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When Mother Nature Strikes, Human Nature Gets Exposed

Sep 03, 2017
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When Mother Nature Strikes, Human Nature Gets Exposed

I am not a climatologist, naturist, or scientologist. I am not an expert on climate or city planning for flood control. But I do know a thing or two about human nature.

See, I Told You So. Hurricane Harvey was an epic storm. The Hurricane and resulting storm dropped about 24.5 TRILLION tons of water on the city of Houston. Parts of Houston received 50 inches of rain. This is the equivalent of a year’s worth of water falling on the city in the course of days. For anyone outside of the affected area it is impossible to fathom the scale of this storm. The area affected by the storm has been compared to the size of the State of Delaware.

To grapple with understanding something difficult, people often relate it back to some other frame of reference. Doing so gives a person a sense of command of the topic. Since the magnitude of the storm and flooding was beyond most people’s comprehension, the facile explanation is that the storm was the result of climate change.

This is glib, thoughtless, and basic. There should be honest scientific inquiry into the effects of climate change, of course. But, I am seeing pundits, cartoonists and social media gabbers definitively declare that Harvey was the result of global warming. In effect, they are saying that Harvey proves their political narrative. (And yes, for many of these people it is a political narrative rather than a scientific inquiry). It’s in my nature to question authority… and these folks aren’t even authorities on the subject.

I am not wading into the climate change debate as people are still wading through some streets in Houston. My point is that people are looking for easy explanations of the tragedy that is unfolding as a way to cope with the tragedy and command the subject.

It Can’t Happen to Me. Humans also cope with tragedy by convincing themselves that similar tragic events cannot happen to them. When 9/11 happened, those of us outside of New York City took comfort that our hometowns were not high profile terrorist targets. As forest fires rage around Los Angeles again, we distance ourselves by distinguishing their situation from ours. It’s a coping mechanism that gives us a false sense of security. Currently, Houston is under water, forests around LA are burning, British Columbia is in a severe drought, and after North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test yesterday we may all be under threat of a nuclear strike. Catastrophe is a headline away for all of us.

She Had It Coming to Her. Houston might as well be a whore in a mini-skirt, because we have had plenty of outsiders telling us we had it coming to us. Beyond mere partisan finger-pointing, Houston has been pilloried by pundits, professors and cartoonists as deserving the natural disaster. One college professor in Florida was fired for saying that Houston (the energy capital of the world) was on the business end of Karma. More sad than ironic is that the state is now prepping for a Category 5 Hurricane. Houston, the most diverse city in the country, has been lampooned as drowning Nazis and redneck while white supremacists were being rescued by the Coast Guard.

My estimation of the pundits and cartoonists authoring such piffle couldn’t be lower. So, I won’t waste any outrage on such gas bags. Their comments are merely examples of a coping mechanism. By mocking the victim you can distance yourself from the fear that tragedy could befall you.

Bulldoze the Flooded Homes? Forbes published a serious proposal to bulldoze homes in Houston that have been repeatedly flooded. Color me a skeptic. (I will be looking for the Forbes article on bulldozing LA homes that are near the current forest fires). The Forbes piece was thoughtful and not to be taken lightly. But, this thinking tempts one to believe that proper planning could avoid or mitigate natural disasters. Yes, I want proper flood control planning in Houston. But, we have to be mindful of that conceit that we can somehow control nature. Sometimes natural disasters happen and no human is to blame and no amount of planning or investment would make a significant difference. There is a human urge to do SOMETHING. But, that urge doesn’t always line up with solid practical options.

That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas. I have seen a stark contrast between the haters on social media and the genuine compassionate heroes and stalwart survivors in Texas. The past week has been an emotional roller coaster. We have watched river level projections like anxious family members reading the vitals on a loved one in intensive care. Countering that angst are so many “goosebumps” moments. There have been so many tales of neighbors rescuing neighbors or their pets. I am at a loss for words to describe the sense of community and compassion among Houstonians. Those character traits didn’t spring up out of nowhere. Those Texan virtues were there the whole time. Harvey put a spotlight on the true character of Texans and Houstonians. If you aren’t from around these parts, you might dismiss it as more Texan bravado. It ain’t.

As the L.A. fires, B.C. drought and Hurricane Irma show us, it won’t take long before the next tragedy strikes. When it happens, you can choose the path of the distant pundits blaming/mocking the victims, or you can support the survivors digging their way out of the rubble. What’s in your character?


Photo Credit – Deskcube -123rf.com

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