Follow by Email

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Meaning of the Term “The Risks can be Managed”

Now to the matter of this strange term: the risks can be managed. In my previous blog I discussed the UK Government’s report which reviewed fracking in the UK, seeking to know if the risks could be managed. They asked people who believe in any case that the risks can be managed, which of course led to the conclusions that they can, even though the report in question does not contain sufficiently convincing evidence that the risks can be managed.

Probably you have heard people using this expression on the television. The sort of people who say this, are also the ones that often claim not to have any particular axe to grind, or that they are independent, or that they are unbiased, or that they only deal with facts and evidence,  or that they are rational, … All things that should warn us that we are dealing with people who, somewhere along the path of their lives, acquired a lot of delusional baggage and have lost touch with the reality that just about everyone has an axe to grind, is not independent, is biased, is irrational, and makes subjective judgements. If people are claiming to be independent and so forth, then they are not human, which is perhaps something they want not to be, preferring instead the cold, heartless and unemotional machine-like logic that leads societies and civilisations to the edge of doom.

It may have also come to your attention that people say the risks can be managed, often when they are talking about something that is very dangerous, or potentially so, or which, if something when wrong, would be very damaging. Here therefore is a clue to what it really means, which is this:

Any sensible person would look at this and conclude that we should not be doing this for the consequences are unacceptable should anything go wrong, but there is too much money to be made, too much kudos to be gained, from not doing this, so I am willing to say that the emperor is wearing a fine suit of clothes, even though he is clearly naked: the risks can be managed.

The term is a manifestation of many unacceptable characteristics of modern scientists, engineers, and technologists: delusion, denial, hubris, conflicts of interest, bias, lack of independence … Most importantly it is an expression of an out-dated mindset that looks at the world from the perspective of risks, when in fact what these people should be looking at are consequences.

A consequence-driven approach would deliver a much healthier outcome for people and the planet, for it would lead us to take a different path – one that does not involve plundering the earth of its natural resources and turning our planet into a toxic and radioactive wasteland, where life struggles to flourish, and often perishes.

Looking at consequences also means taking into account the unexpected and unforeseen ones, which is why the concept of not doing things today which leave an unwanted legacy for future generations, is important. The unexpected and unforeseen consequence were recognised as being important long ago, in the early 1960s, by Rachael Carson, who wrote about them in her book Silent Spring. Yet here we are 50 years later and we still do not know how to handle these. Evidently also, some people do not want to, for they know if these were to be considered, the case for not doing whatever it is they are pushing for, would be even stronger.

Over the past few years we have seen a number of cases where the risks could not be managed: e.g. Deep Water Horizon and Fukushima. It may also be the case that the chemical insecticides known as Neonicotinoids may turn out to be yet another case where the risks could not be managed. Dig back over the past decades and you will find more examples. This leads me to the conclusion that we are here dealing with some scientists, engineers and technologists who caught up in that strange behaviour that I have previously mentioned: simultaneously smart yet also dumb. Smart they may well be when it comes to limited matters, but dumb they are also when it comes to that which matters the most.

It is time for change, for a different approach, and to begin a process of transitioning modern civilisation away from the foolish path that it is now following. The quest for sustainability is about finding this new path. Yet those invisible chains keep getting in the way, keeping these risks can be managed types firmly trapped in a very dangerous way of thinking. And about this Promethean mind, more will be said in my next blog. It is also explored in my forthcoming novel, Moments in Time. This tells the story of an engineer, who believing that the risks can be managed, proceeds as a consequence of this delusion, to destroy everything of value in his world, and only after he has done so, does he realise that the risks could not be managed. Too late perhaps? Let us therefore ensure that the same fate does not befall the whole of humanity. This is however becoming an increasingly likely outcome if we do not now radically change our behaviour. This last word is a key one, and it will appear in many texts that I write in future, for it is the key to beginning to understand what will save humanity from a bleak future – not science, not technology, not engineering, but different behaviours.

No comments:

Post a Comment