“It may happen, but not now, and not to us”

The first anniversary of the south east Asian tsunami is being commemorated as the Remembrance Week. Dilip D’Souza has an excellent series of posts, with snippets from his coverage of not just the 2004 tsunami, but also the 2001 earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat, and the 1999 floods in Orissa.

On the first anniversary of the tsunami, this excellent article by Richard Fortey, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, appeared in the New York Times. A quick quote:

Human beings are never prepared for natural disasters. There is a kind of optimism built into our species that seems to prefer to live in the comfortable present rather than confront the possibility of destruction. It may happen, we seem to believe, but not now, and not to us. There is nothing new in this attitude.

Fortey covers quite a few things about natural disasters (“acts of God”?), but towards the end, turns his attention to man-made disasters:

But there is another kind of disaster. Many scientists think that the Gulf Coast hurricanes may be a symptom of climate change. Carbon emissions have been accelerating more rapidly within a generation or two: this is not the result of some creeping plate indifferent to the fate of humans; this is our responsibility. However, there is still the same, almost willful blindness to the dangers of climate change; after all, the sun still rises, the crops still ripen – why worry?

Geology tells us that there have been “greenhouse worlds” in the distant past. These have been times when seas flooded over continents. Even modest sea-level rises would spell the end of densely populated areas of the world like Bangladesh. In such a case, invoking the deity to look after us for the best is just pie in the sky. These are not “acts of God” but acts of man. We can grieve for the human consequences of plate tectonics, but we should be ashamed of the consequences of our own willing blindness.

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