Off the edge of world


Own work, into the public domain.

Last week, a neat bit of robotic technology was brought out.  Of course, it is highly dependent on a suite of technologies that are all highly interdependent upon each other.  The original thought was to expand on this, but in ruminating on it a bit more, and pulling the proverbial zoom lens back, there was a realization that trying to talk about this or that finite resource or material doesn’t really convince people of much.  What does convince people?  Disasters.  Big, fat, hairy disasters.  Not just random snowstorms, earthquakes, or hurricanes, but big random events that impact the large swath of a country.   Mere human events, like wars, are bad enough.  Ones made by Nature, especially those that come with little to no warning are chilling in the uncompromising and all-encompassing effects that they have.

What is so striking about these events is that they seem to  be forgotten over the years, falling off the historical “edge of the world” with their reality safely tucked away in the pages of history books.   For North Americans, especially Americans on the wealthy coasts, there seems to be a neat ability to forget much of our natural history, and the large scale events that could wreak almost unimaginable havoc in our lives.

A recent article in the New Yorker about the Really Big One in the Northwest (which is overdue for a massive earthquake and tsunami by the rupture of the Cascadia fault) made me wonder about some of the large scale events that have impacted a good chunk of the planet.   Here’s a short list of some of the big events we’ve had over the past few hundred years; some have had small effects and others large, but the scale and size of these natural events are something most of us cannot even comprehend:

There have been other glitches; Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Super Storm/Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and numerous earthquakes in California may come to mind to some of you.  Yet in spite of the damage, loss of life, and economic impact, these regions did bounce back, and there was the rest of the country to pick up the slack.   This is not to downplay the severity of these events.  However, it is one thing to lose hundreds or a few thousand lives, and many billions in property damage and another to lose tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, and for property damage to go into the hundreds of billions or more.

The point to be made here is that many of these events had very little warning and huge worldwide impacts.   Some of these, like the Carrington event and the Cascadia fault events didn’t have much impact, because at the time, the infrastructure was relatively immune or population wasn’t large.  But had they happened today, in a populated and technologically complex area, their impact would be devestating.  As we’ve gotten used to a world which is more crowded, and more technologically dependent and complex, these sorts of things will one day make a very big dent in everyone’s world.


  • How do you make people take notice of such things?  Some “primitive” (yes, that’s in quotes) tribes have oral histories that have been passed down so when certain events happen, they respond quickly.  Why do these stories get listened to, and others don’t?
  • Which of these seems like it might do the most damage to a modern American or European society?






1 thought on “Off the edge of world

  1. Pingback: The fourth E | peakfuture

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