Volcanoes, Ozone, Climate Change and Critical Thinking

A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev volcano (Russia's Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009. Sarychev Peak is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain and is located on the northwestern end of Matua Island. Prior to June 12, the last explosive eruption had occurred in 1989 with eruptions in 1986, 1976, 1954 and 1946 also producing lava flows. Commercial airline flights were diverted from the region to minimize the danger of engine failures from ash intake. This detailed photograph is exciting to volcanologists because it captures several phenomena that occur during the earliest stages of an explosive volcanic eruption. The main column is one of a series of plumes that rose above Matua Island (48.1 degrees north latitude and 153.2 degrees east longitude) on June 12. The plume appears to be a combination of brown ash and white steam. The vigorously rising plume gives the steam a bubble-like appearance; the surrounding atmosphere has been shoved up by the shock wave of the eruption.

What’s your answer to this simple question: Is the hole in the ozone layer caused by:
1. chlorine, or 2. volcanoes?

I knew about both arguments. Most of us went through the anti-CFC period in the early 90s where packaging changed and fridge cooling systems were replaced. Then my scientist relative explained the volcano theory and I believed that. I then doubted the global CFC movement and thought business bluffed us into additional unnecessary consumerism. After all, the hole is still there and we all bought new fridges and McDonald’s switched to paper.

I’m ashamed to say that until today, the volcano hypothesis held as theoretical fact in my mind until I read an article just now, from 1993. Good grief. It goes to show how our biases might be so horrifically outdated, but because of them, we don’t seek to update ourselves. 

A handful of years later the world was at it again, this time with Y2K. A global mass hysteria to update computers and fire off every old weapon at someone nearby saw a huge growth in IT jobs and new weapons sales. This moved vast amounts of money around the world to solve a problem that didn’t seem to happen. Which might, of course, mean that it had been 100% solved in time. It did massively increase computer literacy which accelerated our tech revolution now. And everyone has new missiles. 

The Y2K bug… the greatest global IT accelerator ever… so far.

Now we’re in the midst of an acceleration of vigorous acceptance and vigorous denial of the Climate Change science. Are we basing our thinking on aged biases? Are we wanting purpose in our lives that any bandwagon gives us meaning? Or is there a great deal of independent evidence and independent science (ie not sponsored by an industry to produce a biased result)? Are there clear mathematical models to estimate the impacts of action (belief in the science) or inaction (denial of the science)? Are you experiencing it? Is there empirical data to support it? Is there all this but we haven’t really dug into it for ourselves?

What’s your thought about climate change and which side of the argument have you taken until now? And importantly, how do you back up your argument with documented evidence that it is or isn’t happening?

Because if you can’t back up your argument with evidence, perhaps you need to inform yourself with some evidence. Otherwise, your arguments might be just hot air. And if the climate change argument is correct, then the world doesn’t need more hot air.

26 years ago, long before social media, but prescient of fake news proponents and followers, Sherwood Rowland, the scientist responsible for discovering the cause of the hole in the ozone layer, said this, something we must all pay some attention to today:

“The world is a very complex system, the amount of information we have about it grows exceedingly rapidly, keeping up requires great effort. But I know of no easy way: you just have to do it. Meanwhile, the combination of some but not enough intelligence, plus considerable amounts of both ignorance and arrogance, can easily lead to being badly wrong in full voice and, worse yet, with a considerable following.”

Sherwood Rowland, 1993

I ashamed to admit that I hadn’t kept up regarding volcanoes and ozone layers. I hadn’t checked. Now there is no excuse to check. Information is at your fingertips. Keep checking. Keep up. Then take action. But be willing to change your mind when new information comes to your attention, and to take new action then. Because doing so might just change the world in one way, and not doing so might change the world in another way. And we might not be able to afford complacency.

I believe this: our job, yours and mine, is to do something positive to change the world for the better. If that is true, then it makes sense to learn how to do our jobs better, each day. That means a big, fat, smoking grey NO to complacency. And a bright, sunny, green fields, blue sky, blue ocean, white light glowing YES to evolving our perspectives for positive change.

For me my volcano is dormant, but some interesting thinking erupted. Here’s the article I mentioned:

It’ll take you 3 minutes and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read. Perhaps it’ll help inspire you to put some volcanoes to bed.

Tim Wade
Global Keynote Speaker
Motivate Positive Change

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