In the 1970’s, natural hazards were an important subject of topical study, as the nature of their impact on human populations and what they valued was increasing in frequency at quite a rapid rate (Burton, Kates, White, 1978). During the 75 years after 1900 the population of the earth increased by a staggering 2.25 billion people. People who needed land on which to live and work. As the population rose people were dispersed in more places and in larger numbers than before. The predominant movement of people being from farm to town or city (Burton et al,1978.). It is this growing world population, Burton et al (1978) suggest, that is the main reason behind why hazards are increasing and were seen to pose such a threat to humankind in the 70’s. While the average number of disasters remained relatively constant at about 30 per year, death rates climbed significantly.
As the growing world population requires the cultivation of land more prone to hazards, more people and property are thus exposed to the risk of disaster than ever before, and as Stow (1992) argues, the death toll inevitably rises. An example that shows the concern that humans faced from the environment can be exemplified by the Bangladesh cyclone of 1970, which killed approximately 250,000 people. Although part of the reason for so many deaths can be put down to a then poorly understood process, land-use can also be implicated. Because of a rising population, land in Bangladesh was reclaimed by the government and held against the sea. People in large numbers were then encouraged to occupy the area. An area which turned out to be one of great risk. Major disruption was inevitable Burton et al (1978) argue whenever population was in the path of such forces. Had reasonable measures been taken in advance of the storm, the material damage, loss of life and social dislocation could have been seriously reduced.
In the 1990’s we live in an information age. Today we have remarkable monitoring and predictive capabilities for natural hazards. The use of advanced telecommunications and emergency management, together with the exploitation of geographic information systems in hazard mitigation has greatly reduced the extent to which natural hazards are seen as a threat to people in the 90’s (Chapman et al, 1994). Loss of life and property from natural disasters continue to rise though as the population of the world rises and puts more demands on the environment for land resources. White (1974) argues that environmental risk may be considered to be primarily a function of the value systems of a society. How dangerous a natural hazard is, is not measured in absolute terms but in how dangerous it is perceived to be. 20 years ago, technology hadn’t advanced to the level at which natural hazards could be properly understood and prepared for (Perry,1981). Chapman (1994) argues that in technologically advanced societies we have “...greatly accepted the hazards inherent in the comforts of life that technology provides and learned to live with hazards.” (p.156).In the 1970’s, using Heathcote’s (1979) definition, “normal human expectations” were lower than they are today therefore causing such concern for the environmental threat to humans.
20 years ago it was the spectacular, rapid onset, intensive hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones and floods that caught the media headlines and caused concern for the future of humankind from the environment. Today it is the slow onset, pervasive hazards that have caught the attention of the whole world, and in the long term pose more threat than the intensive hazards (Chapman,1994). Space exploration has given us an awareness that it is human activity that is contributing to this long term threat and the future of the planet as a whole (McCall,1992).
It has been suggested that when the history of the 20th century is written, environmentalism will be judged to be the single most important social movement of the period (Brenton,1994). While the threat from humans to the environment has been an issue for some time, the conflict has been sharpened by the emergence of new concerns; ozone depletion, global warming, loss of biological diversity and the destruction of the rainforests. Prior to the late 20th century the main insults to the environment were evident, people could see smog