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Should we stop using the term 'natural disaster' to describe hurricanes?

Last Updated Sep 22, 2017 at 7:22 am PDT

This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 photo shows homes leveled by Hurricane Irma on Big Pine Key, Fla. Hurricane Irma did more than damage homes and wash out roads in the Florida Keys. The storm wiped out the dreams of many of the small entrepreneurs who populate the independent-minded islands. (Rob O'Neal /The Key West Citizen via AP)
Summary

'Natural disasters' is a phrase we invented to convince ourselves we didn't have control over such incidents: expert

BOSTON (NEWS 1130) – As the destruction from this hurricane season continues, one expert says the term “natural disaster” to describe the storms is wrong.

“‘Natural disasters’ is a phrase that we invented to fool ourselves into thinking that these were random acts that we had not control over. Of course they are, but we don’t necessarily have to live in places where they’re frequent. Or if we do, we could spend a little extra and build structures that can accommodate these events,” says Dr. Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


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The same holds true for wildfires, volcanos, and earthquakes.

“You take this policy-driven string of disasters, which will go on as far as the eye can see and get worse because coastal populations are going up. On top of that, you have climate change, which I call a threat-multiplier. It just makes it worse than it otherwise would have been,” says Emanuel, who was named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2006.

He says we are aware of what we’re doing but continue to hide behind the natural disaster term to avoid our own culpability.

“Hurricanes and earthquakes, volcanos and so forth, as horrible as they are, are part of nature. And nature has adapted to them a long time ago. These disasters are unnatural diasters. They occur because we move to and build in dangerous places. That’s human nature, that’s part of life,” says Emmanuel, who is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

“I think it’s important to remind ourselves that’s why they occur. Here in the United States, it’s a particular bad situation because a whole range of policies are set up that subsidize people to live in dangerous places. So everybody else has to bear the costs or the risks that they take on.”