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Fires, floods: The world just isn't a safe place

"The world," my geologist stepson told me a few years ago (right after Katrina, as I remember) "just isn't a safe place to live."

Academic honesty being what it is, I am sure he would hasten to remind me that he was quoting one of his professors, but it is the original statement that counts. I sit here in Colorado surrounded by about a dozen (counting those in other states) wildfires that are, at this writing, just being brought under control after causing loss of life, scorching about 150,000 acres and destroying hundreds of homes.

The catastrophe is so new and ongoing that all of the statistics haven't been added up yet, and the numbers are numbing after a while. My sister and her family lost their home in a Washington state wildfire a few years ago, and I have just an inkling of how much pain that single loss caused. Multiplying by 900 or 1,000 takes it out of the realm of real understanding.

But back to the original premise. Our perception of the world is limited by the fact that we live in it, and except for a few astronauts for brief periods of time, none of us has lived anywhere else. It is, at the same time, the safest and the most dangerous place we have lived.

The truth (according to current theory) is that we live on giant slabs of partially cooled material floating around on pools of molten rock and slamming into each other, causing mountain ranges, volcanos, earthquakes and tsunamis.

The geological reality is brought home to me when I realize that there is a natural spring less than 5 miles from where I sit where the water comes out of the ground boiling and has to be cooled off before people can soak in it … for their health.

We are surrounded by trillions of gallons of liquid sloshing around in complex currents caused by heating and cooling and the attraction of the moon, and this liquid alternately evaporates and condenses in a variety of ways that, along with similar effects on the atmosphere, lead to hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes and blizzards.

Those phenomena lead to floods, avalanches and landslides.

Then you can throw in the odd astronomical event such as a sunspot or a solar flare and the occasional near-miss scenarios involving asteroids the size of a city block and at least a few actual strikes, one of which, scientists theorize, wiped out the dinosaurs.

We don't think of wild animals much, but the mountain lion my Colorado landlord recently ran out of my nearest neighbor's chicken coop makes me listen a little more attentively when I hear that fires have destroyed so much bear habitat that bears are starting to invade what is left of the residential areas.

And those are the natural threats.

We can also consider man-made factors such as war, crime, terrorism, drunk drivers, poorly designed nuclear plants built in tsunami-prone areas, and industrial pollution that enhances and adds to the threat of diseases that already menace us.

It becomes clear that we need to get out of here or, failing that, be a little more wary of our environment and how it may threaten us.

I am mindful that when I first arrived in Colorado and the fires were just beginning, my Florida home was under assault from Tropical Storm Beryl. Here I was sitting by very dry vegetation (read: kindling), and there millions of gallons of water and high winds were wreaking havoc.

Part of what is helping to resolve the fire situation (along with the heroic actions of firefighters) is the arrival of what folks here call the monsoon season, with possible rain and storms forecast for just about every day. I almost breathed a sigh of relief … until my television belched out the magic words:

Flash-flood warnings.

Fires, floods: The world just isn't a safe place 07/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 6, 2012 8:59pm]
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