On September 4th, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, the largest city in Te Wai Pounamu, the south island of New Zealand1. Natural disasters, of any kind or size, are terrible things.
If, indeed, it was a natural disaster.
It seems odd to think of the earthquake of September 4th as the focus of a conspiracy theory, let alone (at least) three competing conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories tend to focus on events of political import; earthquakes are not particularly political, even given the very weird dictatorial powers given to a certain Minister of the Crown post the event. Bombings, land confiscations, so-called terror camps in the Urewera; these are the political fodder of conspiracy theories. Earthquakes, not so much. No conspiracy there, you might be forgiven to think.
Yet, the quake of September 4th has been variously attributed to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, the HAARP facility in Alaska and even to a New Zealand-owned mining operation called “Minerals Westcoast.” If the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, then there’s just no room left in the story for natural forces.
Geneva: A CERN thing2
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been the focus of a lot of conspiracy theories, some of which deal with the huge cost associated with building the LHC (“Who paid for it,” the conspiracy theorist will say, “let’s follow that money…”), what its real purpose is (“Does anyone really believe they just want to smash particles together at high speed?”) and whether the strangelets it may be producing are eating away at the Earth’s core.
Now, this latter claim, along with worries about what the LHC might be doing to the planet’s electromagnetic fields, has lead some conspiracy theorists to posit the LHC as the primary cause of the September 4th quake. Let me crib the reasons why the LHC could be a or the cause of the earthquake from the delightful people at CERNTruth:
– There are 3 possible ways in which the LHC can cause earthquakes:
A) If the magnetic field of the magnets drawn above interact with other magnetic fields in the magma.
B)If it made black holes or strangelets that are now in the center of the Earth, slowly eating the planet.
C) If it produces perpendicular gravitational waves, affecting the antipodes (Tonga, Fidji region), which is reaching a maximal with occurrences at very deep level (over 500 km.)
Now, all of these hypothetical situations are, indeed, well, hypothetical conjectures3 . The LHC could be producing micro-singularities, which might develop into black holes, that would then eat away at the Earth, subsequently growing exponentially in size until such time that the Earth is swallowed whole4.
Now, it’s important to notice the layering of “mights” and “coulds” in this scenario; the chance that the LHC has created a black hole eating up the Earth and, in the process, causing the Christchurch earthquake is remote. For one thing, even if the LHC did create a micro-singularity, it would most likely dissipate before becoming a planet-devouring black hole5. Whatever the case, all the LHC is doing, in that particular respect, is something that already happens in the ionosphere on a day-by-day basis; the danger of micro-singularities actually being formed by the LHC is thought to be so low that you could run it continuously for longer than we’ve existed and not expect a stable micro-singularity to form. Given that we only operate the LHC for small periods of time at best, chances are that Amanda Tapping and Adrian Paul will not be chasing a rogue black hole through Christchurch in the near future.
Options A (the magnetic fields interfering with magma) and C (the production of perpendicular gravitational waves) are, in essence, examples of pseudoscience. Pseudoscience, the made-up scientific theories of non-experts, is the kind of science conspiracy theorists like to appeal to. Presumably this is because it requires them to have no accreditation, no pesky student loans and, more importantly to my mind, allows you to avoid abominations like the University of Auckland’s old online enrolment system, nDeva6. It’s easy to be an expert in a pseudoscience; just assert that something might be the case and then claim the burden of proof is on your detractors, no matter their qualifications.
It’s a little weird, actually, to consider the kind of reasoning that gets used in options A and C, because the people who routinely suspect CERN is up to no good also tend to be the kind of people who suspect the Intergovernmental7 Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be conspiring to persuade us of the “fraud” that is Anthropogenic Climate Change. You see, opponents of Anthropogenic Climate Change often argue that “Humans can’t possibly be fouling the environment; the six billion humans on the Earth, collectively, don’t have the ability to overly affect the environment in a disastrous way.” Yet, the conspiracy theorists who think the LHC is responsible for the ills of the world will claim that a single installation (operated by a vastly smaller group of humans) can affect the environment and cause earthquakes, tsunamis and the like.
They make the same claim about the HAARP installation in Alaska; more on that soon.
Now, if we extend the principle of charity to the conspiracy theorists in this instance you can see that this isn’t that big a discrepancy as it first appears. Conspiracy theorists who believe both that the LHC is making our lives a misery and that the UN is using the IPCC to bring about a One World Government are merely claiming that ordinary (read: unaided) human beings can’t change the environment but that extraordinary human activity (read: machine-aided human activity) can. However, once you admit to that, then you need to deal with the scientific data that, quite conclusively, shows that our industrial activity has had a measurable effect upon the climate (archaeologists can wax lyrical about how the Industrial Revolution is clearly marked in the C14 record, as evidenced by work in dendrochronology and radio-carbon dating). Once that data comes in to play, well, that seems to show that maybe the worries of the IPCC (and the cohort of scientists who agree that Anthropogenic Climate Change is occurring) are well-founded.
But I digress.
Tomorrow: HAARP and Mining
- Whilst no lives were lost, the aftershocks, ten days on, still continue. It’s fair to say, for the people of the Canterbury Plains, that the disaster is an on-going concern.↩
- I apologise for this poorly constructed pun. It really is quite terrible.↩
- And the award for “Magnificence in English language usage goes to…”↩
- Which, incidentally, is a plot point in Dan Simmon’s “Hyperion Cantos.”↩
- This is the current thinking on the matter by the appropriately qualified experts, although I should say that this is one scientific theory in which the debate is still ongoing.↩
- Which, for current readers and former students, has been killed off. Huzzah!↩
- I always want to say “Interplanetary.”↩