Thursday, July 6, 2023


            I learned recently that there has been a change in the way the earth moves. Our axis is shifting, for some unknown (to me) reason, and our wobble is changing, first because melting glaciers have changed the not-perfectly-spherical mass distribution of our spinning planet, and then, more recently, because the depletion of the masses of water in our aquifer – mainly to water crops in dry areas and golf courses where they should not be – has shifted our planet’s mass even more, changing our wobble. The New York Times puts it this way:


For decades, scientists had been watching the average position of our planet’s rotational axis, the imaginary rod around which it turns, gently wander south, away from the geographic North Pole and toward Canada. Suddenly, though, it made a sharp turn and started heading east.


In time, researchers came to a startling realization about what had happened. Accelerated melting of the polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers had changed the way mass was distributed around the planet enough to influence its spin.


Now, some of the same scientists have identified another factor that’s had the same kind of effect: colossal quantities of water pumped out of the ground for crops and households.


What are we to do with this information?


            For starters, this may help explain the wobbling and wandering I’ve been experiencing lately. I thought it might be a combination of my recently diagnosed lumbar stenosis, combined with my aging brain. But no! It’s the planet’s shifting rotational axis, plus more wobbling, and not just mine! That is, in a way, a relief. And yes, my personal land mass has shifted a bit, leading to some increase in my wobbling, and I don’t spin the way I used to, but that’s rather small scale in the overall scheme of things.


            What can I do about it? As engineers (and politicians!) try to come up with ways to restore water to the aquifer, I will continue to restore water to my own personal aquifer, one glass at a time. But mainly, I will add planetary wobbling and axis shifting to my list of problems I am powerless to solve.


            But that’s not entirely true. I can help preserve my local aquifer by taking shorter showers, and occasionally skipping a day – one can do that when living in the woods. I can do the small stuff to help reduce global warming – driving less, adjusting my thermostat, voting for the right people – thus, perhaps, saving a glacier or two, though they are not likely to be named after me as a thanks.


            On a global level, does the shifting axis and change in wobble explain the craziness we see in the world? We can’t blame it all on cell phones, Trump, Putin, artificial intelligence, drugs, or guns. 


            So, again, what are we to do with this information about our shifting axis and wobble? I think I have to go back to the conclusion of Voltaire’s Candide, where the hero, after experiencing the horrors of the world, realizes: “You must cultivate your own garden.” Much has been written about what Voltaire meant, and I won’t add to that. Time to stop thinking and wobble back to work. I need to figure out how to cultivate my garden without depleting my local aquifer . . ..


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