Welcome to a new edition of Left Wondering with Joel Stein, our advice column for paid subscribers of The Lever on how to lead an ethical life in an increasingly unethical world.
Have a question about how to make a personal decision related to climate change, corporatization, politics, wealth inequality, globalization, or other matters that you’d like Joel to answer? Send it to LeftWondering@levernews.com.
Dear Left Wondering,
There was a report recently that pulling trillions of gallons of groundwater from the ground over the last many decades has caused the earth to tilt. My question is: What about all the oil that we have pulled from the earth's depths? How does that affect the earth's tilt or rotation?
Dear Ms. Borer,
In the two weeks I’ve been writing this column, I’ve already created an email folder for letters called “conspiracy theories.” Before I added yours, I Googled “tilting earth” to see what hilarious fake news popped up that I could use to make fun of you.
Letter Writer Who I Assume Invented a Clever Last Name, I am sorry. You are correct about groundwater draining tilting our planet.
The June 28, 2023 issue of Geophysical Research Letters (which, just like The Lever and unlike Penthouse Forum, has completely real letters) published a research paper entitled, “Drift of Earth's Pole Confirms Groundwater Depletion as a Significant Contributor to Global Sea Level Rise 1993–2010,” authored by a group of scientists led by Ki-Weon Seo, an earth science education professor at Seoul National University in South Korea.
The paper shows that by pumping more than two trillion tons of water out of the ground between 1993 and 2010 (which then gets redistributed as rain to the oceans, thereby increasing the mass closer to the equator) we’ve yanked the Earth nearly 80 centimeters east between 1993 and 2010 alone.
I’m just catching up to what you already know, Ms. Borer. You, meanwhile, want to know about how petroleum extraction has also affected the earth’s tilt. The first thing I can tell you is that oil is lighter than water.