EARLY WARNING

Tsunami! It’s not even an Atlantic Ocean word. Nor, as it turns out, was it an Indian Ocean word. But tsunami’s are natural occurrences. Last week’s tsunami reminded us that despite our sometimes overweening arrogance, we’re all at the mercy of natural events.

            The earthquake that spawned that tsunami reminded that though we may build on deep and solid foundations, these foundations themselves can be re-arranged by the immense natural forces restrained within the planetary ball that we think we own.

            Dan Rather, reporting for CBS News reported that part of the 165,000 square mile island of Sumatra had been ‘moved’ one hundred feet. I don’t know if Dan and CBS were correct. I do know that the possibility is real. That Sumatra is such a big island doesn’t mean that it’s immovable.  It simply means that some people might find the story difficult to believe.

            After watching the video repeats of the tsunami waves crashing ashore, after seeing stills of uncovered sea-beds, double walls of approaching waters, and dwarfed humans trying to run to safety;  I understand that though it may take a while for scientists to agree conclusions, the reality is that incredibly powerful forces were at work.

            Some news media, trying to give perspective, used the power of the atomic bomb and billions of tons of TNT as frames of reference. I didn’t think that worked.              Bermudians are familiar with Hurricane Fabian’s re-shaping. We see the effects at the western end of Horseshoe Beach. The strengthened roadway on the South Shore just west of John Smith’s Bay. The refreshed and replaced asphalt and walls of the Causeway. But all that shrinks when compared to the tsunami’s damage.

            Perhaps the best – though most macabre – way to compare the destruction would be to compare it to 40 pairs of World Trade Centre towers, located in twelve countries on two continents, all being destroyed in the same way in the same morning.  Perhaps that is the best that the modern media savvy mind can grasp.

            As the world adjusted to the tsunami disaster, values shifted. The tragedy in the Sudan slid off the radar. The tragedy-in-the-making in the Congo dropped off the radar. The USA’s tragic muddles in Iraq were blown off the radar. The deaths of 28 Iraqi policemen, and later of one US Marine, were seen against the backdrop of a tsunami death toll of more than 120,000 people.

            The need to feed the war in Iraq with more men and more money was set against the need to feed water, medical supplies, food, and other assistance into the tsunami’ed areas.

            That tsunami brings a new perspective to everything. Even in religion. Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.  All now face the same – equally new – issue. Why?

            Here in our Bermuda, we perch atop an extinct – so I’m told – volcano. Scientists say that a more active volcano in the Canaries can blow and the result might be – some say would be – a tsunami heading for our Bermuda.  Scientists warned about tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. These scientists were, mostly, ignored.  The tsunami came anyhow.

            We should set up the same kind of warning system that already exists in the Pacific Ocean. Instead of bickering about the minutiae of independence, we’d be better off taking independent action to prepare Bermuda for the same kind of reality that washed over ten countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

            Though other countries such as Canada, Portugal, the USA, Spain, Morocco may be in line to be damaged by 15 to 30 metre high tsunami waves, these countries may express the same level of interest as did Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and other of the hard-hit Indian Ocean nations.

            Modern media brought the millions of human tragedies in the Far East much closer to our island idyll. While we play our small part in the recovery effort, we should also realize how dependent we really are.  Dependent on an early warning system. Dependent on someone else’s years of dedicated studies. Dependent on technologies developed by ‘oddball scientists’ studying ‘oddball’ subjects.

            Perhaps we’ll realize that our hurricane warning system – most of which we don’t pay for – needs to be supplemented by a tsunami warning system; and that we should pay and play our part in that system.

            Sitting in the path of a tsunami that would ravage us an hour before it smashes into the USA’s East Coast, Bermuda should be the site for an Atlantic Ocean tsunami research and warning station.

 

The Big Smoke

Spontaneous combustion is an entirely natural – even beautiful – thing. It’s actually been going on ever since planet earth cooled down to the global temperatures we’re now familiar with. It’s spontaneous combustion that started the fire in the Pembroke Marsh Material Mountain.

            Decades ago, when Bermuda dumped all its ‘trash’ in the ‘dump’, fires were more frequent. The Big Smoke that started on Tuesday 27th February – and that’s likely to go on for many more days – is something we haven’t seen in many years. But this Big Smoke comes at a good time and makes a timely and – especially by night – a spectacular reminder.

            This Big Smoke reminds that nature is inexorable. Nature doesn’t bend to human, political, or national will. Us lot can theorize, invent, even ignore; but nature just moseys along doing exactly what it’s been doing for a million years. Us lot with our three score and ten lifespan don’t always harmonize with the grand natural events that simply unfold and happen.

            Hurricanes hit. Tsunamis come – and don’t come. Bermuda’s national Cricket Team gets rattled by a mini-earthquake. The Material Mountain catches fire. It’s all natural.

            While we’re prattling about SDO’s and new eight and ten storey office buildings, we ‘d all do well to take a look at the miles-long pall of smoke from the Big Smoke.

            As us lot try and cram more ‘stuff’ onto our 13,000 acre coral atoll, we’ll come up against purely natural outcomes. Outcomes that have been happening to all mankind and in all nature for thousands of years.

