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  • Ashok Dhillon

Hurricanes, Floods & Humans (#46)


As Irma batters her way up Florida and beyond, and Harvey’s floods barely subside in Texas and Jose follows in Irma’s wake, talk is all about hurricanes and their increasing strength and frequency, and the potential for damage these natural events and disasters pose. And while events in the U.S. get an inordinate amount of coverage and importance, as compared to similar events in other parts of the World, the truth is natural disasters in the East, especially in Asia, where the population density and poverty is far greater, as is the frequency of floods through annual monsoons and typhoons, that are the same as hurricanes, the cost in human lives and suffering is far greater. But this is not about who suffers more, the West or the East, but rather about the debate that these events spawn, about the changing climate and its growing impact on the future, in the near and longer term. And it does not really matter on which side of the climate-change debate anyone is, as some current and growing realities are going to affect everyone, regardless.

The indisputable fact that does not get enough air time but is vitally affecting the health of this planet and its inhabitants, be they human, animal or plant, is the sheer numbers of humans on this Earth that are impacting everything: from the over congestion of villages, towns and cities; to the over cultivation of land; the disappearance of natural habitat; the shortage of fresh clean water; the pollution and over-fishing of oceans; and the poisoning of the air and the atmosphere. And we do not need the consensus of the World’s scientists to inform us of these facts. If we have a normal set of senses then regardless of where we live we can see the deterioration of our environments ourselves.

Humans are an intelligent species, generally speaking, in spite of our frequent and periodic inexplicable actions that prove otherwise. And we certainly know that damaging the environment that we live in is going to damage us - absolutely. Yet, we seem to have this ability to ignore the obvious and continue to act in our habitual ways that keep increasing the problems, for short term gain or immediate gratification, be it poisoning ourselves with the wrong foods and drinks, or by contaminating the water and air that is absolutely vital to our survival. Incredibly, this fundamental truth that we are too many already seems to escape us as we continue to proliferate endlessly, spreading across and covering the planet’s surface as a plague. Human beings need to start planning methodically, as part of our vital plans of survival, to lower our numbers drastically by producing less progeny, and not by disease or wars which historically seems to be our preferred methods. Otherwise, we are well on our way to increasing our numbers to even more catastrophic levels (from the current 8 Billion to 9 Billion, and beyond).

In constantly increasing our numbers we humans need greater resources endlessly, and that means we will continue to adversely impact our land, water and air quality, in spite of our noble sounding international agreements to the contrary, such as the Rio Summit in the past, or the current more comprehensive Paris Accord. These Agreements won’t mean anything in the face of ever increasing demands from an ever exploding global human population.

The agreements in the past never really amounted to anything because the governments overrode the agreements, and the agreed-to targets, to continue to grow their economies at all costs for their ever increasing number of citizens, and their ever growing consumption needs. Now, as population numbers continue to increase, all air emissions are going to rise, oceans are going to get warmer, and storms are going to get more intense and more damaging.

Rising population numbers mean that more people are going to live in coastal areas and more infrastructure will be built there to accommodate them. Both the people and the infrastructure will be in harm’s way from these storms, and from the rising sea levels that are a result of melting ice caps from a steadily warming atmosphere.

Both these scenarios are already playing out as Irma makes her way up Florida. Greater number of people and greater amount of man-made infrastructure is in harm’s way as numbers rise with a growing population base, and growing global affluence and with it the demand for seaside living. In such circumstances nature doesn’t care if you are a climate-change believer - or denyer.

If in running your businesses, or in living your life, you are utilizing ever greater number of resources, because you feel you have to, welcome to the club of about 8 billion people on this Earth who feel exactly the way you do.

So if everybody feels the same way, more or less, then the trend towards a warmer atmosphere is going to continue. And the damage from frequent, or increasingly intense weather events, or fundamentally altered geographic realities like rising oceans, are the price we humans will have to pay for our over population, and with it the inevitable degradation of the environment.

In this battle for survival, because that is what it will come down to as droughts, famines, floods and fires become more frequent, and more life threatening, humanity will turn against each other as politicians turn to the age old tactics of blaming others, and to the diversion of conflicts and wars. Even then, even to nuclear holocaust, nature doesn’t give a damn as it has enough time to heal itself over hundreds or thousands of years. But we the human species do not have that luxury of time, or even the option. We will have come and gone in a ridiculously short period of time, in the general scheme of things, a mere blip in terms of Earth’s existence.

Apart from sowing the seeds of our own destruction, and possibly of all other life forms on this planet, out of sheer selfishness, greed, ignorance or carelessness, we are hell-bent in destroying our quality of life through pollution, and pillaging of the Planet’s finite resources.

Without clean rivers, abundant forests, open grasslands, pristine mountains, and the great diversity of wildlife that has so enriched our human existence; we become rats living in ever more crowed human habitations that are artificial, polluted, unpleasant, and conflict ridden. We start to behave like maddened rats that have been purposely crowed together for too long.

Our created habitation centers, be they villages, towns or great cities, are not enough to give us all an optimum life, if they are not balanced by close proximity to abundant and well preserved nature.

Regardless of our affluence we need clean air, water, and food - just to live - let alone to actually enjoy the life we want to live. So contaminating everything, earth, air and water has got to be the stupidest, most shortsighted behavior we all can indulge in.

Collectively, whether citizens of developed/advanced countries, or of the developing/emerging ones, we are all in it together. Our collective actions are affecting the globe, and we are not changing our behavior one bit, for it to matter.

Therefore the storms (Hurricanes/Typhoons) and floods, in the West and the East, in Houston, Texas, or in Mumbai, India, or in China, are exacting a heavier toll as the Earth’s weather changes adapt to the fundamentally changing conditions of warmer atmosphere, warmer oceans, melting ice-caps and ever increasing human activity that is producing pollutants and contaminants with which we deign to live our modern lives.

As humans we are slow to change and have to be pulled kicking and screaming into doing that which is necessary, even if it is for our own good. And these storms that are currently damaging parts of the United States are certainly not enough to make us all sit up and take notice and make the necessary changes in our lives to mitigate the increasing dangers. But they are, along with severe weather events in the East, hopefully enough to further ring the warning bells a little louder, and a little longer, till we humans do start listening, and changing - especially our numbers.

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