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THE CATSKILL GEOLOGISTS: Climate change in Columbia County Part 5: Scaring people


WITH ALL OUR TALK OF CLIMATE CHANGE and landslides, we scare people. That gets us to some of the trickier parts of environmental geology. People tend to overreact to their natural fears. We call them alarmists. Suppose you found out that your home lay upon the edge of a steep slope of glacial clay deposits, and you have read our recent columns. Wouldn’t you be fearful? Of course, you would.

Well, what can we do about all this? First, we should try to head off these problems before they reach a crisis stage, in fact before they even begin. One thing that we have long advocated is that local zoning boards should be trained in this little bit of geology. Board members should understand the problem and be ready to head off development on dangerous slopes. That is, of course, part of their jobs. And pretty much any local geologist can explain the local hazards. Are you on a local zoning board? Let’s talk.

Then there is the problem of home insurance companies. These companies are in the business of insuring against home hazards. But typically, they regard landslides as “acts of God,” completely random events. They don’t understand the geological risks, so they are, quite reasonably, unwilling to insure them. That leaves people unable to protect themselves against these real threats. If their homes are damaged or destroyed, then they are stuck with the costs. We can offer a mechanism for evaluating those risks. They could, perhaps, then be insured. Are any of you in the insurance business? Let’s talk.

But, in the end, we have found that people can obsess about their fears to the point that it can even threaten their mental health. It’s hard for us to help with this one; these hazards are real, but it is so easy to exaggerate the danger. The chances that your house will collapse in a landslide are, to say the least, remote. And the process is almost always so slow that it is almost certain that you and your family would get out with no harm. Are you afraid of landslides? Then the best thing to do is quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more.

The chances that your house will collapse in a landslide are, to say the least, remote.

But we have known people who did see their house destroyed in a landslide, and that was actually in Columbia County. We will take up that in our next column.

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