Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do you even have a clue?

Tonight, I was watching some TV programs about geophysical hazards: earthquakes and dust storms, in particular. It occurred to me that most viewers of such programs likely consider it unlikely that they would experience such monumental dislocations as a major earthquake or a 'black blizzard' of the sort that people in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s went through. They can't begin to imagine what it might be like because they feel secure in their 'normalcy bias' - "It hasn't happened to me yet, so it won't ever happen to me!" Are you willing to bet your life on that?

Listen up, folks - there's a non-zero probabilty that you could experience a geophysical hazard of such monumental proportions you'd be very unlikely to survive it! Most of you can't even begin to imagine what might be in store for you. Yeah, sure - the odds that any one of you in particular will have to deal with such a geophysical disaster are relatively low. Be thankful for that! If you should be unlucky enough to be there when terrible things happen, and you manage to live through it, you'll never have the same sense of security you had before. Your sense of invulnerability on this uncertain planet is completely without justification! There's no security here! Earth is not a world without risk - a world in which your sense of security is justified.

Rather, your continued existence is only as a statistical accident. For most people, most of the time, you're O.K. But there are no guarantees - the security you feel can be withdrawn without notice, at any time. Deadly weather (tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, heat waves, blizzards, extreme cold, dust storms, etc.), deadly geophysical hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, avalanches, tsunamis, etc.), and astrophysical disasters (asteroid and comet impacts, solar storms, etc.) can occur without warning, snuffing out your life and/or your existence as you currently know it suddenly and with little or no advance notice. Yeah, it's unfair, but in the physical world, fairness is not at all guaranteed.

Our planet is not some place that protects you from all hazards, and there is no certainty that you personally will not someday experience catastrophic events from the known hazards that can happen on this planet. If you believe you live on a benign world, secure from deadly hazards, then you will do nothing to prepare for such hazards - and you may well die as a direct result of your ignorance and your erroneous sense of security. Ignorance is not bliss in this real world. Rather, your ignorance can be directly related to your vulnerability to geophysical hazards.

If you don't believe me, go ahead and assume it will never happen to you. Continue to wrap yourself in your bogus security blanket - but don't blame me if you're unlucky! - caught unprepared when some geophysical hazard blows you and your loved ones away. Being prepared is associated with recognizing your vulnerability. Ignore that at your peril!


Anonymous said...

Chuck, I am curious, how often would you guess a severe thunderstorm, by definition, is realized at your residence? Where I live, I would guesstimate that it is about once or twice per year.

All else constant, an extrapolation of this observation over an average lifetime would yield a total of 70 to 140 severe thunderstorm events. Surely that's enough for concern! However if you consider how many times your residence is included in a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning, the yield becomes much much larger. So, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details!

Chuck Doswell said...


What is nominally a 'severe thunderstorm' might indeed happen at my house once or twice a year here in central OK. However, I'm talking about a major, life-threatening event. That has never happened at my house in all the years of my existence. Nevertheless, I don't assume it won't ever happen!