Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: the Earth strikes back?

"Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010 — the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined."

- AP: 2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards.

Much of the deadliness can be attributed to human actions: building in dangerous areas, building with inadequate materials, reducing natural mitigation systems (e.g. deforestation in Pakistan worsened the effects of the terrible flooding there) and, of course, disrupting the global climate through our emissions. Perhaps even the year's most deadly single event (the Haiti earthquake) may be linked to deforestation.

It is therefore quite appropriate to question whether such events ought to be called "natural" disasters (far less blamed on an "act of God").


Julian said...

What's your view of Revelation 6 re this?

byron smith said...

I'm still working out what I think about Revelation. In general, I tend towards amil, with a bit of preterism thrown in for good measure. I guess sometime I probably need to do some lengthier posts on this, or at least do a little more thinking and reading on it.

What's your take?

byron smith said...

(That is, for those who might not get this jargon, I generally tend to avoid trying to assign particular theological meanings to historical events outside the gospel narrative (except perhaps the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, which I think is pretty clearly in the foreground in a number of "apocalyptic" passages in the New Testament). I don't try to line up particular images in Revelation with dates or historical figures or events. I think that the reference to the thousand year reign of Christ towards the end of Revelation is not a literal thousand years (indeed, I don't take any of the numbers or images in Revelation literally), but most likely a reference to the present period in which the resurrected and ascended Christ reigns in heaven. I think that Revelation was written with one eye on the Old Testament's use of various images and the other on the abuses of the Roman Empire witnessed by the author of the vision in the early Christian era. The visions are a repeated series of reflections upon the victory of Christ over the forces of evil imperial oppression. That's a rough sketch, but as I said, I am no expert here. Perhaps Revelation has not yet sufficiently shaped my theology.)

Luke said...

This could be entirely remarkable, but if I could offer two qualifying comments.

1. Has this been a progressive trend or is 2010 a stand-out year for natural disaster causalities?

2. Improved reporting, larger population then last year and increased population density would be a factor in the greater causality toll.

byron smith said...

Luke - #1. It is quite a noisy trend, but there is indeed a trend.

And immediate loss of life is not the only metric. For example, while "only" about 2,000 people died in the Pakistani floods, somewhere between 14 and 20 million were displaced and many millions of these rendered homeless for the last six months. Now heading into winter, the death toll from this ongoing disaster is very difficult to calculate, but I doubt many are game to suggest Pakistan's winter mortality rate will be merely average. The effects on Pakistan's economic development and political scene only magnify the disruption.

#2. Yes, what you say is true, but these factors do not account for the relatively faster rising toll from weather-related events (faster than for e.g. earthquakes or volanoes).

In sum, of course there are other factors, but 2010 was still entirely remarkable. Yet on our current emissions trajectory it is likely to be a cooler than average year in a few decades' time.

byron smith said...

Global temperature and natural disasters.

byron smith said...

Scientific American: Casualties of climate change: “The frequency of natural disasters has increased by 42 percent since the 1980s, and the percentage of those that are climate-related has risen from 50 to 82 percent. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that in 2008, climate-related calamities drove 20 million people from their homes—more than four times the number displaced by violent conflict.”