Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Earth Shook

Today at 1:41 EST there was an earthquake in Toronto of magnitude 5.5.  This is a more contentious statement than you might think because apparently news sources are by and large reporting it as a Toronto earthquake instead of an Ottawa earthquake despite the fact that Ottawa is drastically closer to the centre of the quake.  This happens of course because Torontonians consider themselves the centre of the world and much of the rest of Canada finds this intensely aggravating.  Ottawa citizens are upset that the quake is being attributed to Toronto and Toronto citizens are busy making Tshirts that say "I survived the Toronto Earthquake".  Oh, the humanity.

I was sitting in my living room reading a book called The Deniers:  The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud*      *and those who were too afraid to do so.
With a title like that you can rest assured you are getting a fair and balanced look at the issues and science surrounding global warming.  While reading said book suddenly the couch began to shake and I wondered what could be going on.

For a moment the answer was clear - the subway was going by underneath me.  I have plenty of experience standing in businesses near my place and feeling the world rumble and shake so clearly this must be the same... except I am 12 floors up and not particularly near the subway.  Quickly I decided that I was experiencing an earthquake, but how bad will it get and how much danger am I in?  I think it is telling about how people make decisions in times of crisis that the first thing I did was look out the window.  I had some kind of idea that if I could see glass falling from buildings or people running in mad panic that I certainly would need to take action, but instead I saw people on the street acting completely normally while the world shook under my feet.

I decided that since people on the street weren't even feeling a quake and other buildings looked just fine I should go to my computer and start messaging people.  I am not claiming that 'hop online and chat!' is the best general strategy to deal with natural disasters, but it is what I did.  After a couple minutes the shaking subsided and things went back to normal.  It felt so surreal that I was part of a natural disaster a moment ago, calculating the risks of being in a collapsing building vs. being on the street next to a collapsing building and now I am back to business as usual.

So to summarize my responses to natural disaster:

- See what other people are doing
- Chat about it online
- Go back to goofing off

I think I need a better plan.


  1. I just bought

    "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming"

    I'll send it to you when I finish. Shouldn't be too long as summer has arrived and work is almost done.

  2. Just heard a quotation on a podcast that fits in nicely with your reading on AGW. It's from the author of the book that I mentioned above (I actually heard about the book from the podcast)

    "The reality is that science does produce a lot of very robust knowledge but it's not absolute and we need to accept that so that we don't fall prey to this idea that we can undermine it just by raising some little question about the details on the edges."

    ~Naomi Oreskes (Author of Merchants of Doubt, speaking on the podcast 'Point of Inquiry' - the podcast of the centre for inquiry ("a thinktank advancing reason, science, and secular values in public affairs and at the grass roots").

  3. I did precisely the same thing. Earth shakes, wonder how likely it is I'm going to die and what I should do to avoid it, look out window, go back to what I was doing.

    Of course the stupidest thing you can do in an earthquake is go look out the window. In a large concrete building by far the most likely damage is the windows shattering. This happened in many buildings in Ottawa.

  4. Shouldn't you go stand in an interior doorway?