A Philosopher's Blog

Weather Defense Initiative

Posted in Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 3, 2012
Temperature difference in Europe from the aver...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humans have always faced off against the impersonal power of the weather, sometimes winning and sometimes not. In many ways, humans are at war with the weather of our world and the damage inflicted by weather can be comparable to that which we inflict on each other. But, while some might attribute an intelligent design behind the ravages of the weather, it seems most reasonable to hold that the climate does not wage intentional war against us. Rather, the world simply does as it does and sometimes this kills us and destroys our cities. However, destructive weather, as it has historically done, does raise questions about the alleged benevolence of our alleged creator.

Sticking with the war metaphor, there are clearly times in which the conflict is more damaging than others. In recent years, the damage has stepped up considerably. The September 2012 edition of National Geographic featured “Extreme Weather” by Peter Miller discussed, as might be imagined, the recent extreme weather that has impacted the world. The article was, obviously, written before Sandy hit the United States. However, Sandy was, in some ways, just another example of extreme weather.

While there are some who are skeptical about climate change, it is possible to discuss the matter by ignoring the alleged causes of the extreme weather and focusing on the damage done by weather incidents.

Weather disasters have been rather costly financially in the United States and the damage done has increased significantly. From 1980-1995 there were 46 disasters causing $1 billion or more damage. In 1996-2011 there were 87 disasters causing that amount of damage. Insurance companies reported insured losses of $36 billion in 2011, which is 50% greater than the average for the past decade.

Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Americans increasingly live in areas that are subject to destructive weather, such as the coastal regions of the United States. Part of this can also be attributed to the greater value of the structures being built, especially in risky areas. After all, the destruction of a beach mansion costs more than the sweeping away of a beach cabin. However, even taking into account such factors (and the obvious factor of inflation) the damage being done has increased.

There is also the cost human life.  The 2003 heat wave in Europe killed about 35,000. In 1970 Tropical storms killed 500,000 in Bangladesh. There are, of course, many other sad examples of humans being killed in large numbers by weather events.

While the exact costs in deaths, suffering, property loss and economic damage can be debated, it is clear that weather events cost us dearly. If the damage inflicted by the weather was done by a human attacker, there would be screams for war, defense and retaliation. Look, for example, how the United States responded to 9/11.

Naturally, retaliation against the weather would be absurd—there is no intelligent agent to seek vengeance against (except, perhaps, God) or deter. However, it does make sense to establish a developed defense against the damage of weather.

People are, of course, establishing defenses against weather events. For example, France took steps, such as building air conditioned shelters, and cut the heat deaths in 2006 by two thirds. While storms still tear through Bangladesh, the construction of shelters and warning systems has reduced the death toll from hundreds of thousands to thousands. These are still heavy losses for humanity, but an improvement over the old system.

While these defenses have shown some effectiveness, our response has been largely reactive (we tend to slap together a response to the last disaster rather than preparing for the next one properly) and piecemeal.

So what I propose is a worldwide weather defense initiative (WDI—yes, this is blatantly stolen from SDI) to address the damagers presented by our planet. Many steps, such as large scale tsunami warning systems, are in place. However, most of our cities are woefully underprepared and our defenses are very limited. Meanwhile, we waste and squander resources making war on each other. I contend that at least some of these resources would be better spent (morally and practically) on defense against the weather rather than against each other. Such spending would, of course, allow for the profits and political dealings that defense spending now involves. However, at least the results would probably be more positive in terms of lives saved. I am not, of course, proposing that military defense be neglected—after all, I know us and I know that we are obviously not to be trusted unless guns are pointing at us. Even then we should probably not be trusted.

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