Thursday, January 06, 2005

How Things Affect Other Things, Part XXIV

It seems possible that the type and amount of beachfront development in Southeast Asian resort towns had some bearing on how much damage the tsunami did:

"Places that had healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves were far less badly hit than places where the reefs had been damaged and the mangroves ripped out and replaced by beachfront hotels and prawn farms," said Simon Cripps, director of the Global Marine Programme at the environment group WWF Internationational.

"Coral reefs act as a natural breakwater and mangroves are a natural shock absorber, and this applies to floods and cyclones as well as tsunamis," he said in an interview from Geneva.

He compared the outcome of the December 26 tsunami in the Maldives, the low-lying archipelago which emphasises good coral management in its policy of upmarket tourism; and the Thai resort of Phuket, where mangroves and a coastline belt have been replaced by aquaculture and a hotel strip.

Both places were swamped and suffered severe economic damage. In the Maldives, just over 100 people have been counted as dead and missing in a populace of 270,000; in Phuket, where there is a roughly similar size of population at peak season, the toll is nearly 1,000.
Makes sense to me. In most cases, good planning means allowing oneself to be limited by natural conditions. For instance, you really don't want to build on landfill or reclaimed wetlands in earthquake country, because the ground liquefies when it starts shaking. And in general, the long-term economic value of intact, clean wetlands is greater than that of development.

This article also says something about the potentially debasing nature of tourism. When a country destroys its scenic attractions in order to accomodate more guests and services, it loses some of its appeal, and attracts the type of tourists who are less likely to care if Phuket, Thailand looks pretty much like Palm Beach, Florida. This becomes a vicious circle; the more tourists you get who have low expectations about natural attractions, the less need there is for preserving them. As such towns become more crowded and developed, they become less desirable as destinations; revenues drop, and problems like prostitution and crime increase. Therefore, countries that protect the things that make them special, and limit tourism based on a sustainability model, are likely to earn far more tourism dollars over the long term than countries that try to pack people in like sardines.

And, it seems, they may even be better able to withstand natural disasters.


Anonymous said...

Makes sense to me - kudos for pointing it out with eloquence to boot.

(And if I have to yell "Yes!" at one more pea-brained newscaster asking, "Did the animals *know* something humans didn't before the tsunami hit?"...)

Charlotte Smith

Anonymous said...

and in our country the federal government offers low cost insurance to people who build in flood plains, over and over.......

dread pirate roberts

Anonymous said...

your weird but we don't know you!

Anonymous said...

this is interesting. let's suppose "god" is a metaphor for guiding human behavior. all the fundies are concerned about is sinning in a very narrow band of human action (naughty sex, having a sass mouth, etc.). the problem with the judeo-christian-muslim frame is that it leaves out a whole chunk of human wisdom concerning human actions and their impact on the natural world. in fact, some of the more fundamentalist folks i have talked to suggest that "god" gave man the earth to do with as he pleases. we can barely grasp the effect of our collective actions the earth. unfortunately, the major religions give very little guidance concerning our relationship to our environment. so if the earth reaches critical mass and we fuck things up so bad we start seeing more and more environmental disasters, the fundies will be running around screaming about how the "homosexual agenda" has brought on "god's" wrath. they will not have even considered that maybe their "sins against nature" contributed to their precious apocalypse.

-cereal breath

Phila said...

Oooh, very good point, CB! Thanks for that!

Pastabagel said...

"we can barely grasp the effect of our collective actions the earth"

No kidding. That's why you can't conclude that our actions had any effect. Because we do not know one way or the other.

Let's analyze SCripps quote:

"Places that had healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves were far less badly hit than places where the reefs had been damaged and the mangroves ripped out and replaced by beachfront hotels and prawn farms,"

My question is, how does he define "badly hit"? If he menas the amount of economic damage sustained, then it's obvious that places "where the reefs had been damaged and the mangroves ripped out and replaced by beachfront hotels" will sustain more economic damage than places where the reefs were intact because no one built anything there. Economic damage only counts the damage to manmade structures. Duh.

