Leading article: Our untamed planet

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By this morning the scale of the inundation in Australia's third largest city will be clear. So, too – in initial outline, at least – will be the success of the authorities in convincing people to evacuate and limiting the damage. But yesterday's juxtaposition of the bright blue Brisbane sky and the knowledge that the floodwaters were approaching inexorably by the hour only underlined how fragile even a major city in an advanced country remains when pitted against the mighty forces of nature.

Australia has many assets to help it cope with such adversity: a pioneer spirit, a strong sense of national solidarity, a high level of public resilience, and all the material riches of the First World. But much of what makes for the standards of order and comfort we are used to can be swept away or damaged just as summarily as the less durable infrastructure of poorer countries. And the efforts and resources required to restore even a semblance of normality are at least as great.

Like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Australian floods come as a salutary reminder that, for all the technological advances of our time and for all the sophistication of modern urban life, there are many ways in which our civilisation is vulnerable and some elements we are still powerless to control.

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