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A Lesson for this July 4th: Revolutionaries Don’t Retire
Revolutionaries don't retire. Passion, not age, predict the will to make positive change happen. July 4 celebrates the Declaration of Independence but it also shows that birthdays are no indicator of who can make a difference.
On July 4, 1776, fifty-six Representatives from the Thirteen Colonies ratified the Declaration of Independence, placing the spirit of fervor, liberty, and democracy on which our country stands in writing. Those men, who aged everywhere from twenty-seven to seventy, averaged out at 44 years old. For a group of eighteenth century Americans, the Founders’ collective age is remarkable, considering that the average life expectancy in that era was thirty-five years.
Despite some of them being relatively ancient by the standards of the day in 1776, the Founders were a radical and productive bunch. They were steeped in the revolutionary thinking of the Enlightenment, and used it as the foundation of an extraordinary new form of government. Signing the Declaration of Independence was only one milestone in their long and illustrious careers. Benjamin Franklin was an unstoppable force before and for two decades after the Declaration’s signing, when he was 70. Among other things, he wrote a groundbreaking autobiography, served as the U.S. ambassador to France, contributed to the passage of the Edict of Versailles, and was President of the Philadelphia Abolition Society.
The historical knock on the U.S. is that it was founded and has been led by nobody but old guys (while I can’t argue with the demographic reality, I do take umbrage with the “old” part). Some modern critics argue specifically that the U.S. has grown into a gerontocracy because our elected officials are significantly older than the general population. No doubt there are a number of representatives that are older by any century’s measure in Congress. The oldest representative in the House, John Conyers of Michigan is eighty-eight; and the oldest Representative in the history of the country, Representative Ralph Hall of Texas, ended his last term in 2015 at the age of ninety-one years old.
But is America really a nation governed by geriatrics? The average age of the Senate today is fifty-seven years; in the House, sixty-one years. These numbers are far below the average life expectancy of seventy-eight years. More significantly, they are less than the age we have enshrined as being the end of productive life, the day Social Security kicks in at age sixty-five. Relative to life expectancy, our leaders are “younger” now than they were two-plus centuries before, when the country first embarked on its grand experiment of democracy.
Here’s the bone I have to pick: When we criticize our government as a gerontocracy, are we not making certain assumptions about what older people are capable of, as thinkers, as influencers, as representatives, as advocates of change? And do those assumptions have a basis in reality?
For one answer, take a look at the most recent presidential election. At 70 years old, Donald Trump made an unlikely and successful run at the Presidency, setting the stage for what may turn out to be a major realignment of our national politics. A 74-year-old Senator, Bernie Sanders, became the leader of a resurgent American socialist movement. And 69-year-old Hillary Clinton came within a hair’s breadth of being the first female President. As far as worldview, these three have very little in common with each other. All that they share is that they happen to be well past retirement age, and are still shaking the pillars in the political Thunderdome.
When we look back to history, all the way back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, then the answer is clear as day: A radical mind and a thirst for change are just as possible at age 70 as age 27. Revolutionaries don’t retire. Those nearing the fabricated 60-something age of retirement can take to this to heart as they mull the future of career and influence in an era of longevity. If he’d lived in the modern day, it’s possible Ben Franklin would have been agitating empires and flying kites in rainstorms at age 96. When we think about retirement, we should first look to him and the other Founders as an example of what can be accomplished in older age.
MIT AgeLab's Rahul Kolluri & Adam Felts contributed to this article.
An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.
- A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
- A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
- Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.
The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.
Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .
The Barry Arm Fjord
Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach
Image source: Matt Zimmerman
The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.
Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest
Image source: whrc.org
There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.
The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.
"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."
Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.
What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord
Moving slowly at first...
Image source: whrc.org
"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."
The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.
Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.
Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.
While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.
Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."
How do you prepare for something like this?
Image source: whrc.org
The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:
"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."
In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.