The photos coming out of New South Wales (Australia) last night were startling.
Cars and houses being swept down the river following days of rain that was still predicted to last for several more. The same area that was hit by the massive wildfires a year ago.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen such images on TV, nor will it be the last. Water is a mighty powerful force.
A day earlier we saw the spectacular eruption of the Mount Fagradalsfjall near Reykjavik, Iceland. Thankfully, no one was killed. But there have been many victims from previous volcanic eruptions (including some who refused warnings to leave).
These are stark reminders of the power of nature, and of how impotent we humans are to withstand them.
Last year it was fires in California (or is that every year?) Four years ago, 188,000 people had to be evacuated when northern California’s giant Oroville Dam partially failed. (A previous dam failure in the area, the Francis Dam in 1928 that killed hundreds, is considered one of the worst civil engineering failures in American history.)
We live on a planet we try to manipulate but really have little control over. And Mother Nature reminds us of that from time to time.
Sometimes we think we can control it. We build dams, but sometimes they burst. We scour the landscape to build highways. And then a Hope Slide demolishes it.
We build coastal cities at or below sea level, and then a Hurricane Katrina wipes out New Orleans. But, instead of moving to higher ground, we rebuild on the same site.
We build a suspension bridge over the Tacoma Narrows and then a 1940 windstorm takes it out less than five months after it opened. Some lessons learned, we replace it ten years later with an even longer span.
I’m currently reading the book Before We Lost the Lake, the story of Sumas Lake before it was drained to create our fertile farmland. Our forebears decided we could control the natural cycle to our advantage, like so many other times and places around the world.
We may have actually succeeded–at least we have for a hundred years. But I’ve lived on the mountain above there, and witnessed the flooded winter fields of the Sumas Prairie when the Nooksack River can’t contain its flow. The 1948 flood was evidently worse, though human engineering withstood that deluge.
I’ve seen maps of the devastation paths should a still active Mt. Baker decide it’s time to do a Mt. St. Helens. Sumas Prairie, in its entirety, sits in the solifluction zone.
We keep building homes higher and higher up the mountains, despite being in a tectonic fault zone that we expect will trigger a major earthquake one of these years.
We build our province’s largest airport on a sandy delta virtually at sea level—and it’s certainly not the only one in the world built on similar terrain.
We spend increasing billions of dollars on a Site C dam despite engineers’ warnings that it is on unstable ground that may not withstand the mighty power of raging water. We reinforce it with more billions of dollars that we know we will never recover.
And I wonder, when will we humans learn that we’re not a very good match for the whims of Mother Nature?
Or do we just revert to thinking short-term, take our chances, and hope for the best—in the meantime, trying our best to manipulate the world to our whims?
Just wondering . . .