China: Are the greatest natural disasters Man-Made?

The Chinese Propaganda Department has issued notice to mainstream and online media outlets regarding the recent disaster in Zhouqu. For the Chinese government, it is a time to mourn rather than digging up the man-made mistakes. Reporters, hence, have been asked to leave the landslide area. However, if we don't admit the man-made mistakes, how can we prevent future ones?


The greatest natural disaster is never admitting the man-made disasters.

The above quote is one of the hottest QQ micro-blogpost by Lian Yue (连岳). So long as culpability for the human role in ‘natural disasters’ is ignored and denied we will continue to see occurrences of human suffering and loss around the world. Staying within the scope of this post  to deal with the world inside China, we can look back over the last 8 months of 2010 and see an enormous amount of wasted potential, energies and lives through ‘natural disasters’ in which either human hands played a role in bringing these events about in the first place, or better human planning, foresight, and recognition of the conditions could have prevented such serious consequences.

Indeed, on SOSO's blog search for ‘natural disaster’ (天灾), the first result returned is a blog entitled Natural Disaster together with Man-made Disaster (天灾与人祸) by blogger ‘Small Qiao Running Water Family’ (小桥流水人家). Just three results down is the title Regarding Natural Disasters, Can We Only “Blame Nature” and not “Fault People”? (面对天灾,我们能只“怨天”不“尤人”吗?) posted by ‘Good Morning!’ (早安) Directly following this post is Southern Region's Water Crisis- Natural Disaster or Man-made Disaster? (南方水灾天灾还是人祸?) by ‘Sacred Land Mother Earth” (神州大地).

What is the human role behind the toll of natural disaster?

As of this posting, of the first 10 results on SOSO, 5 of the titles specifically question whether these ‘natural disasters’ should really be considered natural disasters. 8 of the 10 deal with precisely this subject of when does the real responsibility for the grave human and economic consequences of ‘natural disaster’ truly lie with humanity and not nature?

Writing on July 20th 2010, QQ user, Struggle (奋斗) says,





First earthquakes, then come the floods again- every single day more announcements: the worst floods in history, even worse than ‘98.

Jiujiang's dam burst again- also worse than in ‘98. Funds are allocated every year, dikes are built every year, flood control every year, fighting floods every year- the results? Children crying. Areas that are supposed to be submerged are wiped out. Where the dam shouldn't burst it bursts. In ‘98 an engineering project was put in place, scientifically known as “soy bean dregs” [term for a program hastily thrown together without substance]. Surveying the aftermath of the earthquakes and heavy rains, these projects- which are spread throughout China's sacred land- makes it seems that even if Yu the Great [mythical Chinese ruler from the 21st century B.C.E. who stopped the floods] were living, he couldn't hold back the waters.

Every time these natural disasters appear the government is quick to respond. Everyone donates. Afterward, the same disaster strikes. AGAIN! Keeping in mind that everyone is a genius in hindsight, one can only say that the government is reasonably competent in dealing with these issues- but in terms of a relationship to people's everyday lives, what use do these programs actually have? When an earthquake strikes the schools and hospitals still collapse. When heavy rains fall the dams still burst. When conflict arises the army is still scattered. During the time of causing people harm there's no problem. There's never an investigation into responsibility. Don't tell me that in the face of natural disasters we can simply neglect the role of man-made causes. Every time we see beloved President Wen we always think “he's a good man”, but that's what he should be. Every time we see the army react in an emergency we always consider it to be touching- but that's what they should do. When facing these issues, that is the government's role- not tricking the average people into donating funds. The people shouldn't be paying on behalf of the government's bill.

Only natural disaster is mentioned, not the man-made causes.

Looking through a blog search of ‘natural disaster’ (天灾) on, one also finds the common thread of questioning the nature of why these disasters are so costly in terms of lives, production, economics and the future. As of this posting,  8 of the 10 titles returned for the first page of results on directly question the involvement of ‘man-made disaster’ (人祸) in the catastrophic aftermaths of these events. user ‘Safe Harbor’ (避风港) writes in The Main Culprits in Natural Disasters are We Ourselves (天灾的祸首是我们自己):


