Catastrophes

Aside

Immanuel Velikovsky may not be a name many people recognize, but 60 years ago it was. That’s when he was publishing a series of books about what he claimed to be mistakes in our vision of history. He claimed that Venus had once been a comet, ejected by Jupiter, and it was later discovered that Venus has a tail. He claimed that Venus had not always been in its current orbit, and that it’s proximity to earth in about 1500 BC had caused the plagues of Egypt described in the Bible, for which he found corroboration in some Egyptian writings.

He claimed a number of other contoversial things too. That the model for the myth of Oedipus had been Akhenaton of Egypt, and that the history of Egypt was misdated, so that Akhenaton lived in the 8th or 9th century BC, instead of about a thousand years earlier. This timeline would make sense of Greek history, which seems to have about a 400 year Dark Age between the fall of Troy and when we begin to know something of Greek history again. Maybe there wasn’t such a long break.

In Earth in Upheaval a lot of Velikovsky’s point is that that the geological and evolutionary theory of Uniformitarianism makes no sense. He doesn’t argue from speculation in this book, but from the writings of scientists of the previous 150 years, more or less.

Uniformitarianism theorized that there were no geological forces operating in the past that we don’t see today, and that geological processes therefore take a very long time. This view was also part of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and Uniformitarianism is demonstrably false, as Velikovsky duly demonstrates.

We find that there are fossils of tropical life near the north and south poles, that many of the highest mountains in the world are the youngest, and that some of them seem to have risen during the lifetime of the human race, including the Alps, the Himalayas and the Andes. To underline the age of the Andes is the town of Tiahuanaco, situated on what used to be the shore of Lake Titicaca. This is a saltwater lake, with ocan-like life in it, but at a height of 12,500 feet above sealevel. People can survive at that height, but not live comfortably or grow crops, as they evidently did in the Tiahuanico area.

Why did a theory like Uniformitarianism get started? One theory is that it began after the Napoleonic Wars, the chaos of which had disgusted many. The theory was born of revulsion for war. Velikovsky also points out that the theory of ice ages was formulated largely to avoid admitting there had been at least one worldwide flood, as stated in the Bible, and a number of other places. But there is much evidence for at least one flood, and Velikovsky gathers a lot of it in this book.

One is boulders called “erractic stones” found in places to which they’re unrelated geologically. Possibly glaciers could have deposited some of them where they are, though it’s questionable if glaciers could have pushed boulders uphill, but it seems that a particularaly violent flood explains their appearance much better.

Not only that, but there have been findings of the remains of both tropical and arctic animals mixed together. You couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which both sorts of animals lived together, so how did they die together? As a hint, note that in many cases they were torn apart, and/or their bones were mostly broken. Sounds like the effect of a flood. So does finding the fossilized remains of whales all at least a hundred feet above sea level in Alabama, Vermont and Ontario.

The name of the doctrine opposing Uniformitarianism is Catastrophism: the idea that the earth has been shaped by catastrophic events that we often know little about. There is evidence of a worldwide flood, but what caused it? We can speculate, but don’t really know. Not only that, but there’s evidence of extensive vulcanism in that past that makes modern volcano eruptions look like nothing. What was once lava flow covers much of Canada, as well as much of India. Volcanoes were BIG whenever those deposits were laid down.

We also know that many species of animals died at the end of the last Ice Age (there’s evidence of ice ages as well as floods–the problem is attributing the action of floods to glaciers), particularly in North America, but we don’t know why. One clue is that many of these species were of big animals, generally bigger than are alive today, which suggests that there were conditions in which there wasn’t enough food. At least one writer thinks that humans exterminated these animals (we know there were humans in the Americas at the time), but that seems unlikely to me. Not only were there a lot of these animals individually, but a large number of different species, who had been surviving just fine until a certain point at which we don’t know what happened. Mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed tigers, camels, horses, giant sloths and giant beavers, to name just a few, used to live in North America. Something happened to exterminate them, and we still don’t know just what.

Catastrophism is becoming more accepted now. It’s generally accepted that the reason for the death of the dinosaurs was an asteroid landing in a shallow part of the Gulf of Mexico near Central America. The tremendous heat generated by that landing killed a lot of life immediately; the dust and gas cast into the upper atmosphere must have blocked off the sun, preventing plants from growing, and possibly starting an ice age. What’s amazing is not so much that the dinosaurs were killed, but that any animals at all survived.

We don’t know the mechanics of all that we find evidence for, though we may eventually find out. In the Bible the declared reason for the flood was mankind’s sinfulness, though it doesn’t go into detail of just what humans were doing that was so sinful. This explanation doesn’t seem to be limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition either. Many cultures, around the world, say that there have been previous worlds, which have been destroyed because of man’s sinfulness. There doesn’t seem to be any theory giving details of how that works, and a lot of people will simply put that view down to superstition. But suppose there’s some truth to it? We can’t say scientifically that this behavior will cause earthquakes, and another will cause meteors to fall. But we’ve entered an age of potential catastrophe that we CAN ascribe to human behavior.

