What do people need who have powerlessly suffered from natural catastrophes and despairingly ask themselves why they have been afflicted? Whether the events took place two thousand years ago, a thousand years ago, or take place today: people always look for an explanation of the events. Those in power who wish to maintain their position have to provide explanations in order to channel future actions and mobilize people to take countermeasures against the threat. Despite their distress, people see meaning in such explanations and the attempt to overcome the threat.
But what societies accept as an adequate explanation can vary drastically. While Seneca sought to cause an anxiety-free, rational handling of the naturally occurring earthquakes, people in the early middle ages believed that years of extreme weather conditions were a punishment from God for their sinful ways. For the people ruled by Kaiser Louis the Pious (814-840), it thus seemed wise to improve their lives according to their faith in order to appease God’s wrath.
Power is thus often seen in the ability to dominate the interpretation an event and to provide the most plausible explanation. Those explanations that prevail influence the future use of societal resources. Whether one interprets contemporary natural catastrophes to be caused by human-driven climate change or not, for instance, leads to completely different conclusions about how we should deal with them.