            Cram too many people into too small a human space and don’t have the safety valve of emigration or some kind of mass population movement? You will get communal strife. Without radical change or intervention, that communal strife will likely reduce population – by whatever means – until the population is back in balance with its space. It’s just natural.

            Take a lot of human waste, organic, plastics, and other trash material and just keep spreading and dumping it all over Bermuda? You’ll eventually affect Bermuda’s underground water supply. It’s just natural.

            Take a lot of organic material and just keep dumping it, in an ever-rising pile, in the same space? You’ll eventually get a ‘Big Smoke’. It’s just natural.

            Sustainable Development? Reduce…Re-use…Recycle? “Lets be environmentally conscious?” Global warming? All that other environmental stuff? Look up at the ‘Big Smoke’ and ask yourself this question. Is all that environmental stuff important to me?

            Then, regardless of the answer that you give to yourself – remember that Nature follows it own, its very own, natural laws. Remember that those natural laws haven’t changed in a million years. Look at and remember the Big Smoke – and think harder about Bermuda’s future.

BIG SMOKES

Apart from the smoke, two other things are coming out of the ‘Big Smoke’. First? The Big Smoke is reminding us Bermudians that Nature is real and cannot be ignored. Second? We – and I mean everybody who is resident on these isles – are often so involved with the apparently big and important stuff of SDO’s and pushing up mini-skyscrapers, that we forget little stuff like the need to maintain a reasonable balance with the realities of  Nature.

            Of course, we can forget about Nature. And Nature, being Nature, won’t react by immediately throwing a Ministerial style hand-on-hip hissy fit. Nonetheless, Nature does ultimately react.

            Take the plan to build a big new mini-skyscraper hotel in the Par-la-Ville car park space. That idea starts out with two ways to tackle the building’s foundation works.

            Way One? Just count the dollar cost. Pour on men and heavy machinery. Cut a massive hole in the ground and dump the stuff that comes out somewhere else. Then, start shooting up the mini-skyscraper. That’s how we’ve tackled and approached most building projects.

            Way Two? Count the environmental impact and – with different equipment and more slowly – quarry out the Bermuda Stone that’s there and stockpile it – somewhere else – for sale and re-use until it’s all sold and re-used.

            Way One? Gets the job done fastest, at least dollar cost, but with the greatest negative environmental impact.  Way Two? Takes a bit longer, costs a bit more [but has a dollar recovery factor built in], and will have a smaller environmental impact.

            Because we’re a 13,000 acre coral atoll, we cannot always adopt or follow methods common in bigger landmasses. Our forefathers didn’t. Our forefathers – black and white – passed down a clean island with a relatively healthy social fabric and strong community bonds.  The 20th Century lot used their legacy to build the Bermuda of the latter half of that period. Now us 21st Century lot seem hell-bent on roaring off as though we can disregard what’s gone before, and also ignore some commonsense – as well as entirely Natural – realities.

            Us 21st Century lot seem to have forgotten that Nature ultimately creates a balance. Us 21st Century lot got the horticultural waste and solid rubble mixing process out-of-balance. Nature’s response was the Big Smoke. The Big Smoke was a reminder that Nature always strikes, and strikes hard, for equilibrium.

            The fact that we have only the Pembroke Marsh area as our national landfill space should tell us – all of us – that we need to take a strategic national approach when we make some of our grand plans. That’s the kind of broad approach and strategic planning that I’m recommending when we start tackling projects like the Par-la-Ville Hotel and – if it comes to fruition – the Southlands Hotel. We need to plan for impacts on the simpler to understand green environmental spaces as well as the impact on the more difficult to fathom human balance.

            Rising undertones of human rumbles and grumbles about pay, living conditions, and opportunities for Bermudians suggest that something is not right in Bermuda’s natural human environment. The Big Smoke shows us what happens when natural pressure produces natural heat that begets natural fire. Exactly the same chain of responses occurs in the Human environment. Bermuda had Human environment Big Smokes in 1965, 1968, 1973, 1977, 1981. Today’s different human pressures can produce the same responses.

            So. Way One? Way Two? The human factor?

 “The Professionals” 

Amidst the oft-heard complaints about the quality of Bermudian workers and institutions, the one most frequently aired is that Bermudians are not hard workers, and that foreigners always work harder than Bermudians.

            All through the Big Smoke, there’s been a team of guys – and a few gals – who’ve quietly and efficiently taken on a long task. They’re the men and women of the Bermuda Fire Service.

            Quietly and efficiently, they’ve tackled the Big Smoke. All through the day and all through the night, they’ve been on the scene since Tuesday 27th February. They’ve also continued to man the Hamilton and Port Royal Fire Stations and have stood ready to respond – instantly – to any other call for help anywhere else in Bermuda.  Their crews have also responded to the usual traffic accidents.

           

Through it all, they’ve just gone on providing excellent efficient service. They’ve done it without moaning or complaining. Without any apparent organizational hitches or glitches.

All you smoke-stained Professionals of Bermuda’s Fire Service – I salute you.