There’s climate change, which is controversial: not so much that it may be happening, but that human behavior may be a primary cause. What’s less controversial is that pollution of various kinds isn’t good for the environment, including human beings. That doesn’t stop pollution, though. There’s money to be made from many pollution-causing actifities, especially in manufacturing and the acquistion of energy sources to power both manufacturing and an awful lot of other human activities, especially in this country.

An essay I read a couple of weeks ago points out that the beginning of the United States of America coincided with the beginning of the industrial revolution, so that our economy has been expanding for most of our history, and our way of life has changed very dramatically in just over two hundred years. My father, for instance, was born in 1906, which means that the manufacture of cars didn’t predate him by much. Radio became a commercial proposition in his teens, and he was very interested in that. Television didn’t become common until he had gotten married, at about the same time that I was born. America changed a lot during that time, and since.

One of the inventions that made life a lot more convenient was the invention of plastic. Working in the medical field, I see quite a variety of things made of plastic that were designed to be used only once, then thrown away. The one problem with this is that plastics don’t biodegrade–unless over a very extensive period of time. I read that there are places in the ocean that there are large amounts of plastic sheeting, in which the sea life gets tangled up. That doesn’t seem particularly smart, on the part of humans.

Plastics are just one of the products of carbon in the form of oil, coal and natural gas, which also are used to make artificial fertilizers, as well as supplying the lion’s share of our energy needs. There’s only one problem with this: we’re running out of these resources.

It was only in the 19th century that oil began to be widely used for providing energy. Now we read that there’s still plenty of oil left, but very little where it can be extracted most easily. That has mostly been used up, a lot of it in the wars of the 20th century and since. It’s notable too that we’ve used these resources wastefully. Many places have automatic doors, for instance. In the case of hospitals and nursing homes this may make sense. I don’t think stores need them quite as badly. Most kitchen appliances are electric now, as I discovered when I tried to find a grinder like my mother had, with which I could make the sandwich spread she used to make, as well as cranberry relish. Electric appliances you can use for grinding usually have a set of blades at the bottom of a large sort of cup. This isn’t a good design for grinding, and it’s wasteful of electricity. I eventually found a hand grinder in a hardware store, which works much better.

The essay I mentioned above displayed a graph of the primary carbon-based energy resources, which showed their extraction rates getting higher into the near future, then all going down precipitously, because there is realtively little of them left. Yes, we can still get more by fracking, but injecting water and chemicals deep into the earth sounds like a risky business to me. Some say it causes earthquakes. I don’t know if that’s true, but I would suspect it causes pollution of the ground water. I know there’s money to be made supplying those resources, but at the cost of poisoning people? And maybe a lot of people?

I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Large industries have been polluting for a long time, and the way we buy their products shows that we don’t mind very much. Do I sound preachy? I might be entitled to be if I lived in way really harmonious with nature, but I don’t. I’m just as much a part of the problem as most people. We’re used to our comforts, and don’t want to lose them. But the time is coming when we’re likely to lose not only our comforts, but our ability to survive.

Suppose we start running low on oil and natural gas (we’re already running low on coal, I understand). Recently electric power in India was blacked out in an area so large that it constituted twice the population of the United States. That’s something we may have to look forward to. Another is the breakdown of transportation, not only of our own personal transportation, but of the freight haulers who bring us food and other supplies we’ve come to depend on. Unless we find other dependable forms of energy and have them ready to carry the load soon, expect not only discomfort, but death.

That’s one of the causes of conflict in the world. Those producing coal, oil and natural gas want to get as much profit out of them as possible, while they still can. That makes them hostile to more environment-friendly resources like wind, solar, etc. You could also make a good case that oil was the main reason for the most recent war in Iraq and the possible war with Iran that some people want us to undertake. Remove oil as a power source, and one reason for conflict is also removed–assuming that other forms of energy and the infrastructure to deliver them are in place first.

Otherwise, we’re going to have a very painful, and possibly very long period of adjustment which could easily be catastrophic if we fail to plan for it and implement an effective plan. I may live to see that, or not. My grandchildren almost certainly will.

The products of cheap energy have been very seductive, and continue to be. But they come at a price. We have recently fought two wars on China’s credit card, which hasn’t seemed very smart. The price of cheap power is on Nature’s credit card, and I see no reason to believe that Nature is going to be more forgiving of us than the Chinese. We can speculate about the reasons for natural catstrophes, but for a lot of the potential catastrophes of this century we have only ourselves to blame.

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