A tragédia no Japão revela o lado cruel, destruidor da Mãe Natureza e entristece as pessoas com um mínimo de sentimento. "Castigo de Deus por causa do progresso tecnológico do Japão", ouvi alguém comentar numa fila de supermercado, como se Deus (caso exista) preferisse que vivêssemos como certas tribos africanas sem tecnologia nenhuma - pra que então nos dotou de inteligência? Sinal do fim dos tempos devem dizer outros, como se catástrofes jamais tivessem ocorrido antes. E a suposta queda do meteoro que exterminou os dinossauros? E a explosão de Krakatoa? Chris Lloyd, autor de um livro maravilhoso chamado What on Earth Happened? que traduzi dois anos atrás para o português e que um dia a editora Intrínseca deverá lançar no nosso mercado, escreveu um artigo esclarecedor sobre catástrofes naturais. Não tenho tempo de traduzir, fica em inglês mesmo. Se alguma alma caridosa quiser traduzir e me enviar prometo revisar com carinho e postar...  

Waves of destruction

I HAD TO WAIT at least a day or two before dispatching this Wallbook Weekly –to see a little how the appalling events in the Far East begin to play out.

I am overwhelmed with sorrow for the poor people of Japan, struck by the sudden, tragic and massive Miyagiken-Oki earthquake and the subsequent superwave of destruction that has literally - like a wall of concrete – swept away so many villages and towns in its wake….

US President Obama said yesterday that such events remind us how fragile we are as a species. Although that’s right, it shouldn’t take disasters like the unfolding trauma in Japan toremind us of our vulnerability. Every hill and mountain top, every cliff edge – all the land we live on ultimately only exists because of the countless catastrophes stimulated by plate tectonics that causes the earth to buckle, split and rotate endlessly around the globe over eons of time.

The What on Earth? Wallbook image I have chosen for this week is taken from panel two – in the sea stream. It represents that giant tsunami (we always called them tidal waves when I was young, anyone know when the fashion switched to the Japanese terminology and why, I wonder?) that in part contributed to the demise of that other once all-powerful race of land creatures – the dinosaurs.

A giant six-mile wide meteorite travelling at 17,000 miles per hour is thought to have been the cause. Just imagine what gargantuan tidal waves (sorry tsunamis) must have occurred after its impact in the ocean, somewhere near the Gulf of Mexico. Recent tsunamis, be they Indonesian or Japanese, would have been the merest ripples by comparison. 

Those land-hugging dinosaurs not vaporised by the impact would have been drowned by a tsunami. Those living on the other side of the world would have been less fortunate. They would most likely have suffered a longer trauma before inevitable death as dust in the upper atmosphere blocked out the sun, perhaps for as long as a year – the ultimate power-cut.  

Humanity was almost made victim of a different natural disaster, long before the first civilisations emerged. When the Toba super-volcano in Sumatra erupted c. 70,000 years ago it was the most powerful natural disaster to have stuck in 25 million years. On the other side of the world populations of our human species, Homo sapiens, are thought to have dwindled to a few as 2,000 as a result – the tiniest of genetic bottlenecks through which the 7 billion of us alive now are all beneficiaries.

What changes, I wonder, did such a dramatic cull of humanity have on our culture? Is this the moment from when prowess amongst men for singing, dancing, talking and tool-making became the determinant factor in the fierce competition for favour amongst the few remaining females? Was the ancient culture of the European veneration for femininity, captured by the cult of the mother goddess and celebrated until as recently as Minoan Crete in 1700 BC – a cultural echo of that supervolcano in Indonesia many thousands of years before? Ironically, the fertility goddess-worshipping Minoans was another civilisation washed away by a giant tsunami following the eruption of another vast volcano - Mount Thera (present day Santorini).

The Japanese will pick themselves up, I have no doubt. They did so following the traumas of World War II – as did Germany – becoming one of the most efficient, economically productive nations on Earth, driven by the part competitive, part collaborative human spirit of striving to rebuild and renew.

Even-so for a world leader to have to remind us how fragile we are as a species - past, present or future – sounds to me like another failure of education. Big history constantly tells us how vulnerable we are – how totally shaped our form and culture is by the natural world.

The human story exists within a thin slither of gas on the surface of a blue planet cracked like an egg shell underneath which crusts of earth are constantly being moved, jostled and broken by a massive ball of boiling hot magma powered by geo-thermal, nuclear fission. That’s our true context 24 hours a day, every day of the year - not just something to muse about when disasters strike. What’s more it’s a positive thought since living with such a context in mind makes me want to make the most of every minute, everyday.

To see an archive of Wallbook Weekly postings or to take part in the What on Earth? Wallbook 60-question online quiz please visit www.whatonearthbooks.com

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