Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Seeing past the devastation.

A friend sent some pictures of the devastation after Hurricane Ike, and there are some more here.

It's a reminder how vast are the forces that cycle around our planet.

But one thing that it is really difficult to see from the pictures is where events like this fit into the big picture of what is happening.

There is almost an apocalyptic fervour amongst environmentalists about climate change scenarios. And images like this can fuel the fire.

We seem to be getting more and more calamitous reports more and more often.

But what we need to remember is that this impression is being fueled as much by the contraction of the world into a global village, by the speed of modern communication, by the (advertising driven) drama and ratings push of the modern media and by the ubiquity of the home video camera.

That is, the disasters are brought home to us more vividly, more often than ever before, but we need to think carefully and study the cold data to get an idea of whether there really is anything different happening out there.

One little hint of how we need to look past the overwhelming imagery and reportage was a line in a caption at the bottom of one of the other photos I was sent. The photo showed the devastation in Galveston (I think) but then commented that Galveston was spared the level of devastation of the 1900 storm.

While things are bad, and people need our help, and governments need to be ready and to assess their readiness, we need to be careful of the idea that this is the worst storm ever. We need to be careful of the impression that storms are getting worse.

In 100 years, looking back, we'll be able to confirm what was really happening with our weather.