19. Environmental disaster

In 79 AD, the people of Pompeii had everything going for them. They lived in a prosperous town of 10,000 outside of Naples, with a view of the Mediterranean about a mile away. They had houses and baths, gyms, bakeries, artwork, and even a system of raised crosswalks to avoid the sewage flowing down their streets.

But one day, people started to experience rocks flying at them from nearby Mount Vesuvius, a mountain they had always considered a peaceful part of their landscape. They ran into their houses for cover, but the roofs soon collapsed under the weight of the stones. Between that and the rivers of lava, nearly all perished, beneath 15 feet of ash. Two thousand years later, we are still digging them out, to learn what we can from what they left behind.

The people of Pompeii had no way to know that they were about to be destroyed by their environment. They had no scientists or technical equipment or detailed historical records to let them know what was coming. They, however, were victim to forces totally outside their control, with no way at all to reverse the likelihood of their fate. What’s our excuse?

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