The Big Blue Marble  

Fallic40 54M
3214 posts
1/6/2006 3:11 pm
The Big Blue Marble

Reading through letters-to-the-editor and commentary in various newspapers around the world is something in which I regularly indulge.

I came upon this piece in my favourite paper, The Times out of London. I am looking for input on this as I am still unsure of how I feel about it. What does it say to you?


End of the world isn't nigh
by Philip Stott

FROM APOCALYPTIC media to the Queen’s Christmas message, 2005 is seen as the annus horribilis of anni horribiles.
So what would they have made of 1816? Drastic climate change afflicted Europe after the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia the previous year (92,000 people died). Frosts persisted until June, reappearing in August, storms unleashed abnormally heavy rainfall causing severe flooding – 200,000 people died. War had just ended. There was famine, with food riots and violence. High levels of ash produced glowering sunsets, affecting the palettes of painters such as Turner. Rain kept Mary Shelley, John Polidori and their friends indoors, resulting in Frankenstein and The Vampyre. All was doom. “Was this the ending of the world?”

No more so, of course, than in 2005. The sin of “presentism” – the conviction that everything in our time is worse than at any preceding period – is the curse of the age.

The year 2005 does not enter the top league of disaster years, even if we include the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. The 20th century alone witnessed ten years in which those killed by natural disasters numbered millions. Moreover, individual events in 2005 do not compare with past horrors. How does Hurricane Katrina, bad though it was, match the terrible 1970 Bhola cyclone in East Pakistan that killed 500,000 people? How does the Himalayan earthquake equate with the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that destroyed 242,000 more, or the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake that resulted in a death toll of 830,000?

We indulge, to use Michael Crichton’s telling phrase, a “state of fear” whipped up by political activists. We need to regain our sense of history and not be swayed by those who exploit today’s disasters for their own agendas. Not to do so is an insult to those who have died in the multifarious calamities of the past; it also denies our remarkable capacity to adapt.

Many of us live longer, safer lives than ever before. But we must help those still afflicted by this ever restless Earth to achieve similar levels of progress. We cannot do this if we let Despair and Conspiracy – the twin offspring of presentism – take root. We must dismiss the nightmare demons that kill our will.

Philip Stott is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography at the University of London


On many of his points, I find myself concurring but yet, it is a very cold and scholarly insular view of the world in which we now live.

NaughtyNurseMn 49F
74 posts
1/6/2006 9:13 pm

I think that because we are in the middle of it, it seems more terrifying and substantial than looking back at events that had no immediate impact on us.

It is interesting, something I wouldn't have taken the time to read otherwise.

The Naughtiest Nurse You'll Ever Know...


impish_pixie 55F
6867 posts
1/8/2006 8:40 am

Interesting...very. I personally try not to listen to those who would offer doom & gloom. Living is for today, in the moment - not for worrying about what tomorrow, next week, next month might bring. We are an arrogant bunch - humans. To think that we control our lives and our environments - once in a while Mother Nature reminds us how puny we are. Once in a while our Higer Power has to remind us that it about more than "us". Remind us to be gentle, compassionante and helpful to our "neighbors". Disaster's bring out the best in people, and yes...I know it also brings out the worst but I choose to dwell on the best. For most of us, it reminds us that we all really are all sisters, (brothers), in the big scheme of things and that's not such a bad thing.

I make mistakes, I am out of control & at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best. ~Marilyn

Fallic40 54M
1858 posts
1/9/2006 8:15 pm

naughtynurse, the one thing that the good professor failed to really talk about was media coverage. News of an event of the magnitude of the 1556 earthquake would never have reached Europe unless by a random traveler probably 10 years later. Even events from the 1970s would not have received the kind of coverage that CNN and Fox can deliver. Any event becomes catastrophic because everywhere is now our technological next-door neighbour.

Fallic40 54M
1858 posts
1/10/2006 10:13 am

impish, the way I see it is that Man is an intellectual creature and cannot comprehend the fact that some things are beyond control. This does not mix well with the self centeredness that is a product of self awareness.

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