Nature always knows what to do

One thought on “Nature always knows what to do

  1. Being the author of this blog, I considered whether to have this be a separate blog entry, but as it relates to this theme, I am attaching this comment.
    Re:Nature and Black Swans
    I read an interesting article in The Week (April 8 issue) in the “Briefing” column about black swans. No, it isn’t referring to either the graceful swimming bird or the movie about a ballerina. In the 2nd century AD, a Roman poet originated the term, comparing the rare (as thought then) bird to rare, unexpected events. In 2008 a book was written that took up this idea again, and defined a “black swan” as an unexpected and unpredictable event that leads to catastrophic or extreme consequences. These events take human beings completely by surprise because we generally only think about and plan for events that are within our realm of experience or historical knowledge. For example, buildings in San Francisco are built to withstand earthquakes while those in New York (which also sits on a fault, but a currently inactive one) are not.

    Another characteristic of a “black swan” event is that, in retrospect, people can look back and see that in fact, it wasn’t as unlikely as they had thought.

    The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were an example of a “black swan” event – one which we were not expecting and were completely unprepared for. This event led to serious consequences: two wars in the Middle East, much stricter security at airports, a weakened economy, and instilling a climate of fear and intolerance which pervades to this day. Yet, looking back on it, evidence of these attacks was there to find if only officials had an open mind and connected the dots.

    A recent “black swan” event is the 9.0 earthquake/tsunami that struck Japan last March 11. Although the Japanese are well acquainted with earthquakes and the word “tsunami” comes from the Japanese language, they did not expect the series of events that occurred and continue to occur as a result of these two natural phenomena. The earthquake was the strongest to hit Japan in recorded history, and the tsunami that followed severely damaged nuclear plants built on the fault line. I wonder why any country with a history of earthquakes as common as in Japan would build a nuclear plant on a known earthquake fault, but Japan does not have a lot of natural resources for developing alternative energy sources to meet its needs. They believed they had planned for such an event, creating redundancies in the back up systems. But it wasn’t enough, as we are all finding out now.

    Nature, on the other hand, plans for some “black swans”, through evolution and by giving animals two eyes, two ears, two kidneys, two lungs, for example. And nature, while it may suffer greatly from black swan events, bounces back. Dinosaurs may have become extinct from a meteor hitting the Earth and blocking out the sun which led to plants dying and cutting off food sources for the dinosaurs. Yet, the natural world made a comeback through the evolution of some dinosaurs into birds, and the renewal of plant and animal species in the world. Can human beings do the same? Are we willing to plan for these outlier events, such as a meteor hitting the Earth, or solar flares knocking out power grids and satellites all over the world? Probably not, because it would be too expensive to do so. Yet, we COULD predict, plan and prevent some of the consequences – such as not building nuclear plants on active faults, getting serious about developing alternate and natural sources of energy, and approaching international conflicts with diplomacy instead of flexing our military muscles.

    Perhaps if we paid more attention to Mother Nature instead of taking her for granted or trying to control her, if we could become more at one with the natural world, we would have a better chance of survival and even living more fulfilling and less stressful lives.

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