This week is my commemoration of ten years of geoblogging. I've been digging through the archives for some of my favorite posts of the last decade, and we've reached 2011. We had a series of epic trips that year, one with my students across the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains, and the other a personal journey across the Basin and Range, the central Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau. They resulted in not one, but two blog series, A Convergence of Wonders, and Vagabonding Across the 39th Parallel. I would recommend the first if you want to know what adventures await if you attend a Modesto Junior College geology field studies course, and the second if you want to know what happens when you just up and leave on a two-week trip without a plan, and just a vague goal (Rocky Mountain National Park). Those of you who know me will understand how hard that can be, starting out a day not completely certain where one will end up that night.
But as fun as those series were for me to write, I picked three individual posts from 2011 as my favorites. One was utilitarian, one was about the adventure of being a geologist (or geology fan), and the third, my response to yet another irresponsible prediction about a giant earthquake or apocalypse or some other world-ending thing that got the web and cable news all excited. Of course the predicted date came and went with no unusual activity as they always do. Frankly, I sort of lost it. That blogpost is below. The other two are coming shortly...enjoy!
From March 24, 2011:
Welcome, survivors of the Apocalypse! Like you, I have been hiding in my underground bunker, safe from the radiation cloud and protected from the supermoon and giant earthquake that caused California to plunge into the sea. I'm waiting to see if my investment in oceanfront property on the Carrizo Plains has paid off with a nice seaside view. Did any of the southern California mountains remain as offshore islands? I was sort of hoping to have a few on the horizon. I've been rationing my Cheetos, Pringles and beef jerky. I lined my bunker with lots and lots of tin foil to protect myself from the electronic emanations of those pointy-headed "scientists" who kept poo-pooing the predictions of those who sensed the coming Apocalypse in their minds and mathematical calculations. As soon as I saw the work of the prophets on the Internet I knew it had to be true. Their prophecies were aired by the cable news networks, so I double-knew it had to be true. I didn't feel the earthquake because I built my shelter on a spring-loaded foundation. Was it really shaky? My clock broke, so I've been estimating the number of days I've been in hiding by making chalk marks on the wall; it's 2012 isn't it? The Mayan calendar came to an end and all? Have the Zombies died out yet?
Well, that's that. The supermoon weekend passed and California is still here. The full moon didn't scrape along the ground and erase cities. There were no tidal disruptions. There was no earthquake. There were no volcanic eruptions. No one melted from the radiation cloud. The prophets and predictors were wrong, yet again, wrong again for the umpteenth time. Over and over they are wrong. Hundreds of times they have been wrong. And still they find a stage on the cable news networks, the Internet, the radio...over and over. There always seems to be a crowd of uninformed and misinformed people who take them seriously, and there are uninformed and misinformed news readers who are unable to critically assess their irresponsible claims. At the same time they dismiss the statements and findings of academics who have given over their lives to the study and understanding of the earth sciences. And in the end the charlatans and fakes are never brought to account for scaring people and causing economic disruptions.
I've seen enough of "judgment journalism" in politics to know that cable news outlets are capable of shaming those who cross the line of honesty and decency. They are capable of using their media platform to upbraid and criticize officials who steal money or engage in hypocritical behaviour. Why are they not criticizing and shaming those who carelessly predicted earthquakes and radiation poisoning without regard to the consequences of being totally (and predictably) wrong? I have never seen the news readers take a self-proclaimed "psychic" to task for their hundreds of wrong predictions.
Wouldn't it be nice just once to see a camera crew waiting outside the home of one of those self-proclaimed psychics or would-be earthquake prophets and ask them over and over why they made yet another wrong claim that needlessly scared people? Just once to hear them told to their face that they are charlatans and fakes? How long will the con artists persist when they know they will be subjected to public derision when they make their spurious claims?
In the meantime, the media outlets need to learn the real facts about the possibilities of quakes and other hazards in California (and anywhere else) and make sure their audiences know the actual magnitude of the threat. The faults are here after all, and there is a lot of built-up stress. Damaging quakes will happen, and we need to all be as prepared as possible. The first thing to do is to arm yourself with knowledge. Get this knowledge from responsible government agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey, or the California Geological Survey, or academic organizations like the Southern California Earthquake Center. Then you make the appropriate preparations: keep emergency supplies of water, flashlights, radios, batteries, and first aid kits, both in your home, and in your car. Have a family plan for what to do when disaster strikes.
By the way, it is ok to have Pringles and Cheetos in your emergency supplies...but put some healthy stuff in there too. There is junk food and there is junk news. Too much of either can be harmful to your health.