Secondly, look at a map. The The Maldives are almost five times farther away from the epicenter than Thailand. (see also:

Finally, does no one question how the hell he can make a conclusive statement like this 11 days after the disaster? He collected data and did a study that other scientists peer reviewed in 11 days? Amazing. And to think it took a week just to fly food over there.


Phila said...

Jesus, Pastabagel. If you want to have an intelligent conservatiion, you have to start saying intelligent things. I'll run through your objections briefly:

1. It's undisputed that coral reefs and mangroves protect coastal regions from powerful waves; that's simply a fact, which has been observed many times.

2. The relative distance from the epicenter that you're talking about is not sufficient, in itself, to attentuate the destructive power of a tsunami, which can travel immensely long distances without loss of energy. You may care to note that Somalia lost over 100 people to huge waves, and that's about 2800 miles from the epicenter...much further away than the Maldives. And Sri Lanka lost far more people than Thailand, despite being much further away from the epicenter.

3. You ask how "badly hit" is defined. In the quote, it explicitly defines this in terms of death toll. If you must waste my time, please read a bit more carefully. There's no discussion of economic damage, so you're attacking a straw man, but I tried to make it obvious that Phuket and the Maldives were resorts with very different approaches to tourism.

4. You have a weak mind, in that you try to reduce complex situations to simple cases of cause and effect. There are many factors that affect tsunami strength; my post discussed a potential one, using words like "possible" and "some bearing" and "may be better able to withstand." That's your signal, not to think about interactions between various factors, but to flaunt your ignorance of how tsunamis travel. Did you even read the article I linked to? There were other quotes and other examples of mangroves and reefs having a dampening effect on wave force, including this one:


Doug Masson, a senior researcher at Southampton University's Oceanography Centre in southern England, said that even the best-managed coastal buffer offers no guarantee of a shield against a major tsunami, but it certainly helps to save lives."There is a big dampening effect if you have a coral reef. My feeling is that coral is what probably saved the majority of people in the Maldives. The reef broke up the tsunami and it travelled forward as a broken wave and so was far less deadly," he said.


But hey, what do oceanographers know?

I really hope you weren't pathetic enough to post anonymously to agree with yourself. Just for the record, I don't think you were. Besides, I think I recognize "Anonymous." I know he's too stupid to understand his logical errors, but I hold out a faint hope that you're not.

You seem to think that because I disagree with you politically, I'm unable to think clearly. I don't think I've given you any reason to believe that. And considering how thoroughly I dissected your ignorance on the gecko feet post, I'm amazed that you have the heart to continue being so arrogant.

Whatever. Keeping spouting improvisational rants, I'll keep responding to 'em with facts, and I'm sure we'll get along just fine.

Phila said...

Correction: there is a mention of economic damage, but as I said, it's within the context of the tourist trade. The comparison is between death tolls in resort towns; the Maldives have very fancy resorts, but they've generally made coral reefs a central part of their "brand identity," if you will.

Interestingly, you didn't address my main point, which is that preserving natural resources is a better long-term strategy for financial profits, especially in countries that rely on tourism. I merely found it interesting that it might have some other good effects, saving lives.

It's odd that you guys hate hearing stuff like that so much. It's pretty basic common sense.

Pastabagel said...

No, genius, I'm not disputing that coral reefs attenuate waves, what I'm disputing is the guy from the WWF concluding that destruction of the reefs is directly related to the higher death toll, without acknowledging even the existence of other factors that may have caused the higher death toll in Thailand.

And yes any waves propagating in a medium lose energy the further out they move from the wave's origin. It's the same for tidal waves, tsunamis, and sound waves and radio waves in air. Drop a pebble in the water and you'll notice that the waves are higher and more violent closer in than further out. This is very basic science. Just because this event is on a large scale doesn't mean the laws of physics don't apply to it. I could give the the more complex science too, but if you can't grasp the simple stuff, what's the point?

