The Instigator
Randomknowledge
Pro (for)
Losing
9 Points
The Contender
turner72
Con (against)
Winning
39 Points

There's No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/7/2008 Category: Science
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,959 times Debate No: 2475
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (16)

 

Randomknowledge

Pro

As many people know, it is good to keep your opening arguments short. I will begin by clarifying.

By the title of my debate, it is pretty obvious what the topic is.

I dont beleive that there is such a thing as a Natural Disaster, because in the form of the word "disaster," it is not natural.

I will elaborate more in by next argument, but I will leave you with a quote from Jim Wallis, an esteemed preacher: "Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster."

Thank you and Good Luck to my challenger.
turner72

Con

To begin with, I'd like to state that while this is not my first debate in real life, this is my first debate on this site and as such may be a little rusty. Now to the arguing.

First: The opening quote for my opponent is "Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster." Is that not acknowledging the existence of natural disasters? Either the stance or the quote has to go.

Second: I truly believe that a disaster can come completely and catastrophically without any societal reason. For example, the eruption of Krakatoa(sp?) in 1883. Massive devastation "like, really, really massive. Like, darken the skies across the world massive", and it had nothing to do with society, except that it killed people. Which isn't really society's fault...

Third: dictionary.com defines a natural disaster as:any event or force of nature that has catastrophic consequences, such as avalanche, earthquake, flood, forest fire, hurricane, lightning, tornado, tsunami, and volcanic eruption. Those things happen, that is how natural disaster is defined "by a pretty standard, acceptable definition I'd say" and thus they are real.

The ball's in your court...
Debate Round No. 1
Randomknowledge

Pro

Hello, and thank you for accepting. I concede that I used the complete wrong quote to you, and that quote did not fit.

Moving on in my argument, I would like to bring some information from a column by Neil Smith, a distinguished professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center where he also directs the Center for Place, Culture and Politics.

It is generally accepted among environmental geographers that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. In every phase and aspect of a disaster – causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction – the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus. Hurricane Katrina provides the most startling confirmation of that axiom. This is not simply an academic point but a practical one, and it has everything to do with how societies prepare for and absorb natural events and how they can or should reconstruct afterward. It is difficult, so soon on the heels of such an unnecessarily deadly disaster, to be discompassionate, but it is important in the heat of the moment to put social science to work as a counterweight to official attempts to relegate Katrina to the historical dustbin of inevitable "natural" disasters.

that is his first paragraph, stating the direct opinion in the science world. These disasters are not man made, at least not in that sense, but are caused by social and geographical changes.

I want to clarify: I do not want to bring the meaning of these two words into this debate, because the name 'natural disaster' does not convey what I am trying to say. A misnomer, if you will.

another small bit:

First, causes. The denial of the naturalness of disasters is in no way a denial of natural process. Earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, droughts and hurricanes are certainly events of nature that require a knowledge of geophysics, physical geography or climatology to comprehend. Whether a natural event is a disaster or not depends ultimately, however, on its location.

this is self-explanatory. He goes on to write a paragraph for each of thee categories: causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction.
http://understandingkatrina.ssrc.org...

Having brouhg tof rht this resource, I would like to leave you with a quote by Russ Carnahan, D from Missouri.

"Americans rightly asked, if this is the way our government responds to a natural disaster it knew about days in advance, how would it respond to a surprise terrorist attack? How would it respond to an earthquake?" Once again the 'natural disaster' by the sense of the word is not applicable.

Thank you.
turner72

Con

Alrighty, back to me.

First off, regrettably I do not have much previous random knowledge as to the subject, and am not going to research the topic for online debate, and thus am not going to have sources such as you do to support my view. I do, however, have logic, which I hope to employ.

As to the definition issue: Granted, we are not arguing the definition. I thought it would be useful to know what we're debating. And also pointing out that the general consensus is in my favor.

