An appropriate demonstration on this Earth Day of the power of our planet. But it’s also notable that, except for the last few seconds, which show that this footage comes courtesy of some climbers who were (fortunately) traversing the opposite side of the valley, there was not a human or building in sight. This is a striking contrast with the normal lens through which we view events like this, which is in terms of how they affect us, and our civilisation*. The pictures coming out Sichuan Province in China, in the wake of the weekend’s magnitude 6.6 earthquake, illustrate this quite well.
This tendency is perfectly understandable, but it does speak to a certain hubris on our part. The (French) commentary to that avalanche video mentions that this is just a normal part of spring in the Alps, as the snowpack warms up. Earthquakes and volcanoes, storms and floods, landslides and avalanches; all of these ‘hazards’ are in a sense, just the earth doing its thing, and have been happening for hundreds of millions of years before humanity was around to menace. Even now, they only become disasters when we get in the way. But we tend to think of it in terms of nature intruding on us, rather than the other way around.
It’s a very strange way of looking at things, really: we create our little civilised bubbles on an active and vibrant planet, and then manage to be continually surprised when reality decides to pop them. As Terry Pratchett’s anthropomorphic personification of Death comments in The Hogfather,
STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A…BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS A MOST AMAZING TALENT.
A similar sentiment can be found in New Zealand nowadays, as they are forced into an uncomfortable confrontation with the true dangers in their beautiful yet dangerous homeland:
“If you’re not on a fault zone, a volcanically active zone, or a tsunami zone, you’re probably in a valley that’s prone to flooding or having things tumble down the hills towards you.”
I sometimes wonder if our feet-dragging on the issue of climate change doesn’t partly stem from the same detached attitude: we just can’t understand that what we do in our homes and cities can affect the world out there. So my thought for Earth Day is this: if we want to have a long-term future on this planet, we’re going to have to learn that our only hope of rolling with the planetary punches is not a doomed quest to set ourselves outside of nature, but to embrace it, and understand it, and allow ourselves to be shaped by it.
*I think this might actually be changing though, as video cameras in phones, and the ability to easily upload footage, become more widespread.