Terrorism Vs. Natural Disasters: Which Costs More? Which Kills More?
Natural disasters claim many more victims than terrorism, so why is funding in Europe and North America so out of balance? This negligence makes Neil deGrasse Tyson "embarrassed for our species".
At 3:36am on August 24, an earthquake hit a small village in Central Italy. It had a magnitude of 6.2, making it one of the strongest on the Richter scale. It wreaked havoc on the village of Amatrice for several hours. The earthquake had over 200 aftershocks that were felt in Bologna (230 miles to the north) and Naples (615 miles to the south). At the most recent count, 296 people have been declared dead and many unaccounted for. “Half the town no longer exists,” Amatrice’s mayor Sergio Pirozzi told The New York Times.
The radius of the Amatrice earthquake. Credit: USGS
The devastation of the Amatrice earthquake is on par with a 2009 earthquake that killed 300 people in L’Aquila, another village in central Italy. The damage is likely to cost about 1% of Italy’s GDP to repair, according to calculations from the United States Geological Survey:
Both towns had buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. Both towns saw those buildings destroyed in addition to the loss of human life. Both towns may have been saved if Italy invested more money in protecting against natural disasters.
The thought of protecting against natural disasters sounds crazy but it’s rooted in sound science. Buildings can be engineered to absorb and safely redirect the force generated by extreme weather events like earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes. Governments can invest money in better forecasting tools. They can also invest in better awareness and training for citizens who live in areas prone to natural disasters.
Italy has the 3rd largest economy in the EU but allotted only 274.5 million euros (or 309 million USD) to national emergencies in 2015, according to its Civil Protection Department website. Only 984,000 euros (or 1.1 million USD) went to the Lazio region where Amatrice is located.
That’s a shocking little amount for disaster aid and prevention, especially since the country’s landscape makes it the most susceptible to natural disasters in Europe, according to Disaster Planning and Community Management. Italy tends to prioritize rebuilding rather than prevention, and has a tendency to overspend on restoration projects. The most infamous of these projects was $35 billion spent on unfinished restoration projects for the city of Irpina following its 1980 earthquake, as The New York Times reports. The Italian government has since cracked down on this kind of spending.
A different form of shockwave, the 2008 global financial crisis caused the Italian government to make major cutbacks at all levels of government spending and levy heavier taxes on its citizens to fill in the gap. As The New York Times reports, “Residents affected by the earthquake… will be required to start paying [their taxes] back next June…. those tax bills will be higher than in years past, taking into account property tax increases that are going into effect across Italy after a countrywide [sic] reassessment, in some cases by more than 50 percent.” Italy has requested an additional 4 billion euros from the EU in order to help alleviate taxpayers’ burden, but they still need more help.
Compare those numbers to the US. The US budget to protect against natural disasters is about $10 billion, according to the Center for American Progress. Keep in mind that the US is over 30 times bigger in land mass than Italy, so it seems both are woefully underprepared. After Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the eastern seaboard, the US government spent $60 billion – five times its annual budget – to repair the damage. Expensive as that was, it’s pennies compared to the $100 billion dollars needed to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Given the increasingly dramatic weather caused by climate change, the scale of damage caused by natural disasters is likely to become more drastic. Hurricane Irene caused $16 billion dollars worth of damage in 2011, according to The New Yorker. On top of that, the US drastically under-invests in its infrastructure, leaving large swathes of the nation’s roads, homes, and power lines vulnerable to weather. “In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our infrastructure a D grade and estimated that we’d need $2.2 trillion to bring it up to snuff,” reports The New Yorker. The numbers only get worse from there:
Credit: Center for American Progress
Again, all of these budgetary strains -- and potential loss of life -- can be avoided. The answer is as simple as reallocating funds from less likely threats. Like terrorist attacks.
The EU spent 93.5 million euros (105 million USD) on counter-terrorism efforts in 2009, which is a drastic increase from its 5.7 million (6.4 million USD) 2002 budget. The amount allocated to Italy is small but misguided; Italy is rated only 1 out of 5 on the Global Terrorism Index, meaning it’s the least likely to suffer an attack. Italy is as likely to suffer a terrorist attack as Canada. Here’s the data in map form:
Click here for the interactive map.
