It’s very strange to see all the hullabaloo about this New Yorker article on imminent catastrophic demise of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up there, I consider it one of the best places in the world to live, and most of my family still lives there…I ought to be horrified, terrified, and frantically calling my mother and telling her to move.
Unfortunately, we get this same story every few years. I lived in the Green River Valley, and every once in a while someone would notice that all that fertile farmland was built on top of a pyroclastic mudflow, and the valley was actually a great big chute for deadly lahars from Mt Rainer to the gates of Seattle.
And we would say, “eh.” I imagine the residents of Pompeii had the same attitude. And what are you going to do? There are very low odds of a cataclysmic disaster demolishing you and your home, but very high odds that packing up and moving somewhere else will painfully disrupt your way of life.
The article is good about pointing out that there are common sense things we ought to do now — I had no idea Oregon lacked any kind of building codes to deal with major seismic activity — short of moving away. But some of the hyperbole is counterproductive. “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast” is going to baffle everyone who has lived there: I5 isn’t a particularly good marker. It bisects a lot of towns, and it runs straight down the middle of the Willamette Valley. I think I’d be rather safer on the west side of I5 in Eugene than the east side of I5 in Seattle.
But if it motivates residents of the Pacific Northwest to get better prepared for disaster, that’s a good thing. But years and years of frequent predictions of catastrophe from volcanoes and earthquakes hasn’t had much effect, I doubt that this latest one will, either.
At least the local news is a bit realistic.
“The article had a lot of good information in it and there is a lot of real risk and a lot of preparation we need to do, but it was a little ‘Hollywood’ because it made it seem like it was going to be burning rubble if we had an earthquake,” said Vidale.
“The idea that the entire West Coast is going to be toast is kind of more a long-term economic reality. Some of the older buildings and some of the freeways might have problems; they might even come down, but mostly people are going to be isolated from their source — so food and water and power.”
Of course, the question is whether people will take steps to prepare for a more mundane catastrophe. Probably not.