Can Earth Really Heal Itself?

Wow. I’m finally here, it took long enough. During the first week of September, I was delighted to see that most of the content we were about to learn was mainly surrounding two areas of study: Literature and Geology. Conveniently, the hardest of my two courses this semester. As I began to read The Fifth Season and the other linked articles, my brain began to do this weird thing where it fills up with different thoughts, all leading me in different directions, but somehow leaving me at the same conclusion: not everything is written in stone. The first thing that went through my mind was, how could the eruption of the Kīlauea Volcano possibly connect to N.K. Jemisin’s book? So, there I was opening up about 6 tabs, one after the other. I viewed all of them at a time and then it hit me, my first connection between the book and the Kīlauea Volcano. It was as clear as daylight, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it before. In @Buitengebieden’s “The Earth is Breathing…” Twitter post, I listened to and saw the Aa (coarse) lava flow which is most commonly found in Hawaiian-type Volcanoes. It made me think of all the benefits and hazards of a natural calamity such as this one.

The Kilauea volcano’s lava lake as it appeared on Monday (May 11th, 2018). Source: USGS

It’s well known that when a natural disaster hits, we always think about the after effects whether it be the death toll, how much damage occurred, and, of course, how much money will it take to restore all of it. In geological terms, these hazards translate into the destruction of vegetation, water contamination, health hazards (including respiratory problems, eye problems, and skin irritation), and structural damage to buildings. In respect to the Kīlauea, the magma came from a  “hot spot” deep in Earth’s mantle. Similarly, on page 7 of the Fifth Season, Jemisin writes “Magma wells in its wake, fresh, and glowing red. The Earth is good at healing itself.” Is it, though and how much can the Earth take until it can’t anymore? Frankly, when considering each individual’s ecological footprint, I personally say “we’re screwed.” However, others uphold a more optimistic point of view. For example, Stanford University physicist Robert Laughlin says “The Earth… is very old and has suffered grievously: volcanic explosions, floods, meteor impacts, mountain formation… Yet, the Earth is still here. It’s a survivor.” The word “survivor” is usually used when describing a person who has coped well with difficulties in their life, not when talking about the Earth. We, as humans, classify the Earth as a survivor but we don’t tend to acknowledge the damage we inflict on it. Luckily, the theme of climate change and the Earth’s tireless efforts to fight against it is prominent in Jemisin’s The Fifth Season which got me thinking: How much closer are we to becoming like the people of the Stillness? A lot I would say and Jemisin would most definitely agree. She writes “The people of the Stillness live in a perpetual state of disaster preparedness. They’ve built walls and dug wells…” This is practiced more than ever, in 2018. In 2011 The Fifth Season came out but that was years after the devastating events in Haiti (222.570 fatalities), Sumatra (168,708), Myanmar (138,366), etc. So, how powerful is preparedness? Shouldn’t we be focusing on prevention instead?  Japan has constructed sea walls to protect its inhabitants from tsunamis, California has integrated building reinforcement, and Alaska has monitored seismic activity with top of the notch technology but have we ever stopped to think about what can be done before such protection?

With that being said, there are benefits. Natural disasters allow our geologists, scientists, and others to predict future earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, and more. The results of natural calamities help influence better results of upcoming catastrophes, even for years ahead. That doesn’t mean we should continue to wait to take action. If not now, when? We can still save our Earth.

Jemisin introduces the effects of a fifth season in her first book, but in reality, we have also lived our own series of cataclysms. From the eruption of the Kīlauea Volcano to the earthquakes in Sumatra and wildfires in California, I have come to the conclusion that we too, have a Stillness to protect and save. Because after all, not everything is written in stone– nor do we want it to be.

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