Why Are There so Many Natural Disasters?

Are the recent abundance of natural disasters an "Act of God" or the result of human activity? The latter is more likely.

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DANIEL SCHORR: Act of God, it says here in the dictionary, is a term for a natural event outside of human control, such as a sudden flood or other natural disaster.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: It is a way of denying responsibility. A kind of consolation for the bereaved. There has been an unusual abundance of natural disasters recently, from Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf states to a cyclone in Myanmar and an earthquake in China. But are all environmental disasters acts of God?

Al Gore instructs us that melting icebergs and heavy ozone layers are affected by human activity. And now comes word that the floods in Iowa may well be due, at least in part, to changes made by human beings.

Kamyar Enshayan, the director of an environmental center at the University of Northern Iowa, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying that the rains fell heavily on a landscape which has been radically re-engineered by human beings. Another expert, Jerry Depuit of Iowa State University, said that ponds have come closer and closer to creeks and rivers. Without adequate buffer strips, the water moves directly from the field. Lyle Essel(ph), of Iowa's Department of Natural Resources, says that if the land were left untouched, it would have been covered with perennial grasses with deep roots that help to absorb water.

It is also long been known that building cities in the floodplain is risking trouble. But with corn and soybeans bringing in huge profits, the temptation to keep pushing the plowed fields further and further was irresistible. A tragedy, but not an act of God. This is Daniel Schorr.

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