Attention has been focused on the victims of Hurricane Katrina not only out of natural human sympathy, but because of the shock at such utter devastation in the most powerful country on earth. In terms of loss of life, the tragedy is unlikely to match many of the disasters that almost routinely ravage parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. But it serves as a harsh reminder of a vulnerability that affects the most developed parts of the world too and of the intrinsic fragility of even the most sophisticated social organisations.

In the globalised world we all inhabit, the foreseeable direct effects for Europe range from further pressure on already-high energy prices, renewed weakness of the dollar, and fall-out for exposed insurers. The rise in construction industry stocks is unlikely to be an adequate counterbalance.

The indirect messages from the Gulf of Mexico are, however, more important. Europe may be relatively fortunate in its climate and less prone to large-scale natural disaster. But Portuguese firefighters, Andalusian farmers, and Central and Eastern European flood protection agencies have reason to start doubting that, and it is less than certain that current European or world actions are adequate to counter the threat of accelerated climate change.

Nor is the threat to the European way of life limited to natural disaster. The consequences of the...

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