Disaster averted, not disasters confounded


Let’s face it: It’s easy to cook up disaster scenarios. One is put in mind of film producer, Sam Goldwyn, who when asked about staging the Last Supper, exclaimed: “Why only twelve? Go out and get thousands!” Such is the low-skill toehold of many disaster scenarios.

It’s not just that we’re often wrong about disaster scenarios.

The more important point is that we are back to a key narrative discrepancy in crisis scenarios—between the stated urgency to do something even if it includes massive experiments on one side, and the requirement that the planet is to be reliably safe on the other—yet both claims underwritten by demands of unpredictability at the same scale of analysis, the system level.

We hear, “If you want stability, you have to change,” but also “Since you have nothing to lose, why not change?” This is said without full appreciation of that discrepant “you”—singular or plural, personal or impersonal—in each statement. Such narrative discrepancies can’t be written off or talked out of. They are to be managed as one of the messes we are in.


You’d think that with the catastrophic disaster scenarios the planet is said to face, we’d see more investigations of how large critical infrastructures actually do avoid or avert massive system failures. You’d also think that the costs to society of confronting limitless disaster scenarios is set by the dangers of ignoring massive disasters, like earthquakes, floods and fires, easier to identify and assess.

Another way to put this: There seems to be insufficient recognition that the major feature of many disaster scenarios isn’t the disasters themselves but the lack of proportionally massive attention to the multiple ways necessary to triangulate and increase our confidence that these disasters and prevention can happen, given they are so grave and concerning.

(You’d be a fool to expect geo-engineers to provide the descriptive detail for their disaster scenarios on their own. That has to come from others who have far more detailed counter-scenarios to insist upon.)


So what?

Appeals to processes or state conditions such as “globalization,” “financialization,” “disaster capitalism,” and the like run the risk of diminishing the centrality of disasters averted by and for real people in real time with real problems. This diminishment leaves us assuming that globalization, financialization, disaster capitalism. . .are indeed the peoples’ chronic crises.

The latter, though, is the case only if the with-respect-to scenarios detail how these broad processes are chronic because people have failed to avert their own specific dreaded events.

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