Deadly Earthquakes and Tsunamis
Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.
It is likely that, within our lifetime, we will see a big earthquake ravage a populated area, such as northern Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, or Istanbul, to name a few major cities. These are earthquakes waiting to happen. It is inevitable that we will see a big one in the United States. It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. But it's black magic to predict precisely when such an event will happen, as earthquake prediction is still an infant science.
How powerful was the Chilean earthquake? It packed 500 to 700 more energy than the Haitian earthquake. When you go from a 7 to 8 on the Richter scale for earthquakes, the energy goes up by 32 times. So, going from 7.0 to 8.8, you find an increase in energy of about 500 to 700 times!
Why were so many more people killed in Haiti? Many reasons. First, earthquakes do not kill people; buildings and structures kill people. Chile has a long history of monster earthquakes - the 1960 earthquake was the largest recorded in modern history and hence a longer history of enforcing building codes. The last major Haitian earthquake was two centuries ago, so building codes were routinely ignored. Second, there are other factors (proximity, population density, warning time, etc.)
Are we seeing more earthquakes? Not really. Okinawa registered a 7.0 earthquake, comparable to the Haitian earthquake, just before the Chilean earthquake, but got no coverage. The point is that the media only focuses on earthquakes which hurt and kill people, not the ones which pack the most energy.In 1811 and again in 1812, a huge earthquake hit the Tennessee-Kentucky area when the New Madrid fault gave way. It was so huge that the Mississippi River even ran backwards. Back then, population densities were very low, and national media did not exist, so most people have never heard of it.If it happened today, the damage could be incalculable.
In 1964, the Great Alaskan Earthquake hit the US with a magnitude of 9.2, making it the second largest earthquake ever recorded. But again, population was low and the media did not carry the story. The San Andreas fault, running 800 miles through California, is unstable. It last erupted in 1857 and again in 1906. My grandfather was in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. According to the US Geological Survey, there is a 62% chance of a big 7.0 earthquake hitting San Francisco in the next 30 years. A 7.0 earthquake would kill 7,000 to 18,000 people in Los Angeles, according to the USGS. Property damage could run upwards of $250 billion, depending on precisely where the earthquake hit. If the 1906 earthquake were to re-strike the San Francisco area, it would kill an estimated 5,800 people.
Because of budget cuts, California is vulnerable, despite spending on reinforcing its infrastructure. According to the USGS, a big earthquake would destroy all freeways in the San Francisco or Los Angeles area. Also, the Port of Los Angeles would be closed, causing an estimated $36 billion dollars damage to the economy. In 2002, a study found that 2100 out of 9600 schools were not guaranteed to hold up in case of an earthquake, according to the state's architect's office.
What causes a tsunami? A violent sinking of the earth's crust along a fracture under the ocean causes massive water waves. These waves can travel hundreds of miles per hour, like a jet liner. The waves themselves are only a few inches tall, but very, very deep. So an ocean liner may not even know that it was hit by this wave.
Why are tsunami waves so tall when they hit land and kill potentially hundreds of thousands? When a wave hits land, the wave grows drastically in height, from a few inches to many, many feet. This is because when the wave hits a beach, the bottom of the wave slows down faster than the top of the wave. The excess energy spills over into increasing the height of the wave.
How is the US affected? Hawaii has to worry about tsunamis that originate from Alaska, South America, etc. that travel across the Pacific. Hilo has suffered great damage in the past from such earthquakes. Also, off the coast of Seattle, there is a huge fault line which can not only destroy much of the American Northwest, but also trigger monster tsunamis which can kill people in Japan, as happened centuries ago.
What can be done? More buoys can be placed in the oceans to monitor tsunamis and early warning systems can be increased. More warnings from satellites and telecommunications are necessary. More bluntly, more nations have to reinforce their building codes because the world's population has exploded in the past 50 years, the danger is quite severe in many countries.
In closing - There is nothing unusual happening with the earth's interior, so it is an illusion that some new force is suddenly creating these huge earthquakes. There has been a slight uptick in earthquake activity in the last 15 years, but is minor. I guess we can only hope that humanity doesn't have to experience another one anytime soon...
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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