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Bad climate change argument watch: Eyjafjallajokull edition

Here at FP, we’ve frequently highlighted bogus arguments made by climate-change skeptics, but environmentalists are certainly also capable of faulty logic and specious conclusions. In a new column for CNN, Alan Weisman, author of the bestselling The World Without Us, tries to infer a connection between climate change and the recent high-profile volanic eruption and ...

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Here at FP, we’ve frequently highlighted bogus arguments made by climate-change skeptics, but environmentalists are certainly also capable of faulty logic and specious conclusions. In a new column for CNN, Alan Weisman, author of the bestselling The World Without Us, tries to infer a connection between climate change and the recent high-profile volanic eruption and earthquakes:   

The denser that gaseous barrier grows, the hotter things get and the faster glaciers melt. As they flow off the land, we are warned, seas rise. Yet something else is lately worrying geologists: the likelihood that the Earth’s crust, relieved of so much formidable weight of ice borne for many thousands of years, has begun to stretch and rebound.

As it does, a volcano awakens in Iceland (with another, larger and adjacent to still-erupting Eyjafjallajokull, threatening to detonate next). The Earth shudders in Haiti. Then Chile. Then western China. Mexicali-Calexico. The Solomon Islands. Spain. New Guinea. And those are just the big ones, 6+ on the Richter scale, and just in 2010. And it’s only April.

It’s looking like this may be a long decade. And if we don’t pull carbon out of the way we energize our lives soon, a small clump of our not-too-distant surviving descendants may find themselves, as Gaia scientist James Lovelock has direly predicted, like the first Icelanders: gathered on some near-barren hunk of rock near one of the still-habitable poles, trying yet anew to eke out a plan for human civilization.

I don’t know if scientsts really are worried about this — a link there might have been nice — but as the geologists I spoke to for this week’s FP Explainer patiently explained to me, there’s really nothing unusual about the recent level of geological activity:

2010 is actually shaping up to be a perfectly average year for quakes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, since 1900 the Earth has experienced an average of 16 major quakes — magnitude 7.0 or higher — per year. In the first four months of 2010, there have been six. So though this will likely be a worse year than 1986, when there were only six major quakes total, it’s unlikely to be as bad as 1943, when there were 32.

The recent high fatalities are not the result of more frequent or stronger quakes, but because we’re building larger urban areas in fault zones — and in the case of Haiti, not particularly well-constructed ones.

As for Iceland, as Weisman himself notes, it sits right on top of the mid-Atlantic ridge and volcanic eruptions are hardly unusual there. If prevailing winds hadn’t pushed the ash cloud toward Europe, disrupting jet flights, the recent eruption would probably have barely been covered in the U.S. media.

While I’m ulimately more sympathetic to Weisman’s worldview than Pat Robertson’s or Rush Limbaugh’s, blaming standard geological activity on Earth "striking back" makes about as much sense as blaming it on a voodoo curse or God’s opposition to health-care reform. 

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