If vs. When: Tsunami Connections

Earthquakes are like using carbon based fuels for transportation and electricity production.  Earthquakes can cause tsunamis.  Tsunami warning systems and emergency preparations are like insurance that we invest in hoping it will not be needed.  Investments in insurance are easy to make when the possibility of an event occurring that would cause hardship to recover from is more a matter of when rather than if.

However, the investment in insurance is still made by the rational actor when the likelihood of an event occurring is more remote, or a matter of if over when.  Balancing the cost of prevention against the potential for damage is the core of risk management.  Further, the greater the risk of the event being catastrophic, the more prudent the investment to insure against the event.

This is the typical pattern of caution exhibited by people in daily life and when planning for the future.  A pedestrian deciding when to cross a busy street or a driver purchasing auto insurance are both forms of risk management.  Typically the pedestrian will wait for a lull in traffic rather than risking their life in heavy traffic.  Drivers who invest in auto insurance hope they never need to file a claim but know the cost of the insurance protects them from the possibility of a life changing cost in the future.

Why then are the carbon emissions from energy production still dismissed by some as insignificant?  The potential ramifications from the carbon emissions of transportation and electricity production are well documented and peer reviewed.  If you insist that this cannot be proven beyond any doubt, please realize that it cannot be disproven beyond any doubt either.  The inability to have perfect information and know definitively what will happen is the entire reason to insure against the possibility.

Is the risk worth managing?  Monitoring for and preparing against tsunamis insure against an event that directly impacts only a portion of the globe.  Tsunamis will occur multiple times in the average lifespan.  Investments against emitting additional carbon into the atmosphere manage a distant risk to the entire globe.  The majority of the risk will impact future generations at a cost greater than the cost to mitigate the risk today.

Investments in technology increase the insurance against tsunamis.  Investments in research have led to changes in architecture when people insist on building in tsunami zones.  Like the mainstream use of carbon based fuels, some architectural designs are no longer proper.  Structures are elevated, load bearing walls are positioned perpendicular to the sea rather than parallel, and large doors and windows are aligned to allow the sea to flow through with minimal damage.  Conversely, structures that “capture” the sea take more damage, not unlike carbon in the atmosphere “capturing” energy rather than allowing it pass through.

“Photo” Credit: Katsushika Hokusai