As to a general overview on the argument that the only thing that qualifies a natural event as a natural disaster is the location of it: agreed, but that is more a point to the negative. Any significant event that happens on this little blue ball WILL affect people living on it in some way. As long as the natural disaster is on the Earth it's location makes it a natural disaster "yes that was redundant". Whether it be causing a year without summer in 1883, forcing refugees all over the U.S., or simply shutting down power to an area, the fact of the matter is that as spread out over the globe as people are any natural calamity will affect them. Now I suspect my opponent intends to say that this is a social and geographical problem, and this is a relatively key element in the debate, but this is not true. Humans are in fact nothing but an element of nature, albeit a big, noisy, and destructive one. To say that its a social problem that humans flock to areas of resource "i.e., oceans, rivers, plains prone to tornadoes, valleys prone to flood, etc" is like saying it's the birds fault for flying south in the winter. We respond to natural stimulus the same way any other animal does. Sometimes nature bites back.

As to the following paragraph, it appears to be the crux of the debate and thus the point upon which I will spend the most time in analyzation and etc. Beginning now. "It is generally accepted among environmental geographers that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. In every phase and aspect of a disaster – causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction – the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus. Hurricane Katrina provides the most startling confirmation of that axiom. This is not simply an academic point but a practical one, and it has everything to do with how societies prepare for and absorb natural events and how they can or should reconstruct afterward. It is difficult, so soon on the heels of such an unnecessarily deadly disaster, to be discompassionate, but it is important in the heat of the moment to put social science to work as a counterweight to official attempts to relegate Katrina to the historical dustbin of inevitable "natural" disasters."

As an overall view on this paragraph, I'd like to state that this in no way supports the affirmative case, primarily because it's entire purpose is to not "relegate Katrina to the historical dustbin of inevitable "natural" disasters." In the case of Katrina, I will admit that most of the disaster was a societal one. Most of the death was caused by a callous or unprepared society. However. The only reason it was revealed that this society was unprepared or callous is because winds in excess of 100 miles per hour propelled millions of gallons of sea water into a populated area. No matter what spin is taken on the facts and reasons leading up to it, without the natural forces behind this there would have been no disaster.

Now beginning the specifics:"It is generally accepted among environmental geographers that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. In every phase and aspect of a disaster – causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction – the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus." The whole problem with this stance is that it attempts to marginalize forces greater than nuclear weapons that act virtually at random into a calculus. It states that it is nothing more than some sort of a human calculus. However, this is somewhat flawed. As to the causes issue, it is true we can influence some aspects of the natural disaster situations with global warming or whatnot. But other, seismic disasters, have absolutely nothing to do human involvement, a point my opponent concedes.

As to the vulnerability: this was discussed above in my assessment that people respond to natural stimulus. Yes, there are situations in which we place ourselves in harms way. This is not society's fault. This is the fault of the fact that people need food, water, and shelter to survive, and that the human organism likes to survive.

As to the preparedness: you cannot expect mankind to be prepared for everything our extremely complex world throws at him. And even if he "using the general he, not in anyway sexist btw" were, that would not prevent the disaster from occurring. Another key point: it may lessen the damage done to humans and their property, but this does not keep the disaster from occurring. The hurricane still hits, the volcano still erupts, whatever.

As to results, response, and reconstruction, these all pretty much address the same thing. And this is, for the most part, a societal problem. However, as has been discussed, this is only part of the whole scope of the term natural disaster. Not all disasters are disastrous because we failed to rebuild and respond properly, as in the sited case of Katrina. Many are disasters in their own right, causing death and mayhem at will, and what mankind does afterwards to try to band-aid the situation is relatively irrelevant.

The following sentence: "Hurricane Katrina provides the most startling confirmation of that axiom." is relatively irrelevant as it only discusses one of millions of disasters across the course of history, and is actually slightly abusive as it is a case in which the main disaster WAS societal, not natural. Very few disasters are actually like this.

Now onto my last sermon. "This is not simply an academic point but a practical one, and it has everything to do with how societies prepare for and absorb natural events and how they can or should reconstruct afterward. It is difficult, so soon on the heels of such an unnecessarily deadly disaster, to be discompassionate, but it is important in the heat of the moment to put social science to work as a counterweight to official attempts to relegate Katrina to the historical dustbin of inevitable "natural" disasters."
The fact is this paragraph says absolutely nothing about the fact that natural disasters "or as it calls them in an attempt to lessen the impact, events" will occur and will damage people. You can be extremely prepared and can be extremely able to respond to the disaster, but that doesn't mean it wont happen. As to it being more than an academic point, this is relatively irrelevant in my opinion. I personally believe an academic standpoint to things is not useless or out of touch or discompassionate. We should seek to be as intelligent as possible in our response to disasters. Im all for using social science. And as for the Katrina thing, I have already conceded that Katrina was primarily a social issue. THis is not a general rule.

