On … The Really Big One

I recently came across a reference to the New Yorker article to which I’ve provided a link below. Since many of us (including me) are perhaps only aware at the headline level of the seismic challenges our nation faces, this piece provides a disturbing description of the dangers our people seemingly face in a different part of the west coast than that which preoccupies conventional wisdom.


3 thoughts on “On … The Really Big One

  1. It’s incredible that this story is 4 yrs old and it’s the first time I’ve seen anything about it in the news give the following quote: “the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three” . Thanks for the noise.


  2. Jim,
    At first I was delighted to see this apolitical post and New Yorker article. Haah! That is, until I thought about the political aspect. Wow.

    In 2018 I spent some time on the west coast and ran across signs like the one Schulz quotes: “Temporary Tsunami Assembly Area.” The signs were disconcerting and thought provoking.

    Author Schulz, citing the experts, succinctly gives us the probabilities of the Big One on the Cascadia fault line: “One in ten … one in three…. In 50 years.” Now THAT gets my attention … despite (or because?) of my life expectancy and that of my children.

    That’s too short a time and too catastrophic an event to comfortably ignore.

    And yet the time it takes for the risk to materialize is a bit too long. Schulz crystalizes the problem with human perspective: “The brevity of our lives breeds a kind of temporal parochialism—an ignorance of or an indifference to those planetary gears which turn more slowly than our own.”

    Her statement explains why I neglected to study geology at all in school, favoring what I considered to be more “practical” science courses. I counted myself fortunate to learn about Darwinian principles of evolution, the certainty of climate change (including the man-made contributions of CO2 and methane) and the fragility of the environment. All of that in a series of undergraduate courses in “biology for the non major” taught be a dynamic University of Illinois professor, whom I will never forget, George Kieffer.

    So … how “practical” is our prevention of the loss of a bat species or the snail darter in Tennessee when we know that, in 50 to 100 years, many millions of people will be hopelessly swimming for their lives?

    Schulz ties it all up neatly enough, for me at least, in a way we might regard as obvious: “That problem [of limitations in human societal response] is not specific to earthquakes, of course. The Cascadia situation, a calamity in its own right, is also a parable for this age of ecological reckoning, and the questions it raises are ones that we all now face.”

    Notice she said “now.”

    Yes, preparing for the quake/tsunami on the Cascade fault seems to me an incredibly difficult lift for our society, institutions and politics — despite the earnest efforts of seismologists and illuminating writers like Ms. Schulz.

    Schulz admirably opens this door of deeper inquiry: “How should a society respond to a looming crisis of uncertain timing but of catastrophic proportions? How can it begin to right itself when its entire infrastructure and culture developed in a way that leaves it profoundly vulnerable to natural disaster?”

    How indeed? I’m frustrated and sad to think I at least have no clue.



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