The original version of this article, by Laurie Mazur, appeared on the RH Reality Check blog.
Welcome to the age of the “black swan.”
The tornado that nearly leveled the city of Joplin, Missouri in May was a black swan; so was the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in March; and the “hundred-year floods” that now take place every couple of years in the American Midwest.
A black swan is a low-probability, high-impact event that tears at the very fabric of civilization. And they are becoming more common: Weather-related disasters spiked in 2010, killing nearly 300,000 people and costing $130 billion.
Black swan events are proliferating for many reasons – notably climate change and the growing scale and interconnectedness of the human enterprise. World population doubled in the last half-century to just under seven billion people, so there are simply more people living in harm’s way, on geologic faults and along vulnerable coastlines. As the human enterprise has grown, we have reshaped natural systems to meet human needs, weakening resilience of ecosystems, and by extension our own. In effect, we have re-engineered the planet and ushered in a new era of radical instability.
At the same time, the world’s people are increasingly linked by systems of staggering complexity and size: think of electrical grids and financial markets. What were once local disasters now reverberate across the globe.
So what does this have to do with women’s rights, you may ask? A lot, as it turns out. The great challenge of the 21st century is to build societies that can cope with the flock of black swans that are headed our way. Advancing and securing women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, is central to meeting that challenge.
Continue reading on RH Reality Check.
Laurie Mazur is the editor of A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & the Environmental Challenge, which received a Global Media Award from the Population Institute in 2010.
Sources: Munich Re.
Photo Credut: “Cygnus atratus (Black Swan),” courtesy flickr user Arthur Chapman.