What chaos can show us about ourselves

Recent Eruptions in Central Americas most active volcano ‘Fuego’ have so far created a death toll of 69, injury of hundreds and evacuation of thousands. The volcano created a pyroclastic flow which tends to look like a giant ash cloud but Is really filled with gases and rocks that can move at about 80 Kilometres an hour and reach up to 760 degrees Celsius. This is the same type of eruption that engulfed the city of Pompeii. The fast moving ash can create major respiratory problems which may be the reason experts warn that the worst is yet to come.

The volcano is a tourist attraction for the region, purely because it is constantly erupting, this means it’s unlikely any relocation will occur to better protect people as taking away economic activity is hard to sell as ‘protection’. Perhaps that’s because this isn’t a rare occurrence. 2010 Saw the Volcano Paccaya cover the city in ash and shut down the airport for 5 days. 1976, earthquakes devastated the entire region, I met one resident who remembers the road moving like water. 1917 Earthquakes created similar devastation and left over 200,000 people homeless. The recent eruption took people by surprise due to what volcanologist Janine Kippner described as ‘a larger than average eruption’.

This seems to be a problem. If a larger than average eruption is all it takes to surprise experts and locals we can expect to constantly find ourselves surprised at natural disasters. By all definitions, larger than average disasters will always occur, thats how you get averages. Around the world we have seen similar disasters destroy regions. Hawaii is going through emergency evacuations as the Kilauea volcano has began erupting, hundreds of earthquakes have hit the region and fissures have opened up. All things considered, active volcanic regions aren’t the best places to build cities. Neither for that matter are cities built along major fault lines like the San Andreas, or cities built in Cyclone prone areas like Florida, Darwin, Townsville, Southern China.

There’s not a lot that we can do about any of this. Ancient and modern history will tell us that we will continue living in our danger zones until we physically can’t anymore. This is worrying when put in the global warming context as it means we might never do what is required to ensure that coastal cities don’t flood, small islands don’t sink and ozone depletion doesn’t fully occur. Even if we consider the few remarkable members of our 7.6 billion strong species who are dedicating their lives to solving these problems. We can only expect the numbers to get worse, mostly due to increases in our world wide population resulting in denser concentrations of people in disaster prone areas.

The 1976 earthquake saw the USA work at rebuilding most of the roads in industrialised areas. Canada and Belgian worked together to rebuild villages, Mexico helped house those that were left homeless and within a week of the Guatemalan governments appeal to the international community an estimate of over 4,200 tons of supplies had landed from 31 different countries. This included aid from various Christian organisations, Israel, Pakistan, Yugoslavia and Haiti to name a few.

So whats the point in this then? First would be a humbling of our assuredness that what is here will always be here. Also a humbling of our own greatness. The most intelligent species on the planet still builds in terrible places and takes a short term view of our world. Second would be that even if we do somehow achieve equilibrium between us and nature we will always be at the mercy of natures destructive forces. Third and most importantly is that when these disasters do occur, we tend to feel a certain compassion for those affected and that all of a sudden the differences we define ourselves by break down in an instant as we work together help those that need it.


Akpan, N 2018, ‘What made Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano eruption so deadly’, PBS, June 4, viewed 5 June 2018
‘Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano: Why, When and What’s next’, Aljazeera, 23 May, viewed on 5 June 2018
Report of the Comptroller General of the United States 1976, Observations on the Guatemalan Earthquake Relief Effort.

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