Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nature Doesn't Care

A recent poll from Pew Research showed a partisan split on the question of global warming. When asked "Is there solid evidence the Earth is warming?", self-identified Republicans come down 53-38 against the existence of global warming, while self-identified Democrats are convinced be a 79-14 margin. Indies are convinced 59-31.

A sub-question asked those convinced why there's global warming. The Dems and indies come down on the side of human activity over natural patterns, 53-18 and 32-17 respectively, while the convinced Republicans come down 18-16 on the side of natural patterns.

A Fark headline from earlier today, as Fark headlines so often do, cut right to the point:

"Pew poll finds 53% of Republicans do not believe in global warming. No word on whether global warming cares what Republicans think of it"

And there's the rub.

Nature doesn't care.

When nature decides it wants to do something badly enough, it really doesn't care what the humans think of it. It doesn't care what speeches are made, what laws are passed, who wins an election, how much money is spent, whether the budget's been drained. The only thing the humans can do is make something strong enough to stop it. There had better be a barrier high enough, long enough, thick enough and strong enough to hold back the water, or there's going to be a flood. There had better be enough water to cool the lava flow quickly enough, or it's going to swallow up whatever it wants, and even then it may not be enough. The heating or heat retention system had better be robust enough, or you're going to freeze in that blizzard. And on the inverse, when nature doesn't want to make any more of a finite resource, you'd better be done using it by the time it runs out, or there's a whole lot of things that aren't going to be usable anymore. Hope you didn't need them.

Quite often, the human resources required to hold back these acts of nature are far beyond what humans could ever hope to muster. Too bad. Nature doesn't care. If human capacity were, hypothetically, only strong enough to earthquake-proof structures against, say, an 8.0 quake, and then a 9.0 comes along, those buildings are coming down. Humanity's best just isn't good enough. And if it's not good enough, there's little humanity can do except run for its life.

And there's no partial credit given either. A $10 million levee that barely fails and a $10 levee that completely fails end up looking exactly the same in the end. Either way, there's a gigantic floodplain and a bunch of broken construction remnants afterwards. The levee holds, or it doesn't. The house withstands the earthquake, or it doesn't. The house is rendered unlivable by mold, or it isn't. The volcano swallows up the house, or it doesn't. The ground underneath the house on a hill is stable enough to keep from being part of a mudslide, or it isn't. The house is high enough to stay out of the flood, or it isn't. People survive through a natural disaster, or they don't.

This also applies to proactive measures taken by humans. You don't believe in global warming? Fine then. We won't use global warming as an example. Let's set that entire discussion aside. We'll use invasive species. No denying the existence of those and in order to be considered invasive, a species' introduction must be indisputably the act of human intervention. We could use starlings, rabbits, killer bees, the Asian long-horned beetle, carp, or anything else you find on this list, but we'll focus here on kudzu, which is common throughout the heavily-Republican south (imagine that). Japan introduced it in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; it looked nice enough that Americans used it for decoration. In the 1920's, people started actively planting it, and in the 1930's, it was promoted as a form of erosion control during the Dust Bowl, with farmers being paid to plant it by the 40's. It grew very well. Too well. Way, way too well. So well that it started choking out everything that wasn't kudzu. So well that by 1972, it had gone from being something the government paid to have planted to being something the government called a weed.

Kudzu grows better in the United States than in its native Asia, mainly for the reason that when it came over, the insects that eat kudzu didn't come with it. And that's a common theme with invasive species: the places to which they're introduced lack their natural predators, and in nature, no predators means unchecked growth.

But even after being called a weed, kudzu is still hell to remove. Once again, nature doesn't care what kudzu is called. If you want it out, it means an effort that lasts several years to get rid of a single weed. As advises, "To successfully control kudzu, its extensive root system must be completely eradicated by cutting vines just above the ground and mowing every month for two growing seasons—all cut material must be destroyed." Clemson University goes even further, saying "Because of its rapid growth (up to 60 feet per year), a single surviving kudzu plant can spread and re-infest a site within a few growing seasons. Eradication requires multiple broadcast applications of herbicide and follow-up spot treatments over a period of 4 to 10 years. Establishment of pine trees or other crops should not be attempted for at least 4 years after control measures are initiated."

If you can't muster that effort, too bad. Kudzu doesn't care. Have fun with your kudzu, and as Southerners will advise, close your windows at night or the kudzu will creep in.

Believe in global warming or don't. But, like kudzu, like any form of nature's wrath, if and when the consequences of it show up at your doorstep, either be ready to deal with them, or be ready to run. Nature never asked your opinion about it. Nature does not refrain from plowing over humanity because that might not poll well. Nature doesn't care.

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