The sudden appearance of natural disasters catches people unprepared, looking at unbearable scenes of devastation, breaking people's hearts. It makes us think first of all that nature is punishing humanity. There used to be trees that reached the sky, dense forests. Then came the rumble of chainsaws, the crash of falling [trees], turned into every kind of enjoyable consumer product…the dam's clear river water and the willow forest behind it were my childhood paradise. I don't remember when, but the willow forest disappeared, the dam became a thick wall of sand and stone stretching unbroken for thousands of meters. Very spectacular- changing it into a completely different scene. However, in the face of devastating flooding, it wasn't even able to endure one blow!…the reckless destruction of the forest to open up land for agriculture resulted in complete loss of vegetation and the ground's ability to absorb and hold water…For the sake of local economic development, without a plan examined by the proper departments, a large amount of forest land was turned into a flat sheet without any follow up inspection. The hillsides lost their eternal forest land and greenery. In the same manner, for the sake of  local economic development and investment promotions, a large number of unplanned  wood processing plants were built along with the unceasing production of houses, becoming a so-called developed industrial park. Government leadership smeared the records with a single pen stroke, but who thought of the following results? Its hard to believe that at the time forestry experts didn't know what the results of these actions would be. Could legally endorsed logging really satisfy such high business demands?  …regardless of who [is to blame], following the experience of this disaster  everyone ought to sincerely think it over.

What seems to be further evidence of poor human and government policy and planning comes from ‘Very Green’ (何青青)  in a piece entitled Please Permanently Remember this Unpunished Sin—Incontrovertible Proof that Man-made Disasters exceed Natural Disasters (请苍天记住这笔孽债—人祸甚于天灾的铁证 ):


报 道说“1958年的那场特大水灾,促成了苦池水库的建设。苦池村所在地天然地势低洼,每每发水,始建于后魏正始二年的人工渠道无法分流洪水,苦池村及周围 村庄总是被淹。1958年,政府在苦池滩修建调洪区,即现在的苦池水库。……1959年建成后,运城没再出现特大水灾。苦池村村民介绍,2006年,在干 枯多年后,库区修建了180亩的东湖,并在水库南部造假山,许多地方开始建房。2009年,这里变成了运城‘东花园’。”

据 有关资料称:水库里最大的非防汛永久性建设项目是占水库面积三分之一的“企业老板别墅区”。该别墅区的官方名称叫“关公企业之家会员俱乐部”。对于记者提 出的有无合法手续、何时售房、房价如何等疑问,一个名叫张俊的经理说:“所有手续齐全,包括土地证、房产证等预售五证全有。每平方米的价格为7000元到 15000元,每栋500万左右吧。”他说,“我们主要面对中小企业家群体,是为这个阶层服务的。”一位当地知情人对记者表示“就是为山西煤老板们建设的 煤老板别墅区。”

On July 6th 2010, on page A26, the Beijing News [newspaper] inconspicuously reported a shocking piece of information: Over a thousand villas were built inside the reservoir!

The report stated: “1958's great flood facilitated the building of the reservoir. The natural site of the reservoir village was in low-lying terrain. The old irrigation ditches which had been started were not enough to divert the water. The reservoir village and surrounding hamlets were constantly submerged. In 1958, the government built a flood-control basin- the existing reservoir. After its completion in 1959, Yuncheng did not receive more flooding. In 2006, the reservoir village introduced the building of 180 villas as well as a rock garden in the southern part, building in many areas. In 2009 this became Yuncheng's ‘East Garden’.”

A related piece of information says: the largest permanent structure without flood protection- covering one-third of the reservoir's surface area- was the “Company Boss's Villa District”. The official name for the villa district was “Guangong Company Family Member's Club”. As to questions raised by the reporter regarding whether or not lawful procedure was followed- when the building was constructed, what the price of the housing was, these kinds of issues- a certain Manager Jun Zhang said: “All the procedures were completed- including land deeds, property titles, all 5 of the official certificates for the advance sale of property. Each square meter was between 7000-15,000 RMB. Each structure was around 500 square meters. ” He continued,”We principally served small and medium sized business entrepreneurs- that segment of society.” An informed local source told the reporter “it was built for the Shanxi Coal bosses, a Shanxi Coal boss villa district.”

A way forward to prevent these disasters?

