Friday, February 24, 2012

Volcanoes and Doomsayers

Humanity as a whole has either revered, or feared volcanoes depending on the culture experiencing this geological process. Some cultures deify volcanoes and associate them with various gods, while others fear volcanoes as a malevolent and destructive force. Science has explained a great many mysteries of volcanic processes since the dawn of man, but with progress on the scientific front comes resistance from the spiritual front. Such has been the case since anything resembling the scientific method has been used.

From religious fundamentalists who believe in the "End of Days", to conspiracy theorists who postulate that governments around the world can actually make volcanoes erupt, volcanoes in the media have had a bad rap since nearly the beginning of written language.

My blog, which is really catching on thanks to news organizations, other bloggers, and enthusiasts (my blog has recently overtaken several in Internet ratings, probably due to the fact that I actually vet my information, and check my spelling and grammar!), is dedicated to the idea that science and the scientific method are better used to explain the reality in which we live than say, spiritual or pseudo-predictive opinions. That all being said, I find it both amusing and frightening that information about volcanoes is used in the realm of spirituality to frighten or persuade people into believing that the end times is upon us.

Let this be said and understood. The Earth IS billions of years old. It HAS hosted many generations of life from single celled organisms to macroscopic life forms that inhabit and in some cases dominate the planet on which we live and grow. From amoebas to dinosaurs, from small simians to humans, this planet has a rich (and provable via the fossil record) history of life over countless and unfathomable amounts of time. This time has been filled (on this planet) with geological events, cosmic events, and plenty of important biological events. To consider that we are in some way special and unique in this span of time is, in my view, wholly foolish. We are but specks of dust in the grand scheme of the cosmos, and our planet is unique.

Volcanoes are definitely powerful forces. They do indeed inflict destruction on civilized man, but also provide benefits of which news and religious organizations often fail to recognize. Why, we might not even exist if it weren't for the volcanic chemistry set that the Earth is made of. Volcanic soil produces some of the most fertile land that we are capable of farming due to the minerals that it creates. Volcanic processes create new land and real estate. They fuel our economies in some cases when benign eruptions draw tourists to our towns. They create some of the most spectacular and awesome landscapes that we've come to know and love (take my banner on my page for example, a panorama I took of Crater Lake in Oregon during a gorgeous day!). Or how about the materials we use to make cement, roads, bar-b-que pits, rock gardens, and more?

Yes, volcanoes can and do visit the occasional mass destruction on our planets inhabitants. But they do give as good as they get. If this planet had no volcanoes, we wouldn't even exist. So before anyone goes on a tirade about "the impending eruptions of super volcanoes" or "Anak Krakatau (or as the less informed know it, Krakatoa) is going to wipe out all life in the Southern Hemisphere", you may wish to re-think your position on volcanoes. After all, chances are 100% that the ground you are standing on had an igneous origin, or that the materials you use in every day life are created by volcanoes.

We as humans tend to build structures and societies where the land can produce crops, and the scenery is impressive. And it is no coincidence that this usually means that you're building on a former area of intense volcanism, due to the resources that are derived from volcanoes. We currently generate power, farm crops, harvest cinders for gardens and building materials, chemicals like sulphur and gases, pumice for soaps and exfoliation products, even toothpaste... the resources we actually get vs what we give back from volcanoes are one sided in our favor. So before demonizing volcanoes and blaming them for an impending apocalypse, try and think of all the things they provide that make your life easier, and then think about how absurd it is to think that a volcano will (at least in our lifetime) end life on the planet as we know it. Chances are good that aside from a volcanoes small radius of destruction, that in the end, everyone benefits.

That's the truth of the matter.

3 comments:

  1. To me, spirituality and religion are very different terms. Religion is formal structures of man. Religion is an institution. Spirituality is the opposite, so to speak. Yes, religion tries to monopolize on spiritual matters, but the latter does not require the former, at all. So to put it into context, an atheist could have a unexpected and spontaneous spiritual experience that had nothing to do with religion.

    For the most part, humans live in 'fear and want' and what you talk about here is consistent with that. Many other animals also are constantly in a fearful state, always looking for danger. It'd deeply rooted in our psyche, both individual and collective.

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  2. Hello I am a Geology major who is working towards having a PhD in Volcanology and I would like to say that I just discovered your blog and I enjoy it. I am still working on reading past posts. What I love is that everyone forgets that Mount Tambora created the worldwide "Year Without a Summer" in 1816

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  3. Thanks, and I am very grateful that you enjoy the read. I try and bring the most relevant eruptions to mind and educate the public of the eruptions that both help and hurt us as humans. Mount Tambora's eruption was indeed a world-changing event, as was the eruption of Laki, and Krakatoa (now Anak Krakatau), and even further, the catastrophic supervolcano Toba.

    While all of these events were destructive, they have shaped humanity into an adaptive and resilient race. It is my hope that people both get a feel for, and understand volcanoes though this blog, and the resources I link to.

    I wish you the very best in your studies, and have high hopes that you will be able to one day discover aspects of geology and volcanoes that we have yet to fathom. Cheers!

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