A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunami 'theologies'.....

Having spent a most valuable morning as a panellist on a 'phone-in discussion for the excellent BBC Asian Network focusing on the complex 'theologies' of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, I appreciate the thoughtful analysis and comments of Melanie Phillips in her latest Daily Mail article: 'Religion in the face of catastrophe' (The Daily Mail, January 3):

"Indeed, despite the opportunistic and rather disgusting attempts by certain Green campaigners to use this catastrophe to ratchet up alarm about man-made global warming — for which, despite the general impression, no reliable scientific evidence exists — what the Asian earthquake tells us is that man cannot control the natural world.

In a grotesque parody of Biblical fundamentalists, Green campaigners blame mankind for natural catastrophes they predict in the future. But what this all-too-real earthquake shows us is the powerlessness of mankind in the face of the forces of nature.

It destroys the sentimentalised picture of nature conjured up by the Greens, that the natural world would be a kind, peaceful and productive place if only wicked mankind stopped mucking about with it. Well, now we have the terrible refutation of such hubristic ignorance and naivety — an explosion at the earth’s core equivalent to 9,500 Hiroshima bombs, which had absolutely nothing to do with man’s activities."

Melanie also, quite correctly, reminds us that, horrendous though the present loss of life is, within only the last 40 years there have been a number of other catastrophes with even more recorded fatalities:

"And yet, having said that, compassion can nevertheless be selective. For there have been other disasters with comparable or even greater loss of life which have elicited far less response. In 1970, a Bangladesh cyclone left 500,000 dead; in 1965, an Indian drought wiped out 1.5 million people; in 1976, an earthquake in China caused 242,800 fatalities."

Whatever our own belief system, such mighty events present everyone with an ultimate challenge, to make some sense, one way or another, of suffering, for which there can be no glib or simplistic answers, whether you are the Archbishop of Canterbury, an Imam, the Chief Rabbi, or Richard Dawkins.


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