Natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, hurricanes—have always occurred and undoubtedly always will. There are several reasons for mentioning them in a discussion of psychology and the environment. Our knowledge of such events and our growing ability to predict, at least statistically, the occurrence of some of them have implications for behavior. For example, the knowledge that a particular area is highly likely to experience severe earthquakes within a given time span has implications for the kinds of structures that should be allowed in that area and for the kinds of preparations that should be made to deal with such events when they occur.
Conversely, human behavior has implications for the consequences of natural disasters that do occur. Careful planning that takes the probabilities of predictable natural disasters into account can lessen their effects; planning that ignores those probabilities has the potential to magnify their effects manyfold. The Yucca Mountain site being prepared as a repository for spent reactor fuel is located between two prominent earthquake faults. This has contributed to the controversy stimulated by this selection (Shulman, 1989).
Despite a much greater ability to predict, statistically, when and where certain types of natural disasters are likely to occur than we had in the past, we have not yet learned how to make effective use of this ability. There is need for much improvement in methods of preparing for such events, for limiting and controlling their damage, and for providing assistance to their victims when they occur.
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