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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Asian Tsunami Hails Ecological Collapse

Asian Tsunami Hails Ecological Collapse

Date : 29th December 2004, Source :

Asia's recent utterly tragic tsunami was caused by a natural earthquake, but worsened by human activities. The reactionary anti-Earth right has been quoted several times in recent days as saying it was only a matter of time until environmentalists blamed the catastrophe on global warming and other environmental causes. Well here goes...

There is nothing new in tidal waves and storm surges hitting coastlines. This has shaped and molded both coastal geography and plant communities forever. This is why traditional peoples rarely lived right on the beach, preferring to reside back a bit. This tidal wave was so damaging because of commercial coastal development, Asia's perilous over-population, and destruction of protective coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs (by over-harvest, climate caused bleaching, and dynamite fishing) and mangroves (particularly for shrimp farming).

The Asian Tsunami is indicative of the types of problems that global warming can and will exacerbate. It is known conclusively that climate change is raising sea levels, at least 10-20 cm over the past century, and it is expected this century's increases will be even greater. There is no doubt that all else equal, higher sea levels would contribute to greater damage from such waves. Simply - if you stand up quickly in a full bathtub, it is more likely to overflow than if half full.

Rising sea levels - in the absence of protective coral reefs and mangroves, and presence of recent human coastal developments - guarantee that any tidal wave will prove maximally destructive. As Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) explains: "When a tsunami comes in, it first hits the coral reef which slows it down, then it hits the mangroves which further slows it down. It may get through that but by then a lot of the energy has already been dissipated."

This tidal wave is the most recent "natural disaster" indicative of ecological collapse commencing on a planetary scale, first exhibiting itself particularly hard in Asia. This is because Asia is unrivaled in terms of intensive land alterations and ecological destruction over millennia. This is anything but an aberration, as deadly flooding and droughts have become routine in deforested areas of the Philippines, Indonesia and China.

Simply, Asia's current population can not be sustained given current natural capital and spiraling climate change. Asian ecosystems have overshot their carrying capacity, and we are witnessing what happens when humans live without regard to ecology. Lasting social recovery and ecological sustainability throughout Tsunami impacted coastal Asia will depend upon restoring mangroves, coral reefs and other natural coastal ecosystems, while restricting coastal development.

More systematically - in Asia, and indeed globally - failure to address climate change, deforestation and over-population means massive man-abetted natural disasters will increasingly become the norm.

This observation is made with utmost respect and concern for current and future victims of ecocide. Humanity has long abused the Earth - and we continue to do so at great risk. The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth. As goes the Earth will go humanity.

Dr Glen Barry

** Earth Meanders is a series of personal essays regarding environmental sustainability and related matters. Opinions expressed are those of the author. An archive of past writings can be found at:

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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