I guess the key points I'm making is that the disasters will occur, no amount of preparedness or response is going to stop that. We should definitely try to lessen their impact, but this is irrelevent. They will happen. Sorry about how long this was, it just takes quite a bit of text to break down all that is said.
Debate Round No. 2
Randomknowledge

Pro

As I do not have alot of time to respond, i will refute your summary and present some of my own information.

"I guess the key points I'm making is that the disasters will occur, no amount of preparedness or response is going to stop that. We should definitely try to lessen their impact, but this is irrelevent. They will happen. Sorry about how long this was, it just takes quite a bit of text to break down all that is said."

Preparedness can help save lives, as seen in the tornado of '54, central Kansas.

Two hundred residents knew that there was going to be a tornado and gathered in the community center's basment and gathered all the local animals in a safe location.

They saved every person in that town, all because of preparedness. This was not what happened in New Orleans, as they had not prepared for a Disaster of great magnitude.

Here is some more information on why there is no such thing as a natural disaster.

After causes and vulnerability comes preparedness. The incompetence of preparations for Katrina, especially at the federal level, is well known. As soon as the hurricane hit Florida, almost three days before New Orleans, it was evident that this storm was far more dangerous than its wind speeds and intensity suggested. Meteorologists knew it would hit a multi-state region but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), overseen by a political appointee with no relevant experience and recently subordinated to the Homeland Security Administration, assumed business as usual. They sent only a quarter of available search and rescue teams to the region and no personnel to New Orleans until after the storm had passed (Lipton et. al. 2005). Yet more than a day before it hit, Katrina was described by the National Weather Service as a "hurricane with unprecedented strength" likely to make the targeted area "uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer" (NYT 2005). Days afterward, as the President hopped from photo-op to photo-op the White House, not given to listening to its scientists, seemed still not to understand the prescience of that warning or the dimensions of the disaster.

This is form the same website, and it may not have been something that could have stopped the hurricane but definitely could have helped solve it later.

Thank you and I await your rebuttal.
turner72

Con

Back to me. I suppose this is my closing argument, and I'm pretty sure I've pushed the text limits in the debate, so I'll keep it as concise as possible.

As to the detail of my arguments not being addressed for time constraints: good. They were mostly just supporting logic and etc, had no direct attack on your case but rather supported mine. We'll consider them moot and go back to square one as was done by you refuting the summary.

"Preparedness can help save lives, as seen in the tornado of '54, central Kansas.
Two hundred residents knew that there was going to be a tornado and gathered in the community center's basment and gathered all the local animals in a safe location.
They saved every person in that town, all because of preparedness. This was not what happened in New Orleans, as they had not prepared for a Disaster of great magnitude."

I would like to reiterate that this whole argument does not refute the existence of natural disasters. It states that being prepared for them is the best policy, and provides an example of a time when a community was prepared versus when it was not. Two points: first, that as has been repeated and repeated "probably too much" by me, being prepared does not stop the tornado from happening. It may lessen the loss of life and property, but the fact is the disaster still happened. Nature still drove it and thus it was still a disaster caused by nature. Mankind may have exacerbated the situation, but that, again, does not mean that the disaster did not occur in its own right. Second: moving 200 people and their livestock out of the path of a tornado is significantly easier than moving 2,000,000ish people out of the way of a storm, no matter how you look at it. The logistics would stagger most supercomputers.

Now to the first part of the next paragraph and I promise I'm almost done. "After causes and vulnerability comes preparedness. The incompetence of preparations for Katrina, especially at the federal level, is well known. As soon as the hurricane hit Florida, almost three days before New Orleans, it was evident that this storm was far more dangerous than its wind speeds and intensity suggested. Meteorologists knew it would hit a multi-state region but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), overseen by a political appointee with no relevant experience and recently subordinated to the Homeland Security Administration, assumed business as usual."
So? Had we, somehow, moved the thousands if not millions of people out of harms way in 3 days "considering these people are civilians, not ready to move at a moments notice, not inclined to move at that, and on regular transport methods this would be nothing short of an act of God", the loss to property which would have to have been abandoned would have been enormous, well qualifying Katrina as a natural disaster. And I would like to reiterate that this is merely one example of how government readiness would have helped.

