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It’s Time To Change Our Attitude About Natural Disasters

Cover Photo by Michael Held via Unsplash

In more ways than one, the United States is on fire. As protestors continue to push for social change and COVID-19 remains a genuine cause for concern, the country is far from a state of repose. In the most literal sense, however, states along the West Coast are confronting a very real and immediate threat — a wave of lethal wildfires that have pushed communities to their limits. 

Areas of California, Washington, and Oregon are bearing the brunt of the inferno, although wildfires in six other states have brought the total number of incidents close to 200. Media attention to these disasters has snowballed thus far in September, although one of California’s most imminent challenges, the August Complex, began last month and has since ravaged roughly 471,000 acres. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown stated that “This could be the greatest loss in human lives and property due to wildfire” in the state’s history. One expert claimed that the magnitude of the current fires has not been seen since over a century ago in 1910. The death toll is already at 7, including children at the ages of one and twelve. 

These recent tragedies, however, are a minuscule fragment of a much larger story. Fires like the ones seen in recent days are nothing new, yet there exists an upward trend in decimation that is difficult to ignore. In August of 2019, the Insurance Information Institute listed the ten most expansive wildfires in California’s past. Eight of them have occurred in or after 2007, demonstrating a striking upswing in the last 13 years. 

As more details about these shattering events become available, what emerges alongside them is a larger discourse about how we conceive of natural disasters. When we are removed from these events geographically, it is far too easy to brush off these catastrophes as irrelevant or unimportant. Of course, they wreak unspeakable havoc and bring indisputable misfortune to those who must deal with their effects — but let us not pretend that these tragedies are entirely unexpected. 

For decades upon decades, mass production and consumerism have contributed to the climate change that amplifies these wildfires. Notably high temperatures resulting from these trends have exacerbated this year’s fires, while human carelessness and lack of foresight (read: using pyrotechnics to announce the sex of your unborn child) have oftentimes instigated these events. A select population is being forced to handle the consequences of a problem for which a much larger group is responsible. To offer up kind thoughts to those affected by natural disasters yet continue to perpetuate these detrimental, selfish, and destructive practices is not only irresponsible — it’s unethical. 

Do we need to change the way we think about natural disasters? Let us know in the poll below. 

Cover Photo by Michael Held via Unsplash

  • Is it time to change the way we think about natural disasters?

    • definitely
    • I don’t see a problem here


Written by Megan Pontin

Enthusiastic word-collector, avid pancake-consumer, and experienced hammock-lounger. Student at Cornell University.

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