"That's your signal, not to think about interactions between various factors"

Jesus Christ you are an arrogant twit, aren't you? My signal? My whole point is that there are so many factors that influenced the damage and the death toll at any particular location that it is impossible for anyone to conclude that the absence of reefs in one spot was responsible for greater damage without a comprehensive and thorough analysis of all, or at least most, of those factors. Did absence of reefs contribute? Maybe, but that binary evidence is meaningless. What matters is how much it contributed. Would anyone care if the contribution was only .2%? If a the absence of a proper warning system was 60% responsible (hypothetically), do the reefs even matter?

The fact that you never thought about the magnitude of the contribution or weighed it against other factors tells me that to you, this is really a political issue and not a scientific one.

Yes, I noticed your wiggle words like "possible" and "some bearing". People use them often because they think it gives them cover when someone argues that the thing that's possible is actually very unlikely. ("Very unlikely is still possible").

Well, it's "possible" that because the tsunami hit the maldives one and a half hours after it hit in thailand (and 3-3.5 hours after the earthquake itself) the tourists there had more more warning and more time to evacuate the beachfront resorts and that this also had "some bearing" on the lower death toll there. Didn't bother to investigate that, did you? I hope you weren't waiting for someone from the WWF to tell you that.

I'm the only one acknowledging the multplicity of factors and the only one (here) who's noted that no one can define with any precision the relationship between those factors. I'm not disputing that coral reefs can attenuate waves, but no one really knows how much difference that would have made against waves with of this particular energy and magnitude and in the absence of all the other factors.

In other words, I am disputing that anyone has run a study in 11 days that controls for the myraid of other factors that contribute to death toll and damage that allows them to conclude with reasonable certainty. Without such a study, everyone making conclusory statements about what caused what, including any scientists, is full of BS.

It seems like you want to believe that man's interference with nature was directly responsible for the magnitude of this tragedy, and that prevents you from critically analyzing any unsupported statement you agree with it. It also keeps you from absorbing, synthesizing, and integrating contrary evidence into your thinking.


Phila said...

Pastabagel, I'm getting very weary of you. I didn't say that waves didn't lose energy over distance, for fuck's sake. I said that the extra distance to the Maldives wasn't sufficient in itself to cause a substantial loss of energy. And it isn't. The fact that waves lose energy says nothing about the point at which they'll lose energy, and you have no idea where that point is. In other words, if a wave is going to lose a certain amount of energy at (say) 2000 miles, that doesn't much help someone who's at 1800 miles. Seriously, all you're doing here is making a fool of yourself.

As for the rest of your should ask yourself why concepts like these make you get so irrational. I posted a newspaper article, right? In that article, a number of scientists - not one, but several - said that areas with reefs and mangroves weren't hit as hard as ones without. They gave specific examples, not just in the Maldives, but in Sri Lanka too.

I then made a general comment about how different types of tourism affect the environment, and how different types of tourists view the environment. And ended by saying, basically, that in addition to being better for the tourist trade maintaining coral reefs might save lives. Might.

That's a perfectly reasonable inference, but you've got a stick up your ass about it, because anytime someone talks about limiting development (and in this case, development would probably be limited not by government, but by resort owners themselves), you start screeching like an infant. You think it's because you're "rational"; I think it's because you're an utter chump who's committed to living in a libertarianism-for-dummies Candyland at all costs. And because you live in this little utopian world where you know what to believe, and what not to, before you even read it, you're convinced that the newspapers are chock-full of phony scientists who are telling lies in order to push some socialist agenda, but that you're too smart for them, by God. Which is why you're kind of a sad and silly person.

But don't take my word for it. Go look at the post I did on geckos. Read what you wrote, and then look at my point-by-point discussion of why you're objectively wrong about everything, and then try to understand why it's impossible for me to take you very seriously.

You live in a world of pet theories, where if you can imagine something, it's real to you; that's why you can blithely pull stuff out of your ass when you post here, and mistake it for God's Own Truth. I don't have that luxury. Doesn't mean I'm never wrong, but I'm going to give you a hint: if you want to catch me in a huge factual or logical mistake, read very carefully, do your goddamn homework, and doublecheck your facts before you post. Because as it stands now, you're completely embarassing yourself almost every time you post here.