In 2013, the US spent $16.6 billion on counter-terrorism efforts, according to Pew Research. That’s about the exact amount of damage caused by Hurricane Irene. Since the September 11 attacks, the US has spent $500 billion on intelligence to support these efforts, including $20 billion to monitor suspected threats around the world. That doesn’t include $1 trillion spent on domestic security efforts like increased police and security personnel, airport security screenings, and the Department of Homeland Security, according to Nieman Watchdog.
That is an enormous amount of money to spend. And it’s had very little payoff, as Nieman Watchdog reports, “for the counter terrorism spending since 9/11 to be fully justified, homeland security would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 1,667 Times Square style attacks a year, or more than four a day.” “Times Square style attacks” refers to a foiled 2010 bombing that would have caused dozens of fatalities and $100 million in property damage.
While some of that $1.5 trillion has undoubtedly helped save lives, the vast majority of it has not. Why? Because the US is trying to protect against another 9/11, and terrorist attacks on that scale don’t happen often. Nieman Watchdog explains: “The frequency and severity of terrorist attacks are low, very low in fact, which makes the benefits of enhanced counter terrorism [sic] expenditures of a trillion dollars since 9/11 challenging, to say the least, to justify by any rational and accepted standard of cost-benefit analysis.”
Worse still, the vast majority of that overspending has cost lives. Nieman Watchdog again:
"Instead of saving lives, extravagant homeland security spending is, in a sense, costing lives. In the past month over 320 people have been killed by tornadoes in the US. Yet there are studies that show $200 million spent subsidizing the purchase of tornado shelters for mobile homeowners would save 30 lives during the life of the shelters. These are guaranteed lives saved for a modest government investment. There are other examples ranging from airbags to smoke alarms to pharmaceuticals known to save many lives. Diverting even a small proportion of homeland security spending to such measures could save many lives at a fraction of the cost."
Relatives mourn during a funeral service for victims of the recent earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, on August 30, 2016. (Photo by Fabrizio Di Nucci/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
For all that potential disaster, the US government is unlikely to prioritize preventative spending over terrorism spending. Heck, they’re unlikely to prioritize it over relief spending since it’s less politically advantageous to build roads than save victims, as The New Yorker reports. Yet the economics stand: as scary as a terrorist attack is, natural disasters like the Amatrice earthquake kill more people and cause more damage. We need to reallocate funds to prevent that. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson:
If you’d like to donate, you can still do so at the Italy Earthquake Relief Fund.
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"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f7451615568e74c6a839f04329c9902"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-cN8sJz50Ng?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."</em><br></p><p>A Bustle <a href="https://www.bustle.com/wellness/the-sex-tech-industry-is-booming-amid-economic-crisis-22819801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">article</a> published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, <a href="https://www.dameproducts.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dame Products</a> (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand <a href="https://unboundbabes.com/?utm_source=%7Bsource%7D&utm_medium=%7Bmedium%7D&utm_keyword=unbound%20babes&utm_matchtype=e&device=c&utm_campaign=%7Bcampaign%7D&utm_adgroup=%7Badgroup%7D&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5qYbdEwANUjCdRkCeVZ2HZzHjcGmpYbsOXYcMcNneLc2nySvrbaalBoChEsQAvD_BwE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Unbound</a> reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.</p><p>While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.</p><p>Something similar happened in 2008, <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/08/23/the-great-recession-is-a-turn-on-for-the-sex-toy-industry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during the recession</a>: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer. </p><p><strong>The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.</strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/what-is-the-history-of-sex-toys-from-stone-to-silicone-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The history of sex toys</a> is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.</p><p>Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.</p><ul><li>The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).</li><li>The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)</li><li>The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)</li><li>The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.</li><li>1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.</li><li>The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City"). </li><li>The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it. </li><li>The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.</li></ul><p>In 2016, "Harmony", <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cN8sJz50Ng" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the world's first AI sex robot</a> was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix. </p>
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock<p>In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. <a href="https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/articles-reports/2020/03/19/2020-both-men-and-women-are-more-likely-consider-h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">YouGov conducted a study</a> in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.<br></p><p>According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.</p><p>YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.</p><p><strong>"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"</strong></p><p>The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.</p><p>Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.</p><p>According to YouGov, "a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/amazon-plans-high-end-echo-ramps-up-work-on-alexa-home-robot" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future." </p>