Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Radical Environmentalism from the NY Times

I'd like to attribute it to poetic license, but I can't help sensing a touch of radical environmentalism in the NY Time's slapping a headline, The Year the Earth Fought Back, on an otherwise sober and thoughtful op-ed piece on the earthquake off Sumatra.

I assume the Times came up with the headline since it is my understanding that authors do not write their own. The underlying commentary, written by Simon Winchester (author of Krakatoa : The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, which I highly recommend) is not, as the title might suggest, a screed on how the human race reaping the results of its crimes against the environment. Instead, it pairs the Sumatran earthquake with one in Iran a year earlier (and a number of other geological events in between) and compares it to the rash of earthquake activity in 1906 (including the Great San Francisco Quake that leveled the city).

The question Mr. Winchester asks is whether these events are related, i.e., did the earlier earthquake in Iran, through some as yet unknown mechanism of plate tectonics, contribute to the quake off Sumatra a year later? To support his supposition, Mr. Winchester points out that the science of plate tectonics is less than 40 years old and, as additional support, points to the discovery that the geysers in Yellowstone National Park started to erupt much more frequently in the days immediately following a huge earthquake in central Alaska in 2002.

Mr. Winchester raises these questions in the hope that an understanding of such connections, should they exist, would provide warnings and allow us to prepare for events such as Sumatra. The Time's headline anthropomorphizes the connectedness of the quakes and implies that the "Earth" was responding to prior attacks against itself. Not only is this sentiment New Age occultism at its worst, it is highly offensive when applied to an event that may have killed 100,000 people. This thinly veiled glee at the "comeuppance" dished out to humanity for its eco-crimes is the same that motivates radical environmental groups who want their policies followed regardless of the cost in human life. Its surprising to see it on the pages of the Times.