I have a friend called Irma, and she is, understandably, appalled at what her hurricane namesake has wrought in the Caribbean region. Hurricane Irma is one of the worst ever. The suffering and the damage are pitiful.
Giving hurricanes a human name is unfortunate for those who share the name, yet it helps to identify these natural disasters in a way we can all understand.
These recent weather catastrophes have focused on the issue of whether they are linked to climate change. On this vexed question, I await guidance by the experts. But they should also cause those of us who dwell in more moderate climes profound gratitude for the natural benefits we enjoy.
Western Europe (and much of North America) has been a noted beneficiary of climate – and geography. In his informative book, Prisoners of Geography, Tim Marshall writes that geography has often been the determining factor in the fate of nations. Europe’s prominence in developing civilisation is inextricably linked to Europe’s climatic and geographical advantages.
By contrast, Africa, though containing rich natural resources, has had to contend with a tropical climate that brought many more diseases and troubles: the tsetse fly has been one of the greatest afflictions to Africa and has influenced its development.
As for the Caribbean and Latin America, mosquitoes and disease have marked their interiors: the Panama Canal was little more than a swamp: jungles and wastelands characterise vast tracts of Central and South America. And now, the area is the object of so many hurricanes and tornadoes.
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