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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An earthquake, in Virginia??

This is a guest post by Rebecca Anderson, ACE Sierra's Educator and Team Scientist

This is weird. Today at 1:51 pm Eastern time a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck northwest of Richmond, VA. It was felt as far north as New York City.

Being a native East-coaster myself, I can tell you that we don’t get earthquakes in that part of the country. This means people, buildings and bridges are pretty unprepared for an event like this. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any reports of fatalities or serious injuries yet and hopefully that continues.

But this earthquake has got me thinking. Earthquakes have nothing to do with climate change. We know this. Some quakes can strike out of the blue, like this one, in such a random place that there’s no way you could have predicted it. But other places, like along the San Andreas fault in California, you know that living there goes along with the risk of earthquakes. Scientists put a lot of work into calculating those risks and buildings and bridges are built accordingly.

In this way, earthquakes give us a good analogy for dealing with climate change. The risks are understood and the precautions to minimize the risks are also known. You never know on a given day, even in California, if an earthquake is going to strike or not. Likewise, you never know when a big storm, flood or wildfire will hit. But, much like living along the San Andreas fault, with climate change we know that the chances of these events happening – flooding of the Mississippi, drought in Texas, wildfires in the southwest, this summer’s heat wave – are going up. As the venerable Stephen Schneider said, “We are loading the dice.”

Here’s where we get to the difference. Earthquakes are caused by nothing less than seismic ruptures deep inside the Earth, set off by the forces of plate tectonics. There’s not a lot we can do about that. Climate change, on the other hand, we know we can do something about. The cause of this problem is us and that means the solution can be, is and will be u

One of the best parts of my job with ACE is that I know this. I see it every week at high schools in Sacramento, Reno and in between. Those were my kids who started the Eco Warriors Action Team at Reed High in Sparks, NV. Inspired by ACE, they won $12,000 to green their school’s bathrooms. That was my girl, Laura Dang from West Campus High in Sacramento, showing off not just her DOT (Do One Thing to help the environment), but her 15 DOTs in ACE’s DOT Detectives contest this summer.

One of the coolest things I read about the earthquake is that people were getting tweets about it happening in DC just seconds before they actually felt the quake itself. That means with technology, we are faster even that those speedy P waves. Imagine what we’re capable of!

We know it: Climate change is not an earthquake. It’s our mess, we made it and we gotta solve it. Thousands of young people across the country are heading back to school, rejoining their ACE Action Teams and getting to work.

Step 1: Solve climate change.

Step 2: Stop plate tectonics.

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