While it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect policy and planning to prevent all future loss of  life and property from genuine natural disaster, certainly an improvement to existing practice and policy can be asked and expected. It seems clear that in many cases individuals, corporations, and even the government itself have ignored what could be seen as fairly clear signs that certain actions were simply disasters in the making- not unavoidable natural disasters but avoidable disasters of neglect and corruption.

yoyo concludes a post entitled After the Disasters (天灾背后……) with this thought:


After these affairs of the current catastrophes have passed, we still need to do careful on-site investigation and research, carefully absorb all the experience and lessons, realize a greater sum from the individual events, reflect and learn as a society. But while we, during times of need, make a supreme effort to urge others to go begin a time of  reflection, we always make painstaking efforts to avoid doing our own deeply needed reflections on these crucial points!   While we think and feel as individuals, these profound reflections, towards the proper direction of advancement for our nationality itself, the road of development, are extremely important issues. Once again while engaging in matters related to the people, carry a bit of responsibility, speak realistically of feasible projects with real materials and ten million times over do not repeat these ‘soy bean dreg’ projects, okay?  Because there is no guarantee  that during one's remaining years these ‘soy bean dreg’ projects won't see the light of day again, that's the first; secondly, during the critical moments these ‘soy bean dreg’ projects increase the losses many times, dozens of times, hundreds of times, of people's lives and the safety of their property.


  • The mistakes humans make that lead to man made disasters almost always can be traced back to greed and/or corruption. Businesses and corporations create these disasters out of greed and many times bribe public and elected officials to look the other way.

    I read a study that said people who think like this seldom or never think of the consequences of their actions.

    When I was studying urban planning in university, one professor said we will teach you how to do it right then you will do it wrong when the man with the money–some business man–that doesn’t care about doing it right tells you to do it or else.

    After hearing that, I changed majors.

  • […] Global Voices Online writes about man-made disasters, and I couldn’t help myself. I had to leave a […]

  • Halvor

    I agree that corruption of the individual, emerging cultures of corruption and in all corruption of society is the real problem. Admonitions that do not address this key problem as the paramount focus of attention are wasted efforts, in my opinion.

    The only solution is to focus on and problematize the accellerating devolution of humanity, of ethics and address the forces behind these trends.

    Cutting to the chase we must get to the point where we all realize that in order for humanity to make it to the next stage is for individuals to begin to start forming a stand on issues such as “who are we?” “why are we here?” “where did we come from?” and the most important question for each and every human being: “what is my higher purpose in life?”. Only when these lofty questions become accepted as being relevant for every human being, not just for philosophers and students with too much spare time on their hands can we evolve towards a species which cares about the wholeness of the systems we live in.

  • We can see how many of the natural disasters that were once actually”acts of God” are human-induced in our time. That is what billions of human beings are capable of doing to the relatively small, evident finite and noticeably fragile planetary home we inhabit.

    Regardless of what we believe because it is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially correct, religiously tolerated and culturally syntonic to do so, whatsoever is is, is it not? Please assist me by examining research of the population dynamics of the human species. The implications of this research appear to be potentially profound. If human population dynamics is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species, then the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time could be the proverbial “mother” of the human-induced global challenges looming before the family of humanity. If this global challenge continues to be ignored, the human family could end up winning some Pyrrhic victories over subordinate global challenges but losing the larger struggle for survival itself.

    Please note the following perspective from Sir Fred Hoyle that dates back to 1964, a time prior to the publication of Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” and the Club of Rome’s seminal work, “Limits to Growth.”


    “It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance… and one chance only.”


    It appears to me that Sir Fred Hoyle was asking people years ago, when I was still a teenager, to carefully consider and rigorously examine a superordinate situation that was too dangerous to ignore… that dwarfed other already identified global challenges. Rather than seriously scrutinize population dynamics leading to the human overpopulation of the Earth, which would require experts to rivet their attention on the placement of the human species within the natural order of living things, the topic was avoided, just as it is being ignored now. At the beginning of my lifecycle in 1945 there were about 2.8+/- billion human beings on Earth. Only 65 years later 6.8+/- billion people are members of the human community.

    So much time has been wasted recently by the brighest and best of my generation. The implications of such an unfortunate failure of nerve appear to be far-reaching. We cannot address problems, the root cause of which we refuse to acknowledge.

    Representative democracies led by human beings with feet of clay could readily become a force too formidable to ignore with remarkable speed, I believe, but first humankind needs to be helped to see why a force too formidable to ignore is necessary as well as to understand more adequately the nature of the primary human-induced global challenge that presents itself to the family of humanity in our time; that takes its shape in the form of a colossal looming threat to future human wellbeing, environmental health and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation.

