Shaking the world

On an obscure shelf somewhere in our house, there is a small blue and white antique china plate. It is composed of three or four shards that were painstakingly glued back together long ago. Although one may wonder why such care would be taken to repair an otherwise nondescript plate, a flip to its backside reveals a clue. There, written in expert penmanship of a bygone era, is the insignia “San Francisco Earthquake, 1906.” The plate is a wounded survivor of the massive quake that leveled the city more than a century ago, an accidental heirloom passed down through my husband’s Bay Area lineage. I suppose it is meant to serve as a testament, perhaps to the past, the power of nature and, more importantly, the power of the indomitable human spirit.

Of course, the irony of this family relic winding up high on the relatively stable continental plate is not lost on me. I know enough to never say never, but the possibility of a temblor strong enough to bring that plate plummeting from its resting place once again is highly remote. Maybe that’s why the plate’s previous owner bequeathed it to us in the first place. She knew it would be safe here, where things move at a decidedly slower geological pace. See, mountain living may have its challenges, but fortunately, natural disasters do not rank high among them. Sure, we have the occasional monster snow dump, flash flood or blinding wind storm. But when it comes to anything that can rock your world upside down and leave an entire town in a shambles, we’re pretty darned lucky. (Yes, I know wildfires are a legitimate threat, and rogue slides have been known to slough through local living rooms, take out power lines or clog up major thoroughfares. But for the most part, it can be argued that wildfires typically provide some advance warning before descending upon civilization and avalanches can be avoided easily enough by most nonbackcountry-faring folk.)

Perhaps it is this plate, as well as the absence of any real-life tornadoes, quakes or tsunamis to contend with, that recently triggered a sudden interest (healthy, I hope) among my kids in natural disasters.

“We want to see a tornado!” they clamored as my husband entertained them one night by typing “stormchasers” into the subject line of Youtube. I guess you could say things quickly went viral as tornadoes were followed by floods, avalanches, mud slides, hurricanes and any other catastrophe they could concoct in their little heads.

Finally disastered-out, they went to bed, and I hoped they wouldn’t succumb to nightmares of twisters like I had during my Midwestern upbringing. But when we awoke the following morning, we were greeted with a

real-life nightmare of another sort, unfolding along the Pacific Rim and reverberating around the world. Morbid curiosity was replaced with the sickening shock and realization that thousands were probably dead, and hundreds of thousands more were suffering, homeless or injured without even the most basic necessities of water, food and heat.

The one-two punch was later delivered when the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant went into apparent pre-meltdown mode, nearby residents were evacuated or told to stay indoors, and the threat of another Chernobyl loomed. But unlike Chernobyl, which wasn’t discovered by the outside world until radiation started leaking out from beneath the iron curtain, the Japanese tragedy played out in front of our anxious eyes, not to mention 39 million downwinders in Tokyo, holding their collective breath quite literally.

However, this is not just another Youtube video or bad reality show we can turn off when we’ve had enough or get disastered-out. Which might be a good thing. See, although the epicenter may have been thousands of miles away, the aftershocks will likely hit closer to home, where we grapple with our own dependence on fossil fuels and efforts to find a better alternative. Because there’s no telling where that radioactive cloud can and will end up. But chances are we’ll all have to live with the fallout in some form, whether economically or environmentally.

Sure, it’s pretty much impossible to try to predict a devastating earthquake and tsunami, but what about a nuclear meltdown that has far-reaching consequences for not only people, but the land and water as well? Is that the kind of uncertainty and risk we’re willing to live with? If unforeseen accidents can happen in Japan, arguably one of the most disaster-prepared nations in the world, then it can surely happen here, or anywhere.

Yes, there’s no doubt that the recent events at Fukushima are a black eye for the nuclear power industry. For the rest of us, they’re a stark reminder that nuclear energy, in its current form, is neither safe nor clean. But wind, solar and microhydro – all three in abundance in the Southwest – are. Sure, renewables are not a one-size-fits-all solution, but they – coupled with a healthy dose of prudent energy usage – are a step in the right direction.

Because if there’s anything we’ve learned from recent events, history can, and will, repeat itself. The question is whether or not we’ll be able to piece things back together again.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing