Heroes

Can you guess which state had over 500 significant quakes in 2014? The answer is telling.

It's a 600-fold increase in the historical rate of quakes. And it's not natural.

Can you guess which state had over 500 significant quakes in 2014? The answer is telling.

When I think of a disaster in Oklahoma, I usually assume it's a tornado.

That's because Oklahoma sits right in Tornado Alley. And it's true, some really terrible storms have come through the state in the last few years, such as the one that hit the town of Moore in 2013.


Image from State Farm/Flickr.

But something else has been hitting the state lately — earthquakes.

A lot of earthquakes. This is a record from Global Incident Map last Friday.

Four earthquakes, fairly strong ones, hit within a short period. And every time I've checked back on the site, there's been at least one dot right smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has become one of the newest and most earthquake-prone places on Earth.

That's what spokesman for the Oklahoma Cooperation Commission — which looks after Oklahoma's oil and gas — told a local rotary club on Nov. 9, 2015.

"We have had 15 [earthquakes] in Medford since 5 o'clock Saturday morning," spokesman Matt Spencer said. "We've got an earthquake issue."

What the heck is going on here?

Earthquakes normally happen along geologically active fault lines: places like California or Washington. Oklahoma is not supposed to be an earthquake state. It does have some ancient fault lines, yes, but they're mostly dormant. There were only seven magnitude 3 or greater earthquakes in the 1980s, for example.

But compare that to over 500 in 2014!

On the left is Oklahoma from 1980 to 1989. On the right is Oklahoma in 2014. Images from Earthquakes in Oklahoma/Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment.

"The current average rate of earthquakes is approximately 600 times historical averages," the Oklahoma Office of the Secretary of Energy and Environment's website said. "While we understand that Oklahoma has historically experienced some level of seismicity, we know that the recent rise in earthquakes cannot be entirely attributed to natural causes."

Fracking.

Fracking is a way to extract oil and natural gas from the ground. It uses a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals to crack open underground rocks. This releases the oil and gas trapped inside, which is sucked up by the drillers. The contaminated wastewater is then usually disposed of by pumping it into deeper disposal wells and sealing the well.

It's actually this disposal fluid, not the fracking itself, that causes the problem, say two scientists from Stanford University. Professor Mark Zoback and doctoral student Rall Walsh published a paper in June blaming wastewater wells for the earthquakes.

"What we've learned in this study is that the fluid injection responsible for most of the recent quakes in Oklahoma is due to production and subsequent injection of massive amounts of wastewater," Zoback told Stanford News.

When the high-pressure wastewater hits one of those deep fault lines, it's like putting too much air into a weak tire. It's going to pop.

GIF from World Science Festival/YouTube.

The faults, which are already under extreme stress from the movements of the earth, would likely pop one day anyways, but by injecting wastewater, humans are ramping up the schedule.

"The earthquakes in Oklahoma would have happened eventually," Walsh told Stanford News. "But by injecting water into the faults and pressurizing them, we've advanced the clock and made them occur today."

While most of the quakes have been around magnitude 3 — enough to be felt, but not enough to do lasting damage — there have been larger quakes too, such as the magnitude 5.6 earthquake that hit Prague, Oklahoma, in 2011. And unlike places like Los Angeles, where earthquakes are routine, buildings in Oklahoma usually aren't designed with quakes in mind.

A house damaged by the 2011 earthquake in Prague, Oklahoma. Image from U.S. Geological Survey/Flickr.

Oklahoma's government has started taking steps to try to stop these quakes, including ordering certain wells to stop or reduce their injection. But this isn't going to go away any time soon, they cautioned.

This is street-side video of a magnitude 4.7 quake that hit Tulsa, Oklahoma.

If you're as shaken up by this trend as I am, sign this petition from the League of Conservation Voters celebrating the Clean Power Plan, which promotes alternative, non-earthquake inducing energy sources such as wind and solar.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."