What is an emergency?

May 21, 2019 0 Comments

When I say the word “emergency”, what comes to mind? Something urgent? Something that is happening now that needs immediate action? People are in danger?

The dictionary defines “emergency” as such: a sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action.

If your house starts on fire, that would be considered an emergency. When a large tornado develops and is heading toward a populated area, that would be considered an emergency. If you develop a heart attack, that would be considered an emergency.

Unfortunately, I have noticed a concerning trend toward over-use of the word emergency. I first noticed this in the last few years with the approach of hurricanes toward coastal areas. Governors and leaders often declare a “state of emergency” even before the storm hits, sometimes 2 or 3 days in advance, before it can even be certain which areas, if any, the tropical storm will strike. I often wonder if this declaration is issued in order to put government preparations into quicker motion, heighten awareness, or make it easier to evacuate. Those would seem like legitimate reasons to declare an “emergency”, but if it is done too often or too early, and the storm does not develop as expected, then people could become numb to the message. It is often said, it is “better to be safe than sorry”, but if it is at the expense of credibility, then perhaps not.

Another trend in using the word “emergency” has developed just in the last couple of weeks. Two countries have declared a “Climate Emergency”.

Island nations in the Pacific, threatened by rising sea levels perhaps?

Maybe Australia which had record Summer heat recently?

No on both counts. First it was the UK and then it was Ireland. The symbolic gestures were in response to a wave of environmental protests across Europe in recent weeks. Will the declarations help anything? Maybe. However, every time the rhetoric ratchets up, and there is no climate disaster (as has been the case for the last 30 years), I am afraid fewer people will listen. Some personalities say the earth is very literally on “f*%#ing fire”, which is not the case. Some politicians say the world is literally going to end by 2030, which is not the case.

There is no current climate emergency in the UK or Ireland, if you use the standard definition of “emergency”. Everyone in those two countries will go about their business today, tomorrow, and the rest of the year without the “climate” affecting much of their lives. Same thing next year, and the year after. I checked a live skycam in Dublin just now. No one is running around in terror because of a “climate emergency”.

Everyone can understand what is being attempted here – get people’s attention about anthropogenic climate change (AGW) and placate the protesters with a symbolic gesture. On the surface that seems okay, but over-using and mis-using the word “emergency” only lessens its power for times when it is really needed.

There have been innumerable declarations and hyperbolic statements over the last 30 years about the potential negative repercussions of AGW. Judging by the results, most of them have fallen on deaf ears. China, India, and Africa continue to build out a tremendous amount of fossil fuel infrastructure. Many economic pundits continue to push a consumption economy – buy more, build more, buy more, build more. This is exactly the opposite of what should occur if the environment is to be protected to a greater degree.

Many other blog posts (here, here, here, here) have dealt with the intertwining aspects of the economy, technology, and attitudes, so I won’t recap it all here. Suffice it to say, protests, lawsuits, and political statements don’t seem to work. Making sacrifices on the individual level and funding new efficient technology and cleaner energy are more likely to produce good results.

Meteorologist Justin Loew


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