The recent floods in Pakistan and China, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and the evacuation of millions, prove once again how vulnerable we are to the fury of nature. Water has inundated villages and towns and the damage is already incalculable as rescue workers struggle, aid agencies scramble and medics try and contain epidemics.
The biggest price, of course, is the human cost and this is where the changing patterns in world weather have to be examined. So far, we have looked at global warming as a way to apportion blame — the west versus the east, the already industrialised versus the newly industrialising, the intelligently aware versus the profligate. But the planet seems to remind us again and again that we are in this together. The after-effects of natural calamities do not confine themselves within national boundaries.
Whether global warming is caused by human error and callousness or is the result of changes in weather patterns - as has happened several times over billions of years — the fact is the Earth is far more populated today than it ever has been. Humans could survive the last ice age 10,000 years ago because we hid in caves.
That option is no longer open to most of us. Instead, we need to seriously examine how best to withstand such events and the regularity at which they occur. Past industrialisation may be partially responsible, but so is destruction and tampering with the environment.
China has been forced to downscale its claims about the controversial Three Gorges Dam and the amount of water it can absorb. Environmentalists have pointed out for years how heedless manipulation of nature can be detrimental in the long run. In the past, we made mistakes because we did not know any better. It would be a shame if we went ahead with dodgy plans in spite of knowing it all.
The immediate need is to streamline rescue plans. We need better science with which to forecast severe weather changes and protocols to help the affected. The global warming debate needs to become practical.