Natural and unnatural disasters

A man dressed in an American flag joins protesters in Portland, Ore., Aug. 22.
A man dressed in an American flag joins protesters in Portland, Ore., Aug. 22. (Photo by MARANIE STAAB/REUTERS/Newscom)

Nature has been throwing a mix of disasters at us.

In Colorado, wildfires have obscured the Rockies and closed the highway connecting the state with Utah. The Pine Gulch Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado history, has burned 217 square miles — an area the size of Chicago. In Northern California, lightning strikes sparked fires that have burned more than 1.3 million acres, and killed at least seven people. Fires in Arizona have destroyed more than 800,000 acres.

In an unusually active hurricane season, Laura last week intensified from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in less than 24 hours, as it moved across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm slammed into the Louisiana-Texas border, fortunately missing major population centers, and benefiting from a “wobble” that diminished a projected surge that had been described as “unsurvivable.”

And, of course, we continue to reel from the worldwide impact of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 843,000 people globally. In the United States, about 1,000 people are dying every day — some 183,000 as of this writing.

We also have what we’ll call unnatural disasters — a steady flow of distressing confrontations, conflagrations and unrest prompted by racial, religious or cultural differences. Most recently, we had the shooting by Kenosha, Wis., police of Jacob Blake, an African American, and the protests that followed. Then, the arrest of a 17-year-old white, self-styled militia member, charged with killing two Kenosha protesters and wounding one other.

Like the wildfires, these unnatural disasters only require a spark on dry tinder to erupt, as has occurred in Minneapolis, Portland, New York City and elsewhere. While most protests are peaceful, and we support their cause, we condemn the wanton violence.

With all of the above, you couldn’t be blamed for missing reports that the Chabad center at the University of Delaware was torched last week; that a terrorist phoned a bomb threat to Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge, Va.; and that in August, Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, Pa., was defaced with two red swastikas spray-painted at the entrance.

These unnatural disasters are entirely human-made, and can be prevented. There is also a human element in the natural disasters. For example, climate change and the resultant warming of ocean water have increased the number and intensity of storms. At the same time, the American West is getting drier, as fires are getting bigger and more destructive. Human solutions can be put to work for each of these problems.

Similarly, there are human responses to the coronavirus that are absolutely necessary for the preservation of life. We each need to do our part. As we emerge from lockdown, careful observation of corona-safe behaviors remains necessary: Wear a mask. Observe social distancing. And regularly wash your hands.

As we approach the New Year, and ponder “who will live and who will die,” let’s each do our part to avoid disasters of all sorts, and choose life.

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