Browngirl Going Green

When the Earth Rages
March 1, 2010, 3:24 am
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I’ve been sending prayers out to the people of Chile, who—as you’ve probably seen in the news—experienced a magnitude 8.8 earthquake yesterday. As someone who lives in earthquake country myself, hearing about this type of natural disaster is more frightening to me than hearing about tornadoes or hurricanes, as I have no experience with them. But as far as earthquakes, I live just a few miles from the Hayward Fault, which is supposed to be due for a major earthquake within the next couple decades.

When the Earth rages, it’s hard to think of it (or Mother Nature) as nurturing, life-giving and beautiful. Earthquakes in particular I think show a side of Mother Nature that is completely unpredictable and randomly violent, and so violent that she can literally kill hundreds of thousands of people (not to mention animals and other living things) within minutes, as happened during the Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in India, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries.

The deity that I think best captures this double-edged spirit of Nature to me is the Indian goddessKali, who embodies both the awesome creative power of nature as well as its destructive side. Kali in my mind always represented these twin energies which are both present in all of our lives, and which are dependent on each other. Think of the rotting leaves and dead branches on a forest floor, which decompose and ultimate become the fuel or food from which the forest regenerates itself. Compost works under the same principle.

The pain and death that take place during something as fiercely violent and rapid as an earthquake, though, are what make them so terrifying. In some ways, I am glad that I live in an earthquake-prone area, because it forces me to respect Nature’s awesome power. But still, I pray for the people in Chile, and Haiti, and in all the places off the world where earthquakes cause such incredible human suffering. And remember, with a little fear and a lot of humility, that I may be in the position that they are in someday.


Haiti and the Choice That Lies Before Us All

I have to admit, when I was blog-surfing and looking for information on the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, I came across a few obscure posts that it could’ve been triggered by US-sponsored oil drilling. It seemed like a hyper-paranoid lefty conspiracy theory that was using a tragic natural disaster to (once again) point out how evil US imperialism is. And while I agree on the evil nature of US imperialism, I was still skeptical. But after reading this blog post from the Haitian Blogger, I’m a little more convinced. This blog goes deeper than the sensationalist ‘Bush did it!’ rhetoric that I’d read in a different blog, and backs up opinions with more facts, specifically from Haitian and other officials who’ve warned about the dangers of deep drilling in triggering large earthquakes.

Also, the Haitian Blogger points out that the country’s emergency response system was gutted under the Bush-backed Preval administration, which obviously would weaken any rescue and relief efforts after a disaster such as an earthquake. As we can see in other poor countries like Cuba, which is hit yearly by often-devastating hurricanes, even the most basic infrastructure and prevention efforts can minimize human deaths. In California, during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (which I experienced), killed only 63 people, in large part because of the more strict building codes here but also because of better infrastructure to deal with rescue and relief efforts.

In any case, whether you believe drilling for oil and mining triggered the Haitian earthquake of 2010 or not, environmental degradation and the neglect of infrastructure-building in Haiti has made this natural disaster a man-made disaster. Many other bloggers have commented on this terrible phenomenon, Mother Jones published a decent piece, and the UK Guardian published a good commentary. Naomi Klein has also been writing extensively about Haiti using the lens of her new book on ‘disaster capitalism’ called Shock Doctrine, which I have yet to read. Clearly, what’s happened in Haiti is a long-standing man-made disaster that has only been grossly exacerbated by a natural (or semi-natural?) disaster.

And the fact that Haiti is the first Black republic of the Western Hemisphere, and the result of the largest African slave revolt in history? Of course, that has nothing to do with the fact that the governments of much larger industrialized nations keep intervening in their sovereign affairs,right? Like sponsoring invasions or propping up dictators or demanding the Haitian government follow neoliberal economic policies that keep its people poor. The racism here is too blatant.

The bottom line? Human activity on Earth can be damaging, exploitative and deadly, or it can be healing, life-affirming and cooperative. It’s our job as a species to decide which path we want to take. I choose the latter. How about you?