Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It wasn't your SUV that killed in Asia, it was Nature

A bit of soap-boxing from yours, truly (do I sound a little peeved? Yes, but it's just one of those mornings....).

Yesterday I overheard a colleague reading from the NY TIMES Editorial, blaming the earthquake on an apparent lack of morals in nature:

It's instinctive in humans to search for the meaning of an event like this, once shock and grief have begun to subside. And there will be plenty of meanings to find in the ways that humans reacted as this disaster struck and in its aftermath as the relief effort begins. But except for our obligations to help the victims in any way we can, the underlying story of this tragedy is the overpowering, amoral mechanics of the earth's surface, the movement of plates that grind and shift and slide against each other with profound indifference to anything but the pressures that drive them. Whenever those forces punctuate human history, they do so tragically. They demonstrate, geologically speaking, how ephemeral our presence is.

Yet today I read in the Wall Street Journal of some who blame the underlying cause of the destruction on Global Warming:

In an interview with the Independent newspaper in Britain, Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree." Speaking to the same newspaper, Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper pressed the argument home:

"Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions."

So which is it? Is nature so powerful, our presence on her face is so short-lived, that we cannot affect the climate? Or can the exhaust of my SUV (or from cattle, for that matter) be the contributing cause to the record 9.0 earthquake? These are the quandaries that make the Environmentalist Lobby look positively foolish.

What can be done to prevent such death-toll in the future? Encourage capitalism.

Rich countries suffer fewer fatalities from natural disasters because their prosperity has allowed them to create better protective measures. Consider the 41,000 death toll in last December's earthquake in Iran compared with the 63 who died when a slightly stronger earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

The principal victims of the tidal waves in Sri Lanka and elsewhere Sunday were
the poor people living in coastal shanty towns. The wealthier countries around the Pacific Rim have an established early-warning system against tsunamis, while none currently exists in South Asia. Developing countries that have resisted the Kyoto climate-change protocols have done so from fear that it will suppress their economic growth. These countries deserve an answer from the proponents of those standards. How are they supposed to pay for such protection amid measures that are suppressing global economic growth?

There will always be deaths from acts of nature, and no one is immune. And good stewardship of the air, sea, and land is of course always desired.

But as the wallets of American's and good people everywhere are opened, and as aid from (predominately) the West pours in, lets not blame our own prosperity for having caused Sunday's quake.

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