Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Mudslides. Tornadoes. Wildfires. Blizzards. Droughts. Why do we call them natural disasters when they are what nature does constantly to keep evolving?
It’s akin to calling a crash that occurs because someone ran a red light, they were tailgating, speeding, knowingly failed to maintain their brakes, or were driving impaired by being under the influence of drugs (and that includes pot) or alcohol an accident. There is no accident in such cases given that it wasn’t a “by chance” occurrence given one driver failed to follow the rules.
Natural disasters aren’t disasters because the forces of wind and water — or lack thereof — that occur have been shaping the planet for longer than we’ve been around.
They may be disasters to mankind but for nature they are part of the cycle of rising and retreating seas, advancing and receding glacial periods, floods and drought, and such that slowly build and wear down mountains, carve and then fill valleys, and convert rock into soil.
But because we chose to believe we can master such forces of nature we embark on follies to change it.
In the aftermath of the deadly Southern California mudslides media accounts tossed in the obligatory reference to climate change. Yes there is climate change. It was around long before anyone started walking upright or took a bite of the forbidden fruit. And while we can move the dial to a small degree what we do is trite compared to what Mother Nature does.
The problem is we’ve elevated the cry of climate change to the point we aren’t as much as sounding like Chicken Littles as we’re avoiding a lot of hard answers that would answer many burning concerns.
Maybe if we spent a little bit less energy bickering about reducing greenhouse gas by developing rules to trade pollution credits and spent a lot more time concentrating on land use decisions maybe the rise in “climate change natural disasters” will either stall or reverse itself in the 100-year or so window we stew about that isn’t even the equivalent of a flap of a hummingbird’s wing in the 4.54 billion years earth has been around. You can never stop climate change. It is a cyclical process that evolves over tens of thousands of years.
Toning down natural disasters we now constantly blame on climate change is simple. We need to stop saving people from diseases, pulling out all stops to make it possible for preemies to live, eliminate sanitary sewer systems, stop treating water for drinking, and get rid of tools for work that reduce wear and tear on the body.
That way population numbers can drop and we can retreat from coastal venues, floodplains, avalanche zones, hurricane alleys, hillsides prone to mudslides and wildfires, and stop building in earthquake zones.
We need to be honest and realistic when we pursue policies — taxes and otherwise — in the name of climate change.
California is almost at 40 million residents. Easily two-thirds of us — if not more — live in places where basically we are asking for it whether it is floods, wildfires, quakes or even rising sea levels that are far from being a modern-day invention triggered after Pontiac rolled out the GTOs that guzzled fuel by getting 2.5 gas stations per mile.
Life is a series of tradeoffs and balancing acts in order to survive. It is why California engineered the most elaborate and massive transfer of water the world’s ever known for great cities to rise in places they shouldn’t and for the planet’s richest soil coupled with near perfect climate to produce epic harvests years after year.
We need to worry about what we can change in terms of reducing exposure to “natural disasters” instead of assuming stopping climate change is the panacea.
That means being honest about value judgments. River Islands — a planned community of 11,000 homes in Lathrop – is more immune from flooding than practically any place within a mile of water in California. Even so the battle to stop the development on Stewart Island included lawsuits saying it would contribute to climate change and raise the ocean level when the solution that finally was put in place provided a flood control solution government has sought for close to a century and will actually lead to wildlife restoration. Meanwhile 15 miles to the west Mountain House has emerged as a teeming community at the base of the wind-swept Altamont Hills with no consideration given to its vulnerability in a locale where terrain, dry grasslands and winds are the perfect ingredients for a disaster.
Very few places in California are bullet-proof in terms of a 100 to 200 year outlook when it comes to floods, drought, wind whipped wildfires, and earthquakes. Toss in the fact we have eight active volcanoes and it is safe to say we are not in charge.
None of this is meant to argue it’s OK to wantonly pollute, pave over every square inch with development, or to waste water.
We do, however, need to direct our resources into plans of action that are effective to reduce California’s exposure to “natural disasters” such as wildfires, floods, droughts, and mudslides and not broad brush everything in such a manner that the solutions we pursue are tied into slowing down or stopping climate change.
Modifying land use policies and taking more aggressive stances on preventing wildfires are not — and need not — be tied to greenhouse gas politics.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.