Natural disasters: both an environmental and ethical problem

It is tragic to watch the effects of Hurricane Harvey in the States at the moment, and also what has been happening with monsoons and floods in Asia. It’s sad to say, but events like these are only going to appear with increasing regularity on our TV screens and in our news feeds.

There is a great article on the Guardian website linking these major environmental events to climate change. The BBC also posted an article saying pretty much the same, although it’s important to highlight one key point that was made:

“The hurricane is just a storm, it is not the disaster,” said Dr Ilan Kelman, at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and Institute for Global Health at University College London. “The disaster is the fact that Houston population has increased by 40% since 1990. The disaster is the fact that many people were too poor to afford insurance or evacuate.”

In essence, this chap is saying that natural environmental events such as floods and hurricanes are of course natural, but more people are affected by them because, well, there are more people.

The global population is rising exponentially. The figure currently sits around 7.5 billion, but is set to rise to somewhere around 10 billion in the next 30 years. (Population Matters is a great site to visit if you’re interested in population growth.)

Natural disasters are exacerbated by man-made activities and related pollutants. Global warming will mean these events will happen more often and with greater force. With global population figures only going in one direction (i.e. up!), we are set to see more tragedies in the future, and increasingly closer to home.

This raises some ethical questions around how deal with the aftermath of devastation and support those most in need, who have lost their homes, livelihoods and — tragically — their families. A growing population all need to be housed, and increasingly affordable housing, such as in Houston, is often built on flood plains – it’s happening here in the UK too. So those most at risk are also those probably least likely to be able to afford to rebuild their lives, or to receive the right help and support. Remember the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina?

If you want to understand these issues better, I really recommend you watch Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to get a greater grasp on what man-made climate change really means for all of us. It is easily available via Amazon and Netflix and is a fascinating, engaging and very accessible film for everyone. (The sequel — aptly named “An Inconvenient Sequel” — was released this year, though I have yet to watch it. Hopefully I can review it for you soon.)

What is clear — and it’s something that most scientists agree on — is that these environmental events and natural disasters, precipitated by human activity, are only going to become more frequent and intense, and progressively more the norm for us all, East or West, rich or poor.

The question is: are we all ready for it?

Header image courtesy of and vonderauvisuals


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