As to "They sent only a quarter of available search and rescue teams to the region and no personnel to New Orleans until after the storm had passed". Yes. Of course. Does the proposition of sending people INTO the hurricane make sense to anyone? By sending in one quarter of the available resources they were taking a pretty hefty gamble as it is, to ask more is lunacy.

Finally the last part, and now I really am almost done, "Yet more than a day before it hit, Katrina was described by the National Weather Service as a "hurricane with unprecedented strength" likely to make the targeted area "uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer" (NYT 2005). Days afterward, as the President hopped from photo-op to photo-op the White House, not given to listening to its scientists, seemed still not to understand the prescience of that warning or the dimensions of the disaster."
First: this is primarily a jab at the President and FEMA, who, I'll grant, deserve more of a haymaker for this blunder. However, this in no way makes Katrina a social disaster. Yes, human unpreparedness contributed to the disaster, but without the previously mentioned 100 mph winds and millions of gallons of sea water nothing would have happened. The true disaster was spawned by natural means, thus making it a natural disaster.
Second: again, what more could they have done? As this point has been stated many times, I leave it at that.

And now I'm done. Wait, no now I'm done. K for reals, this time I'm seriously done. Cheerio and I now rest my case.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by chloe_rice 4 years ago
chloe_rice
Pro's argument was normative, and repetitive. Con conceded that Katrina was largely a social catastrophe in the initial round, but Pro continued to use that event as the sole weight for his argument. Con was the most logical, and was a clear winner of this debate in my opinion. I think the problem with Pro's argument, and I recognized where Pro was going with this upon reading the title, was that the rationale behind the statement was very anthropocentric, replacing natural with "social" when referring to disasters caused by dynamic biogeochemical processes as though humans can choose to prevent them from being disasterous (thus not acknowledging the animals and environments affected by the disaster regardless of humans or possessions saved). Both had good conduct, so well done to both sides.
Posted by Novan_Leon 9 years ago
Novan_Leon
The word "disaster" is subjective. If I catch you eating olives, this is a disaster to me because I wanted to eat them and you got to them first.

You can only debate whether the social consensus considers something a "disaster".
Posted by Derek.Gunn 9 years ago
Derek.Gunn
If the sun were to go nova tomorrow; really, what could we do about it?
The Earth would be engulfed by the Sun.
This is natural, and disaster by any definition I know of.
Is there any way we could possibly be prepared?
Posted by skiies23 9 years ago
skiies23
Pro, and AntiPatriot before me, tried to state that there is no disaster in nature... especially if humans didn't exist. They forget that if a tree is struck by lightning, this is a natural disaster FOR THE TREE. The, unable to move out of the way of the lightning bolt, is struck dead (or at least severely hindered), and thus exists natural disaster.

My point: when a volcano explodes and wipes an area clean of wildlife, it is a natural disaster. "Natural" that it has no cause besides a buildup of pressure and lava. "Disaster" in that millions of specimens are potentially wiped away from the area. Such is the case of a wild fire sparked by lightning...

I'm done with my lengthy comment now ;-)
Posted by AntiPatriot 9 years ago
AntiPatriot
Interesting debate. If people weren't here, then the things like hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, etc. would just be "natural". There would be nothing "disastrous" about them. It's just the "natural" way the earth behaves. The "disaster" part comes in when people die and have to respond. So... I guess if you consider humans "natural", and their thus everything they do "natural", you could infer that there are "natural disasters". But if humans aren't "natural", then there really is just nature acting by itself and humans decrying the "disaster".
Posted by turner72 9 years ago
turner72
Wow it was a bad idea of me to start this one late when I have tests to study for. Thus if I don't respond eventually it's probably not because I have nothing to say but because I'm tired. Whatever. For the record: this is not an argument.
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