    Research by Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel appears to indicate with remarkable simplicity that human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species.

    Since many too many population experts remain silent about this research and blogmeisters associated with the mass media refuse to discuss the peer-reviewed evidence, perhaps you could take a look at it, make your comments, and encourage by your example others to do the same. You can find the article, Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply, by Hopfenberg and Pimentel on the worldwide web or at the following link, . Other articles and a slideshow presentation on human population dynamics and human overpopulation can also be found at this link.

    No amount of rationalization or excuse will pass muster when the issue is the conscious denial of science. The abject failure of every major legitimate scientific group to respond to the exceptionally strong evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth from Hopfenberg and Pimentel is simply inexcusable. Many too many experts have been effectively ignoring research from these two outstanding scientists, who have devoted their lives to actually observing data and providing critiques/interpretations in an intellectually honest manner.

    The willful avoidance of the open discussion of science, especially the scientific research of human population dynamics, is as unconscionable as it is destructive. Experts who have remained silent need to be stood up to and directed to assume their responsibilities to science and their duties to humanity. Is there a reasonable justification for elective mutism in response to carefully collected, honestly analyzed and heretofore unchallenged evidence?

    The tasks at hand for scientists are to freely acknowledge, critique and interpret evidence, I suppose, and to encourage that evidence to be examined from different viewpoints. It is irresponsible and pernicious for scientists to remain silent because they are slowing the development of momentum for necessary change in population policy and programming, I believe.

  • Halvor

    I propose that the last thing humanity needs is a change in programming. We have been programmed for too long and replacing one outdated program with the latest, most scientifically accurate and representative program would be a disservice, a Pyrrhic victory of the greatest magnitude.

    Humanity and our world currently stand at a crossroads of much grander proportions than mere survival, and as I write that I also realize that a majority of humankind will be unable to grasp the perspective which I am referring to.

    We are more than simply an advanced animal. We are spiritually aware beings with extensive metaphysical traditions and converging realizations, not superstition, but experiential ontologies that also are converging on the existing scientific paradigm from disciplines as diverse as cybernetics, neurotheology, holy geometry, semiotics and transpersonal psychology, as well as traditional, but not less advanced, science that has been contained within some of the world’s most ancient religions, to form a different template for both the world and human being.

    Of course I’m not proposing that we should implement a large-scale educational effort to school billions, or even thousands, of humans in any of those “exotic” disciplines.

    Any focus today on science is misapplied resources. By that I in no way want to disparage science, I simply assert first things first.

    Humanity must learn to live with one another. No more, no less. That is the obstacle that everyone is closing their eyes to, not what you present, Steven.

    We have to confront our most cherished perceptions of who we are, what unites us into different-layered groups, from families up to races and civilizations and then we have to cast off taboos and politically dictated limitations on who can participate in that discussion and which questions should be discussed, and so on. We have to work it out, fight if we must, such highly charged topics as gender and sexuality until we attain to a common foundation. one that is truly universal. Only then can we start to assemble an epistemics for the future, one where every living being naturally finds its place based on real merits and qualities.

