Man-made earthquakes. Matt Ridley

Whatever the rights and wrongs of dam building, induced seismicity is part of a trend affecting human culpability in general. Gradually, over the years, people have taken on more responsibility for what goes wrong in the world. Acts of God have become acts of man. Five hundred years ago, even with unlimited money and power, there would have been little a ruler could do to prevent plague, famine, flood or misery. Now almost every death from infectious disease, hunger or weather, wherever it happens in the world, is in theory preventable.

With knowledge comes responsibility. The destruction of a city by an asteroid that we fail to divert, or the death of a child in Africa to whom we fail to get a dose of oral-rehydration therapy, is on our conscience now as never before. If even some earthquakes might be our fault, it is responsibility we should welcome, because it is better to have rows about who caused or failed to prevent a disaster than to live in a world where disasters are inevitable.

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