The Washington Post

Disasters everywhere

I have a story in the works on disasters, and it ponders the question of why there seem to be so many disasters these days. I’ve been reading about the Lac Megantic train derailment and explosion. Air brakes fail, unmanned train rolls downhill. Gravity in charge now. It’s hauling North Dakota crude to a refinery in New Brunswick. Did the people in that Canadian town know they were living next to an industrial artery? Do any of us know what’s on the rails, or in the trucks barreling down the freeway? Andy Revkin has a fine piece about the dangers of long-distance oil transport by rail, saying that pipelines are safer.

My story will tell you that Munich Re has compiled data on “weather catastrophes” between 1980 and 2012, and determined that there were 18,200 of them. They caused $2.8 trillion in losses (2012 dollars), and 1,405,000 fatalities. Insured losses: $855 billion. (Seventy percent of the insured losses are in North America, but only 4 percent of the fatalities.)

Munich Re is having a briefing this morning on catastrophes in the first half of the year, but I have to miss it because I’m going to listen to people talk about asteroids — potential disasters, though mostly of interest now as a target for a NASA human spaceflight mission.

Of all the disasters I worry about, the ones caused by humans concern me the most. War in particular. I hope the world wars of the 20th century never regenerate themselves in the 21st, and I think they won’t, simply because we’re all so connected now, and so invested in each other. But these are still perilous times. I admit that I’m confused about what is happening in Egypt, and what, exactly, the U.S. would like to see happen. Obviously something other than soldiers killing scores of protesters. It looks like a political disaster at the moment.


Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.