Here’s an excellent article by U of T geology professor Nick Eyles, explaining the geological context for the earthquake last week, how it fits into the history of earthquakes in Japan, how these earthquakes have affected Japanese culture (including an influence on Japanese rejection of Western building styles, and hence to some degree of Western culture in general). I love the way he connects a number of different issues. He ends the piece with some observations about predicting earthquakes in Canada.
There’s an interesting parallel with climate prediction here: seismologists can calculate the expected frequency and trends in seismic activity, and hence advise people on what they should do to minimize the risk to people and infrastructure. But they can’t predict the timing or size of any specific earthquake. Likewise, climate scientists can understand the trends and the overall impact of climate change on different regions, but they can’t say exactly when specific consequences will be felt, nor when particular extreme events will happen. In both cases, failure to take the advice seriously will dramatically worsen the impact when a disaster does occur.