Scientists should not merely be allowed to divert hurricanes away from major cities, but they should be required to do so. It is a moral obligation to ensure that innocent lives are protected. In some cases, it means that a minority of people will be sacrificed for benefit of the majority. However, there are a variety of strong arguments why hurricanes should be diverted to major cities – even if it means dooming rural residents.
Unfortunately, people suffer from a variety of natural disasters. However, there are situations where there are no ideal choices. When faced with starvation, people have resorted to cannibalism. This may be unjust, but people are naturally inclined to value self-preservation (with tragic exceptions). If you ask someone whether a hurricane should be diverted, the rural resident will probably say “no.” The prospect of someone ending their life, albeit indirectly, seems unjust to them. If a city dweller moved to a rural area, they might change their mind on the issue. Supporters of torture change their mind when it’s turned against them. The emotional reactions people hold towards actions are not a reflection of the morality of those actions. There were Nazis who felt good about murdering Jews, for instance. While emotions can be a useful tool in motivating people to do social good, it is equally capable of harming people.
If the hurricane is moved, society is deciding who lives and dies. However, societies have done this for centuries. The death penalty is a notable example, though people may rightfully point out that innocence is a relevant factor. However, if you had to make a decision between sending a hurricane to a rural area or sending it to a major city, it would be an easy decision to make. A popular film had citizens choose between the lives of criminals and the lives of regular citizens. They refused to make a choice, and instead of everyone dying, the world aligned itself perfectly so everyone lived. Hopefully the information has been clear enough to ring true to those who have saw this particular film – yet vague enough to avoid spoiling it for others. The point of this example is that people are unrealistic; in most cases, the world doesn’t align itself perfectly.
In fact, many people seem to equate taking action with “playing God.” It isn’t likely that if a hurricane is not diverted, it some scientific anomaly will occur and the hurricane will disappear. Or that God will be proud of humanity and spare everyone. There have been plenty of tragedies that were better candidates for divine intervention, to be sure. The hurricane is going to cause damage, and the decision that minimizes tragedy is to divert it.
Morally, philosophers have differed on issues such as this. Many people believe that maximizes good is what matters, and that clearly favors diverting the hurricane. Others, such as John Rawls, think we should picture humanity having a discussion. Instead of living our current lives, we will be reincarnated on an Earth-like planet. Knowing this, we would decide to treat races, genders, etc, with respect and equality. After all, we could end up as any race or gender, presumably. Given that we have an interest in preserving our own lives, we can be asked about diverting hurricanes. Everyone will choose to divert it to a major city “given the two options presented.” It’s a simple choice. The rural people will say “fate” made the city a target. The city people can say that “given that you would have agreed to divert,” fate made the rural citizens a target.
The reality is that diverting hurricanes to rural areas is a lazy, uncreative solution. Scientists have rough estimates of what cities are threatened by hurricanes, to what degree they are threatened, and to what degree the hurricane will cause damage. This is based on things like hurricane strength, building techniques, population, etc. Geographical areas should contribute to what one could call a “hurricane fund.” This is to be used as follows. There are certain areas where hurricanes, geographically speaking, would be capable of causing the least harm. This “fund” should be used to improve the capacity of the area to handle hurricanes. This could be done in a manner that would make hurricanes more of an inconvenience than a real danger.
It would be expensive. The idea is, however, that all cities are benefiting significantly by diverting the hurricanes. Consequently, they are protecting those who will be subjected to it. In addition, those citizens should be compensated for the inconvenience. This is a solution based on theories of compensation. If you put someone at risk, you have to provide them with services that they would except in exchange. Some people may reject the offer, but this is an issue concerning the lives of a significant number of people – in addition to economic damage in city centers. In cases where public welfare is at risk, many countries have policies of requiring people to relocate. Most of these scenarios are criticized because they are caused by people wanting to build malls and such. However, creating a means of preventing mass death is certainly a valid justification for infringing on the liberty of a few (who, quite frankly, would have to be selfish to reject what would likely be a generous monetary compensation).
Whatever the solution, it won’t satisfy everyone. However, choosing the lives of a small group is irresponsible. Objecting to actions that minimize death is merely a manifestation of the human tendency to avoid responsibility. No one wants to be the person who makes the hard decisions. Soldiers fighting in just wars will harm others to maximize good. Doctors will receive an organ donation in the same hospital as a dying alcoholic, who they will let die in order to ship the organ to a child. Most people support such actions.
People are right to be concerned about how to ensure things don’t go to far. Will someone randomly be selected to be used in medical experiments, for instance? It’s unlikely, and many intellectuals have been discussing how to determine when acts of cruelty are necessary for the greater good. One easy method of differentiating is as follows. Is there no other alternative? If that’s the case, are the two possibilities causing equal harm to each person? The second is relevant because what if torturing a person will prevent the whole world from each getting poked in the ribs. Assuming those with fragile ribs are spared, each person is harmed far less than the potential torture victim, and it seems like the cumulative harm would be substantial. Nonetheless, such cases make things overly complicated and seem unjust. Cases where both options are identical, such as people will be hit by a hurricane, are easier. Things are especially clear when the numbers a dramatically skewed towards one side. If the two options were (though they aren’t) to divert hurricanes or not divert, it would be an act of moral cowardice to do anything but divert.