By Ilan Kelman Ph.D.
Why do disasters happen? We often assume that it is humanity versus the environment that creates or averts natural disasters. After all, we are frequently told, nature bats last in this survival game. Science disagrees.
They are all disasters—but none are strictly natural disasters. Disasters are caused by our choices, not just by nature. Hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, blizzards, space weather, volcanic activity, and other environmental phenomena are not out to get us.
The human choices that allow for pandemics begin long before a new microbe spreads. We need robust and accessible health systems; strong investment in medical, technical, and social health-related research; international cooperation on surveillance and response; decent salaries for all health workers; and a population that accepts basic science such as the importance of vaccines. All these require time.
Nature does not bat last; it does not bat at all. Nature is not even playing a game. Because society’s actions cause the disaster, we cannot blame nature. Rather than calling them "natural disasters," we can refer to them all as simply “disasters”—disasters that are caused by the choices we make or cannot make.
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