At Balloon Juice, it's called "hoocoodanode," the excuse that lots of people come up with in a weak attempt to cover their asses when something bad happens. It's all the more frustrating to hear when what happened was pretty predictable. The one that sticks in most peoples' memories is from Condoleeza Rice in 2001 with her "no one could have predicted someone would fly planes into buildings" (I'm paraphrasing from memory here) when in fact the author Tom Clancy had written just such an event into a novel some years earlier. Forget the PDB--a fiction writer had come up with just such a scenario.
And the list is miles long. The latest version comes from BP spokesman Steve Rinehart who said "I don't think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we're faced with now." Well, the governments of Norway and Brazil did, Steve. They require another failsafe above and beyond what your rig had on it, which means that they felt what you had might not be enough in the case of a catastrophic failure. Guess who was right? That's not to say that the actions Norway and Brazil would have absolutely stopped this sort of failure, just that they saw the potential for a problem and decided to require one more level of security.
I'm not saying we can plan for every eventuality (though I grew up hearing stories about the odd things the US military had planned for, just in case--I bet there's multiple plans of action in case a UFO shows up on top of the White House, for instance), but we ought to stop taking a Titanic-esque view of our technology. Anything can fail, and fail badly, so we ought to try to plan out ways we can deal with worst case scenarios. Take a look at this bit from the first piece I linked above:
BP did not build the containment devices before the spill because it "seemed inconceivable" the blowout preventer on the rig would fail, Rinehart said.I'm going to pass up the opportunity for a Princess Bride joke here and instead say that it was also inconceivable that the Titanic would sink, but it happened anyway. Or actually, that it wasn't inconceivable. It was unlikely, perhaps. It was improbable. But not inconceivable.
And I'm not just nitpicking over words here. We need to do a better job of conceiving potential disasters, because we're capable of doing incredible damage to our eco-system, damage we might not be able to rebound from one day. We need to do a better job of figuring out if the potential damage from a worst-case scenario is worth the short-term economic benefits.
I keep thinking about a sign I often see behind the desks of office workers, which says "failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part," and very often I agree with that sentiment, even if I'm the one who failed to plan enough. But in these sorts of cases, the failure of people in places of responsibility to plan can cause an emergency for me, and for all of us.
Labels: oil spill