From the Earth Island Journal's special issue on the Anthropocene age.
My first earthquake happened at four in the morning, when some small god picked up my apartment building and shook it lightly before setting it down like a Christmas box that would, soon enough, be torn apart.
At the emergency preparedness class I took soon after, our instructor told us: “Some people get to learn of the storm hitting their town just a few days out. Too late! Not enough time to find water, board up, and make a plan. The good thing about an earthquake is you’ve got plenty of warning. Here’s yours: With certainty, you’ll be hit by a major earthquake in the next 30 years. It’s an ideal disaster.”
Let’s run with this for a moment. An “ideal disaster” has three characteristics. First, it needs to be small enough to do something about. So the sun exploding is not an ideal disaster. It’s paralytic, too big to do anything about.
Second, an ideal disaster is one that is sufficiently far in the future to be able to mitigate. When I was growing up in England we had something called the Three Minute Warning – the time between the detection of Soviet nuclear missiles and the moment when London would be incinerated. This, too, was not ideal.
Beyond being sufficiently clear and insufficiently present, the final and...