Thursday, August 9, 2012

The price of paradise

Mt Ruapehu Eruption, 1995
On Monday night, one of New Zealand's volcanoes, Mt Tongariro went... BOOM! For the first time in over a hundred years. As is expected with these kinds of things, the media has done its best to freak us out... We've always known that if Lake Taupo, a tourist hotspot in the middle of the North Island and also a massive volcano, were to erupt, most of New Zealand would be toast. It would be like Pompeii up in here. Apparently Lake Taupo is a "super volcano, which erupted 1800 years agoin the most violent eruption known in the world in the past 5000 years" My colleague tells me people in Rome saw the ash clouds... how she knows that, no idea... but it's a scary thought... Rome is pretty far away.

Ash from the eruption - photo from

Growing up dealing with earthquakes and seeing the 1995 eruption of Mt Ruapehu among others, New Zealanders have always known they live on some pretty volitile land. But it didn't actually hit me as to just how volitile it is until I took an American friend of mine to Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, last year, and showed him around the Awesome Forces exhibit, which "shows how plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and erosion have shaped one of the most dynamic landscapes in the world". We live on really, really fragile ground... and because New Zealand is so small, Something that happens in Cape Reinga is felt in Bluff - everyone feels the pinch, the worry, the ocassional panic.
There are a lot of whingers in this country who get disappointed by the election results or live in fear of death by nature, who harp on about greener pastures overseas. About how New Zealand's economy is going down the tubes and we're all going to die one day in a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. But you know what, you pay a price for paradise, and I would rather live through earthquakes and the ocassional volcanic eruption than live in constant fear of poisonous snakes and spiders, getting shot as I walk down the street, or destroying my body with polluted "air".
Part of me (a slightly morbid part I'll admit) feels oddly comforted by the fact that there are some things on earth that are simply out of our control. As humans, we like to think we are top of the table in this world, but in fact, we are all at the mercy of nature, and if nature decides to sweep us away with an earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption, then there's nothing we can do about it.
Although we've grown up in a culture that is largely shaped by our active geology and our country, just like any other, is not perfect, we've also grown up with the knowledge that many people who don't live here believe we live in paradise. I believe it too, and I wouldn't live anywhere else.

Click photos for sources

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