Back in May a reader’s comment to Homeland Security Watch recommended a text written in 1999. I finally read it over the weekend. Here’s an excerpt:
Contingency plans for large oil spills on the open sea are fantasy documents… The utility of contingency plans for major oil spills is more symbolic than instrumental. Their production gives the impression that organizations, especially corporations and regulatory agencies, can effectively manage the negative externalities of massive oil production. These plans,furthermore, organize political discussions about oil disaster, tanker safety, conservation, and offshore oil leasing. To the extent they do so they shape the categories available with which to talk about corporate power, government neglect, and the consequences of huge oil spills… Oil spill fantasy documents contribute to the notion that “the problem” of major oil spills comes from insufficient money, lack of determination, and poor coordination. One consequence of framing the issue this way is that some questions — about conservation, about corporate power, and political risk — rarely get asked outside what is defined as the environmentalist fringe.
This is from page 23, Mission Improbable: Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster by Lee Clarke.
The text is a credible critique of our — delusionary — tendency to confuse profound uncertainty with predictiable risk. The critique is especially persuasive when read in combination with today’s headlines, such as:
Failure of rig’s last line of defense tied to myriad factors (New York Times)
Markey will demand oil companies re-write spill-response plans(Bloomberg Business Week)
What Mission Improbable does not do is point us to what — if anything — we might do to avoid such self-defeating fantasies (other than avoid temptation to hubris). Sometimes we must accurately critique before we can effectively create.
For more creative purposes, please check out the significant resources made available online by the Prince William Sound Citzens’ Advisory Council.
Established in the aftermath of the Exxon-Valdez disaster, this public-private “collaboratory” looks and behaves like a whole host of resilient communities documented by Elinor Ostrom and others over the years.