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Climate Tales

Illustration by Security Management; iStock

Editor’s Note: Climate Tales

Spring in Oklahoma is tornado season. My mother would listen for the telephone, alert for a call from my grandfather. He would say, “Could be some weather,” and we would hurry to his house because he was always more accurate than the forecast on TV.

While the rest of my family piled into the cellar, I would sit on my grandfather’s lap on the porch waiting for the storm to come. He told me tales of tornadoes past and how storms announced themselves long before the trademark roar—a dark green sky, bursts of hail, and an eerie silence with no rustling squirrels or birds singing. Sometimes the tornado came close to the house, and sometimes it didn’t. I barely remember the storms, but I’ll never forget the stories.

Though I obviously had no idea at the time, this incredibly human tendency spans cultures and time periods. For example, the Moken tribe living on one of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean knew exactly what to do on 26 December 2004 when they felt the ground shake. Generations of Moken had been told stories that after such shocks came a “wave that eats people,” notes Carrie Arnold in her article “Watchers of the Earth.” The Moken also knew what to do next: run uphill.

As Arnold recounts, 1,879 people died during the tsunami and 5,600 were reported missing, but the Moken lost very few people. The casualties were concentrated on the islands inhabited mostly by newcomers. These outsiders were at higher risk, notes Arnold, “with no indigenous tsunami warning system to guide them to higher ground.”

While there is nothing new about transmitting knowledge through stories, professionals from a variety of disciplines—from folklorists to archeologists—are teaming up to uncover how ancient people passed down warnings about natural phenomena to future generations.

How to share these stories and make them understood is more urgent than ever as people worldwide face the disasters that come with climate change. In this month’s cover story, Security Management Senior Editor Megan Gates discusses the impact of climate change on the security profession.

According to Gates, climate and weather-related disasters resulted in $400 billion of damage in the United States from 2014 to 2018, and a drought in Mexico resulted in skirmishes between farmers and the Mexican government throughout 2020.

Mitigating this threat involves climate proofing—a concept that is familiar to security professionals. It’s another lens on risk and involves “looking at the climate change data that is available; thinking through how that will impact an organization’s resilience, security, and ability to meet its strategic goals; and making investments accordingly.”

The problem is not new, but it is urgent. As Arnold notes, “Unlike floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, the devastation from global warming isn’t sudden and violent. It has been creeping up on us for decades, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less deadly. To fight these changes, humanity needs a new set of tales.” 

Teresa Anderson