This planet is all we have. We are all responsible, for everything.

 

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; rewrite@shaw.ca.

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