Nearly every major cultural or religious tradition on earth includes a historic deluge myth. An online article by the Public Broadcasting System noted that, “while not all flood stories are the same, the description of the destruction of the world by water is a common theme in many religions and cultures. Most flood stories include an angry God or deity, and a catastrophic water event that destroys the world but is only survived by a chosen few.”
The article continues by noting that “these flood stories also seem to have significant roots in science. Geomythology is the study of how these stories and geology could intersect. Flood stories may explain geological [and climatological] phenomena such as volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, fossils, and other natural features of the landscape.” These stories have been depicted for millennia in folklore, literature, art and, most recently, even in movies.
Building a Traditional Wooden Ship (Source Here)
In the Judeo-Christian tradition (from the accounts in the Torah and the Bible with which I’m most personally familiar), I’ve always pictured it this way:
While ominous storm clouds gather overhead and darken the skies, a sense of impending doom begins to overshadow the Earth. People become worried and begin to wonder and talk amongst themselves about what it all means. Conversation turns to debate. And as the first drops of rain begin to fall, debate turns to heated arguments among various factions. Chaos ensues. Some groups are convinced they can prevent or turn back the storms, but they disagree on how that can be done. Some argue that there’s little that can be done, so they sit down to await their fate. Still others claim it’s just a passing rain shower and rebuke the others for their claims and beliefs.
In the midst of all this turmoil, there’s one man and his family who are quietly and with great effort building a massive barge in the hope that, should a flood come, they and all the other living things they wish to save, will be spared. Ultimately, of course, the floods came and the ark lifted to the surface and those on board were kept (yes, I’ll say it) “out of harm’s way” until the water receded. The simple fact that this family took action to protect themselves is the real lesson in this story.
I thought about this recently watching the debates rage on via news coverage of the most recent United Nations Climate Change Conference. As I’ve said before on this page, there are plenty of things we’ll do in the name of “climate mitigation” that will no doubt enhance the resilience of our communities and our populace. Regardless of one's particular feelings or political leanings on the topic, there are logical, non-judgemental reason to reduce our carbon footprint and do all we can to prepare for the changing future of our world.
"Since we can work here, if we insist, on geological time, we can always say that more and better data is needed. But there again, if we risk losing a large chunk of humanity while we conclude a few centuries of fieldwork, that is a high price to pay for reliable data. It may be more prudent to proceed on guesswork, and to guess that we should probably do something to guard against a worst-case outcome, if... scientists say that that is where we are currently heading, and if the measures needed to combat climate change (also provide benefits in other ways)."
But I hearken back to my story of Noah. Storm clouds are gathering (literally) and there may be little we can do to prevent the inevitable. Climate mitigation is just one piece of the puzzle. But, like Noah saw, it may be getting too late to mitigate our way out of this. Which is why he opted to take his family’s fate into his own hands.
In our modern age, there’s a lot of finger pointing going on, even among those who acknowledge there’s a climate problem (e.g., Who’s at fault for causing the problem? Who should pay? And to whom?). Where’s that getting any of us? And what about all the other geologic hazards that continue to affect human development? We can’t stop volcanoes from eradicating island resorts or earthquakes from leveling entire towns and villages. And, as we’ve learned recently, events like a global pandemic can overshadow them all.
If the point of all this is truly to save as many lives as possible, maybe it’s time we shift our focus to actions we can take to harden our buildings and shield our communities against potential hazards of all types.
Maybe, as the ULI says, we should be “investing in places and infrastructure that are the most likely to endure.”
Maybe better building codes should be better enforced.
Maybe more resources should be directed toward better zoning and locational decisions.
Maybe we should eliminate the incentives (like flood insurance) that encourage development in areas prone to natural hazards.
Maybe the proceeds from “carbon credits” should be directed, not at trying to sequester carbon, but at agencies and NGOs that are helping relocate and rebuild safer towns and villages in underserved and hazard-prone regions of the world.
Because maybe by making adaptation the priority (rather than the “back-up plan”) we’ll be able to better ensure that vulnerable populations all over the world remain safe.
That’s what Noah did.