Important history to remember on Earth Day

Summary:   Exaggerated, often wildly inaccurate, warnings by greens diminish our ability to cope with future shockwaves (high impact, low probability scenarios).  We have to plan for them, since eventually one will hit us.  Hysterical single-issue advocacy groups are part of the problem, not the solution.

Must reading on this anniversary of a valuable but ultimately botched idea:  “Earth Day, Then and Now“, Ronald Bailey, Reason, May 2000 – “The planet’s future has never looked better. Here’s why.”  Especially note all the failed predictions.  Most of these had almost no analytical foundation when they were made.  The original Earth Day inaugurated the modern era of Big Exaggerations for the News Media as a path to career success for agitators.

There are many possible shockwaves.  Earth Day provided a powerful way to focus attention on them.  Studying them individually tells us little, as the correct public policy response is “so what?”  Screaming about all of them results in apathy, as preparation for a shockwave tends to be expensive — and we cannot afford full preparation for all of them. 

We get analysis of shockwaves almost exclusively by special interest groups (often academic or non-profits), who have no interest in putting their fetish in a wider context of social risks and needs.  Worse, we allocate resources to shockwave scenarios based on several factors:

  1. the group’s access to elite opinion,
  2. the group’s ability to raise funds,
  3. their degree to which their shockwave resonates with the public.

Many studies have shown the people have little grasp of these kinds of issue, and less understanding of the relevant statistics (probability and risk). There is a better way to do this. Allocation of our limited resources towards these require sketching out (as best as can be done) the full universe of such dangers.

A modest suggestion

We need analysis to provide a basis on which to prioritize, spending what we can afford on high impact projects to prevent and mitigate shockwaves.   We need estimates of the impact AND probability of each scenario.  Otherwise these are just nightmares, with no rational response.

We should commission a group to collect as many shockwave scenarios as possible, with a brief analysis of each.  Then apply a common analytical framework to rate them on both dimensions: probability and impact. The results would prove quite interesting, and allow more rational public policy discussion.

There are thousands of interest groups willing to pitch in and help.  It can be done.  Survival in the 21st century might depend on how well we manage shockwaves.

For more information

Posts about the precautionary principle:

  1. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
  2. We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008
  3. My “wish list” for the climate sciences in 2009, 2 January 2009
  4. More shockwave events to worry about, in addition to peak oil and global warming, 15 January 2009
  5. What about all the hype, the extreme warnings, about swine flu?, 3 September 2009
  6. Bad news for India, probably for China, perhaps for the US as well, 11 September 2009 — About peak fresh water
  7. A look at global warming written in a cooler and more skeptical time, giving us a better understanding of climate science, 23 November 2009

Posts about other shockwaves

Posts about the precautionary principle:

  1. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
  2. We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008
  3. My “wish list” for the climate sciences in 2009, 2 January 2009

About shockwaves:

  1. The most dangerous form of Peak Oil, 8 April 2008
  2. The “Oil Shockwave” project: well-funded analysis of the obvious, 10 April 2008
  3. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off, 8 May 2008
  4. Spreading the news: the end is nigh!, 8 May 2008
  5. There is no “peak water” crisis, 19 June 2008
  6. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
  7. We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008
  8. Comment: warnings about a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, 30 December 2008
  9. About our certain doom from the Yellowstone supervolcano, 11 January 2009
  10. More shockwave events to worry about, in addition to peak oil and global warming, 15 January 2009
  11. A serious threat to us – a top priority shockwave – a hidden danger …, 20 January 2009 — About Xenoestrogens.
  12. What about all the hype, the extreme warnings, about swine flu?, 3 September 2009
  13. Bad news for India, probably for China, perhaps for the US as well, 11 September 2009 — About peak fresh water
  14. A look at global warming written in a cooler and more skeptical time, giving us a better understanding of climate science, 23 November 2009
  15. A serious threat to us – a top priority shockwave – a hidden danger!, 20 January 2010 — About Xenoestrogens as a pollutant
  16. More about shockwaves of the volcanic kind, 21 April 2010
  17. Damn the research! We need to act now to stop global warming., 17 August 2010
  18. How good are our global senses, watching our changing world?, 15 October 2010 

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