It had to happen. The devastating tsunamis in Southeast Asia, caused by a massive earthquake on a scale that strikes the area every couple of centuries, seemed the ultimate act of God–or act of heartless nature, if you will–far outside of conceivable human control. There is nothing to be done about earthquakes unless you can alter the movements of Earth’s tectonic plates, which so far seems to be beyond anyone’s power. But now, wouldn’t you know, environmental activists have decided to blame the tidal waves that have taken up to 40,000 lives on–guess what–global warming!

There’s this report from CNN International:

“…[G]lobal warming, poorly planned coastal development and other threats over which humans have some control are weakening natural defenses ranging from mangrove swamps to coral reefs that help keep the oceans at bay.

“‘Coasts are under threat in many countries,’ said Brad Smith at environmental group Greenpeace. ‘Development of roads, shrimp farms, ribbon development along coasts and tourism are eroding natural defenses in Asia.’

“Scientists say a build-up of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere from human burning of fossil fuels threatens to trigger more powerful storms and raise sea levels, exposing coasts to more erosion.”

In other words, if you’d like to make a living or live more comfortably in poverty-beset Southeast Asia, whether by harvesting shrimp, encouraging tourism, or being able to get to your home by car, you’re responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths there over this Christmas weekend.

The Wall Street Journal has even more to say about the enviros’ efforts somehow to blame the tsunamis on failure to sign the Kyoto accords:

“In an interview with the Independent newspaper in Britain, Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: ‘No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree.’ Speaking to the same newspaper, Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper pressed the argument home: ‘Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions.'”

Michael Crichton, call your office.

The Journal’s editorialist continues:

“Geologists say that groups of giant earthquakes hit Sumatra every 230 years or so. The last quakes there were in 1797 and 1833–and surely not even Greenpeace would blame those on greenhouse gases–and so Sunday’s latest quake was more or less on schedule.

“It is preposterous to blame the inexorable forces of nature on the development of industry and infrastructures of modern society. The more sensible response to natural disasters is to improve forecasting, put in place efficient communications and evacuation procedures and, should the worst arrive, conduct relief efforts and rebuild what nature has destroyed. Those cautionary measures, as is now clear, cost money. The national income necessary to afford them is made possible only by economic growth of the sort too many of environmentalists retard with their policy extremism.”

The fact remains, as the Journal pointed out, that rich countries have the wherewithal to minimize the human cost of natural disasters via efficient warning systems, and poor countries don’t. So we in the prosperous West can either subsidize expensive earthquake-warning infrastructure for nations such as Indonesia (which is what many newspaper editorialists are calling for right now), or we can let their economies grow to the level of prosperity that permits them to install their own, as the wealthier nations of the Pacific Rim have already done. The developing nations seem to prefer the latter course, which is why most of them are resisting Kyoto, which they regard as a luxury that only guilt-stricken Western Europeans can afford.

So right now, the better course is clearly for all of us to reach into our pockets and do what we can for the stricken victims and the families of those whom this dreadful disaster swept away. Enviro hysteria to the contrary, there wasn’t anything that any of could have done to stop that earthquake. As the Journal editorialist writes:

“As we mourn the loss of life and unite to help the survivors rebuild their lives and communities, let’s also bear in mind that the best long-term help is an economic environment that allows these nations to put in place better manmade defenses against future depredations from nature.”