During the past few weeks, Mother Nature has roughed up the U.S. mainland, flooding the Texas Gulf Coast, overwhelming southern Florida and bullying the Northwest with wildfires. Devastated landscapes, communities and businesses have dominated the headlines and crowded other information out of the news cycle in the country.
To be fair, we attend the desperation of others, friend or foe, when natural disasters happen elsewhere. But by and large, our interests, attention and egos become myopic when we are the victims of natural forces that show strength beyond our own. While hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose captured our imaginations and, for many, brought the relief of "there but for the grace of God go I," the U.S. public received limited information on events outside the realm of the nation's natural disasters. Surely we were aware that Havana, Barbuda and St. Martin were hit, or that across an ocean, North Korea remained a threat.
As nature bruised and buffeted the United States, natural and human disasters struck distant corners of the globe, and existing problems went unmitigated. The Islamic State, though diminished, wreaks havoc on its near enemy, al-Adou al-Qareeb and its far enemy, al-Adou al-Baeed. Meanwhile, Sanaa remains parched, the first capital in the world projected to be left without a viable water supply. The Netherlands, on the other hand, warily watches its rising tides. Gaza reports an unemployment level of 41 percent, its fresh flower industry now wilted. Myanmar's Rohingya trudge a trail of tears toward refugee camps in Bangladesh. Efforts to find a solution to political chaos in Venezuela continue to come up short. Israel and Jordan jockey for control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
As we mourned the 70 deaths tied to Hurricane Harvey, some 1,300 people died in monsoon-related flooding in South Asia, and tens of millions in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are reeling from the impact. Dozens died in the strongest earthquake to hit western Mexico in a century. And six years after an earthquake triggered the triple meltdown of Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactors, officials are still working out how to deal with the hazardous waste it generated.
Does it matter that we pay less attention to global events when we face crises at home? While nearsightedness is understandable under these circumstances, is there a question of security that ought not be ignored? In an age of instant and constant communication, can the average Joe or Jane who isn't immediately affected by an emergency afford to wear blinders? Does the media have a responsibility to keep our eyes turned outward, or is it up to us to surf the internet and explore what's happening beyond the trauma of our next-door neighbors?
Having served for more than 20 years in media, I can say what you already know: Disasters will inevitably dominate the information cycle. Ratings may rise, advancing the visibility of correspondents and the credibility of the outlets for which they work. Advertisers appreciate the voyeuristic appetite in each of us and are eager to capitalize on heightened visibility as we tune in to learn the latest updates. We can even expect a kernel of good news at the end of a television program, to lift our spirits from the depths of current events.
Stratfor staffers and other experts are qualified to analyze the situation to degrees that Joe, Jane and I will never achieve. There is no doubt that while Hurricane Harvey swirled east of Austin, the eyes and ears of countless security analysts stayed fixed on larger issues that included high winds and high geopolitical stakes.
But are they looking as far ahead as they should?
Predictably, crises loom: The global warming of xenophobia. Nature's equal-opportunity lashing of the Earth's surface. Peak oil. The specter of freshwater supplies shrinking. These crises, manmade and of nature born, call predictive analytics to a higher ground: an ethical ground, an us-and-them ground rather than either/or.
The film "2012" forecast a fury of natural disasters worldwide and suggested a Noah-like solution for the rich and mighty. But higher ground would entail seeking escape from the storms of life for all who reside here. Higher ground resembles the compassion we show as a nation in responding to natural disasters elsewhere, and the reliable outstretching of hands to neighbors and strangers alike when emergency — whether a blackout, heat wave, hurricane or 9/11 — strikes near home.
And the globe's potable water supply? That will be the subject of an upcoming column, but the highlight includes the World Health Organization's recent forecast that by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas. Scientific American notes that "analysts are indeed worried that increasing demand for water, coupled with industrialization and urbanization, will have serious consequences both for human health and the environment." We've all heard whisperings that the next world war will center on access to water, and it's all too easy to predict that people who do not have their basic needs met will interrupt the comfort of those living in abundance when the going gets tough. We shouldn't have to wait until then for the media to report regularly on how to avert the approaching catastrophe.
The return to normal coverage of global events came on Sept.15 when an explosion on the London Tube brought the realities of manmade damage to society and infrastructure back into sharp relief. We immediately returned to looking out for security threats linked to Muslims, and hurdles to immigration reappeared in the headlines while wind and water were relegated to the weather page.
By all appearances, a return to normal after this summer's natural disasters won't be enough to propel nations toward creating a balanced and sustainable planet-wide ecosystem together.