I suspect a lot of people were humming Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” or Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” yesterday when an earthquake centered 40 miles northwest of Richmond rattled its way up and down the East Coast.

A spire fell off the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., more than 100 miles away, and people panicked in the streets. The scene was quieter here in Buies Creek, at least 200 miles south of the epicenter, but even so the floor moved in my third floor office, a glass globe on my desk shook in its cradle, and leaves on my plants moved as if a breeze was blowing.

I had a class about half an hour after the quake rumbled through, and couldn’t resist beginning the class by playing Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet.” The metaphor didn’t apply, but it was fun nonetheless.

Listening to the radio on the way home, NPR reporters interviewed a geologist who explained that the crystalline rock formations along the East Coast transmit temblors for long distances, while the softer clay above the rocky layer amplifies the vibrations.

It was a timely reminder, I think, that our planet, despite its massive size, is all connected. An earthquake in Virginia is felt several states away. A volcano in Iceland disrupts air traffic all over Europe. Air pollution spewed out in China or India or the U.S. heats up the atmosphere and speeds the melting of ice sheets in the Arctic, which will raise ocean levels on every seacoast in the world.

We can’t do much — read anything — to prevent earthquakes or volcanoes: the plate tectonics that continue to shape the earth’s surface are way beyond human control. We can, however, treat the environment we have more kindly, ignore the natterings of naysayers, and take seriously the threat of human-induced climate change.

We can, and we should — or there’ll be a whole lotta meltin’ going on.


[NASA photo, from Apollo 11]


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