25 February 2009
To say that I was shocked, appalled and dismayed on hearing the “volcano monitoring” comment in your speech following President Obama’s address to Congress would be a massive understatement.
You, and anyone who thought that including that comment in the Republican rebuttal was a good idea, are guilty of the dangerous and pervasive attitude of willful ignorance about science that has sadly pervaded the government of this country in the past eight years. It is extremely frightening that you, the governor of a state that recently experienced a major natural disaster, think that the paltry amounts spent on volcano monitoring in our country are a waste of money.
It is simply appalling that you cannot be bothered to educate yourself about some of the most basic knowledge that geologic science has to offer. Volcanoes are extremely dangerous and costly phenomena. The people of states like Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California, depend on volcano monitoring to preserve their lives and livelihoods.
Perhaps you think that $140 million is too high a price to pay for the thousands of lives that were saved by volcano monitoring during the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption? Or the millions of dollars in commerce and countless lives that are preserved by monitoring Alaskan volcanoes which lie in the flight paths of major shipping and passenger airlines? Are you the least bit aware that a major volcanic eruption could produce enough ash to reach even Louisiana, disrupting or shutting down air traffic for thousands of miles and crippling our country’s airline industry? Or that an eruption or collapse of Mount Rainier could kill or displace tens of thousands of people with ash falls, pyroclastic flows and mudflows?
Lack of monitoring and communication caused the needless deaths of 23,000 people in the 1985 eruption of Nevado Del Ruiz volcano in Columbia. Would you prefer that we, a technologically rich country with the expertise and resources to prevent such a disaster, should eliminate the very monitoring programs that enable us to do so just because politicians like you can’t be troubled to learn about why they’re so important?
Your attitude toward volcano monitoring as a representative of our country’s government is irresponsible and potentially deadly. If you suggest that we should discontinue volcano monitoring simply because you refuse to make the effort to understand it, then you are making yourself personally accountable for the lives, property and money that will be lost in volcanic eruptions. I am sure you will be happy to explain to the American citizens who will suffer from your recommendations why your state deserves funding to monitor and mitigate the hazards associated with flooding and hurricanes, but their homes and lives are unworthy of protection.
$140 million is a small price to pay to prevent the millions, possibly billions of dollars in property and commerce and tens of thousands of lives that will be in danger in the event of a volcanic eruption in the United States. Even now, Redoubt volcano in Alaska is showing signs that it may soon erupt, and the effects of such an eruption will not only impact the people of Alaska, they will affect the oil, fishing, and airline industries as well. Saying that we should discontinue volcano monitoring in the midst of a potential volcanic crisis is stupid, irresponsible and ignorant.
Blind adherence to politics is one of the reasons that America is in the middle of an economic crisis today. Don’t make it worse by adding natural disasters to the mix.
You have, in your callous, ill-educated and ill-considered words, grievously insulted the men and women of the geologic community who have dedicated their lives to protecting others from natural hazards such as volcanoes. They do their work for the sake of ordinary Americans who, on their own, have no way of understanding or preparing for volcanic eruptions. You show enormous disrespect for the scientists who safeguard the safety of those who live in the shadow of active volcanoes.
I am truly frightened by anyone who claims to represent American citizens in public office by making such irresponsible and, frankly, stupid statements about scientific endeavors that he has made no effort to understand. You, and anyone who supports you in this statement, are unworthy of being responsible for the safety of the American public, and I hope that those in charge of our nation’s budget will rightly ignore your hideously bad ideas.
Update: There are a lot of people that feel just as strongly about this as I do.
Maria Brumm at Green Gabbro (and again)
Garry Hayes at Geotripper
Ralph Harrington at The Volcanism Blog
Eric at The Dynamic Earth
Phil Plait at The Bad Astronomy Blog
Dave Schumaker at Geology News (and again)
Anna at Adventures in the world of Geology
Andrew Alden at About Geology
Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous
Short Geologist at Accidental Remediation