    And in that process humanity will become well again. When fear and pain dissipates from our lives we can become a rational species, but since fear and pain today cripples all human societies and moral systems we have to enter the collective job of addressing these most personal problems and differences so that we all can overcome our collective problems that are insurmountable until we all become part of the problem/solving effort.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    Our deafening silence about what is happening and why it is happening with regard to the unbridled growth of the human population on our watch serves to give consent to preternatural pseudoscience of economists and demographers that is broadcast in the mainstream media without objection. By not speaking truth to the powerful, according to the best available science and ‘lights’ we possess, we become accomplices to their ubiquitous abuses.
    Extant scientific research regarding the population dynamics of Homo sapiens has to be openly acknowledged, objectively examined and honestly reported. Population scientists and ecologists have been shown to be as vulnerable to denial of apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome scientific evidence as well as to capitulation to the entreaties of all who choose favorable unscientific research to be spread by the mass media without meaningful objection from many too many members of the scientific community. It is a deliberate breach of responsibility to science and humanity for population scientists and ecologists not to object to the spreading of false knowledge and thereby, to fail in the performance of the fundamental duty of disclosing what could somehow be real and true about Homo sapiens and the workings of the existential world we inhabit, according to the best available scientific research.
    Let us recognize the willful denial of the ecological science of human population dynamics. Where are the population scientists and ecologists who are ready, willing and able to attest to or refute empirical evidence that human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species; that human population numbers appear as a function of food supply; that more food for human consumption equals more people, less available food to consume equals less people and no food equals no people? No exceptions! Are these scientists blind, deaf and electively mute in the face of new scientific knowledge. Most reprehensibly, their refusal to accept responsibilities and perform duties as scientists has made it possible for pseudoscientists to fill the mainstream media with false knowledge about the way the world we inhabit works as well as about the placement of the human species within the natural order of living things.
    Is it not science, and science alone, that most accurately allows us to confirm our perceptions as objective correlates of reality and truth? Without science, thought leaders and power brokers in cultures everywhere are free to widely transmit attractive ideas at will, regardless of the extent to which the ideas bear a meaningful relationship to what could be real and true. For example, a preternatural factoid like “food must be produced in order to meet the needs of a growing population” is deceitfully given credence as a scientific idea although it reflects the opposite of the actual relationship between food supply and human numbers. Findings from science indicate population numbers are the dependent variable and food the independent variable, just like the population dynamics of other species. By increasing the food supply, we are in fact growing the human population, are we not?
    The idea that human exceptionalism applies to the population dynamics of Homo sapiens, that human population dynamics is different from (not essentially similar to) the population dynamics of other species, is a pseudoscientific factoid, bereft of an adequate foundation in science. Overwhelming scientific research regarding the human population indicates that human population numbers appear as a function of food supply. For many this scientific idea is on the one hand irrefutable and on the other hand unbelievable. So completely are many too many professionals enthralled by the notion of human exceptionalism. Exploding human numbers in the past 200 years are the natural result of the dramatically increasing production and distribution capabilities of food for human consumption that occurred with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and later on during the Green Revolution.
    Please consider that demographers and economists are not scientists. They are presenting false knowledge that is appealing because it presents what all of us wish to believe about the way the world in which we live works as well as about the exceptional nature of the human species. Human beings are mistakenly believed to be outside (not within) the natural order of living things. The false knowledge regarding human species’ exceptionalism with regard to its population dynamics is determined de facto by whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially desirable, religiously acceptable and culturally syntonic. Such de facto determinations of what is real about human nature and the existential world are based primarily upon ideology, not science.
    Refuse to be duped by clever, absurdly enriched vendors of words and highly educated sycophants. These ‘talking heads’ duplicitously claim they are scientists and then promulgate preternatural ideas and pseudoscientific theories that are passed off as well-established results of scientific research without objection from scientists.
    Let us examine the false knowledge from conventional, Neoclassical Cornucopian Economics and the Demographic Transition Theory. These theoretical perspectives are not connected to the foundation of science. The speciousness of what is presented by demographers and economists and then broadcast ubiquitously by the mainstream media is in need of correction by scientists. Ideas of endless resources availability in a finite world and an indestructible ecology that is in fact frangible are fabricated. Automatic population stabilization; a benign end to population growth soon; a glorious world by 2050 when the entire human community will reap the benefits you and I enjoy now because everyone in the human community will have entered the fourth and last stage of the demographic transition, all of these notions are fanciful and ideologically-driven. Such false knowledge as we find in the pseudoscientific disciplines of economics and demography needs to be eschewed. The best available scientific evidence must to be our guide because science stands alone as the best method by far for apprehending what could be real and true. Science needs to be categorically distinguished from all that is not science. Then, perhaps, we will be able to see more clearly how the existential world we inhabit actually works and more accurately perceive the placement of Homo sapiens within the natural order of all living things.
    The imprimatur of science has been not so surreptitiously usurped by pseudoscientific disciplines in which professional research is primarily underwritten by wealthy power brokers and corporations. Economic and demographic research is designed and the findings presented so as to comport with the transparent self interests of the rich and powerful. Where are the scientists who will speak out to correct such widespread misunderstanding and reckless wrongdoing? The conscious silence of scientists serves to give consent to ubiquitous unethical professional behavior that cannot be tolerated any longer because of the confusion it engenders among those in the human community who are rightly seeking an intellectually honest understanding of the global predicament we face and a path to a sustainable future that can only be derived from the best available scientific research. The disciplines of demography and economics are prime examples of what science is not. Perhaps the findings of demographic and economics research will soon be widely recognized and consensually validated as preternatural pseudoscience.
    “Speak out as if you were a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” — St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380

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