Japan's government would do well to consider how society can adapt to cope with the uncertainty and change caused by sudden disastrous natural events — called resilience thinking — rather than simply trying to overcome and eliminate such changes.

Catastrophic disturbances such as tsunamis, wildfires, flooding and volcanic eruptions can exact a huge human cost. But they may also have a positive impact on ecosystems, particularly those eroded by human activity. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for example, restored the beach nesting habitats for several threatened sea-turtle species (D. B. Lindenmayer and C. R.Tambiah Conserv. Biol. 19, 991; 2005).

The ability of ecosystems to absorb natural disturbances and society's ability to resist and recover from them are connected. History shows that socio-ecological systems that are resilient to hazards are less devastated by recurring natural events such as hurricanes (W. N. Adger et al. Science 309, 1036–1039; 2005). Ignoring the connection could lead to more unforeseen economic disasters.