I have studied volcanoes most of my life. No, I’m not a professional volcanologist, I found the career too limiting with my interests. However, I know enough about volcanoes that I could probably swap with a scientist at the observatory and no one would notice the difference.
The first time I encountered the baffling attitude that is today’s blog topic was when I was a teenager. I was in a discussion with two people about the destructive power of pyroclastic flows and why they are so dangerous. The two seemed interested and asked a lot of questions, but that all changed without warning. All of a sudden one of the people turned to me and sternly informed me that I shouldn’t be studying volcanoes because they are destructive and disruptive. They never offered anymore argument in favor of their opinion, they simply crossed their arms overtheir chest and glared at me until I found someone else to talk to.
I encountered this attitude again when discussing the recent La Palma eruption. This flank eruption occurred in a populated area, mowed down over 2,000 buildings and displaced thousands of residents. Authorities ordered evacuations ahead of the eruption and there were only a few fatalities, thankfully.
There was a group of young women on one of the volcano pages I frequent who took it upon themselves to inform people that they were not to watch the live feed of the eruption, and, furthermore, no one in the group was to be interested in volcanoes at all without feeling guilt because they are destructive. The argument got so heated under one post that the moderators had to erase several comments from these women and eventually shut down commenting altogether on the post.
I wish I had some pearl of wisdom to impart here, but I’m at a loss. At the moment I’ve been run ragged by something going on in my house and a logical thought requires a great deal of energy I don’t have, especially when it comes to something so illogical and narrow-minded that it leaves one speechless, anyway.
For one thing, posing an essential scientific boycott of a natural phenomenon simply on the grounds that it is destructive makes little sense. As any geographer or earth-related scientist can tell you, the planet is not a gentle place. Pretty much everything on Earth is violent and destructive. And it doesn’t matter what’s going on, either. That beautiful sunny day that these ladies are gushing about is evaporating water supplies, burning skin, bleaching coastlines, and driving the fire danger up. That adorable elephant just spent all day mowing down a forest with her herd to get to a new water hole.
Earth works in cycles of destruction and creation. The volcano on La Palma knocked down houses, scorched farmland, incinerated gas stations, and displaced people, this is true. What it was also doing is creating new land and fertilizing the soil, both assets those displaced people are likely to benefit from in the future. It may not seem like that now, but the whole reason those people were living in that volcanically active area in the first place was because of the benefits the volcano created.
The same can be said for pretty much every destructive force on the planet. Hurricanes ravage the coast with their devastating winds, drowning rainfall, and disastrous storm surges. In the end, however, the storms bring much-needed water to the coast, reshape beaches and islands, trim forests, and fertilize soils. Whole ecosystems have built up around these storms and even depend on their occasional landfalls.
What Earth doesn’t handle well is imbalance and stagnation. We are currently seeing the rapid stagnation of the thermohaline cycle. This global circulation of our oceans’ hot and cold waters serves as a planetary climate regulator. The stagnation of this system effects other important cycles around the world, including ENSO and several atmospheric circulation patterns. (And if you don’t know what ENSO is, let me just say that Google is your friend.) Scientists believe that the slowing or stoppage of the thermohaline cycle has led to dramatic global cooling, including a phenomenon a few centuries ago known as the Little Ice Age.
So what is the main cause of this stagnation? Large amounts of meltwater coming from the Artic have been implicated in changes in the thermohaline cycle. And what is the main source of that water today? Yes, that’s right, human-caused climate change melting the polar ice caps. Climate change is brought on by the massive release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, two gases created by transportation, energy production, and other industrial processes of the human world. You could even argue that human beings are one of the most destructive elements on Earth, and that is usually destruction without creation. Species extinctions, massive deforestation, giant carbon footprints, overpopulation, and generally messing around with natural ecosystems don’t create anything.
So, ladies, by your logic we shouldn’t be watching and studying anything involving humans. No more selfies, YouTube videos, or reality TV. No more chatting, no more going out with your friends. You should feel guilty for ever liking anything involving a human being, and you better not take a career that involves human services. They’re too destructive! At least La Palma offers benefit in return for his destructive side. What does your species have for us following the disasters you bring?
“That’s stupid,” I hear my readers say. Yes, because it is. The whole philosophy lacks any logic. It’s said by a gaggle of self-righteous idiots who have no understanding of how this planet works, nor do they care about anything beyond their simple little suburban walls. I could be more diplomatic, but, as I said before, I’m run down to nothing right now and I really don’t give a shit how I sound at the moment. I have no patience for this naïve, uneducated attitude.
So why study destructive forces in the first place? Because they are destructive! There was no volcanic apocalypse with thousands dead at La Palma because there were scientists who study the volcano and saw its warning signs of trouble. Earlier this year, an even more powerful eruption took place on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, where scientists monitoring the historically deadly Soufriere volcano were alert enough to evacuate residents before the explosion took place. In both cases, scientists saved countless lives because they took an interest in volcanoes and decided to make them a career.
Disasters should not be boycotted. They should be studied, filmed, talked about, and scrutinized from all angles. This is a hard concept for a simple mind to comprehend, but, fortunately for us, scientists in many disciplines keep going and learning more every day. Those disasters these young ladies are so busy ignoring and refusing to watch today are going to save us in the future. Because the best result of understanding a disaster is preventing another one.