Monday, December 27, 2004

"We have the technology"

I found it more than a little tasteless this morning to find Glenn Reynolds from instapundit lecturing on what the governments of the wave-hit coastlines could have done to stop the disaster being so disastrous. Apparently there should have been better early warning systems.

We've all woken up to the news, and we, all of us who live in coastal cities, have the common sense of mutual vulnerability. I live in Sydney and it's a chilling thought to imagine a wave of this sort running up the harbour and down the Parramatta River.

The myth of technological perfectability is genuinely appealing. It's the one that goes like this: if we can have detection systems, then we'll be safer, if we have engineering solutions, we can live wherever we want to. I generally like engineers very much and I'm indebted to them for all of the big and small benefits they've brought to my life. I don't, however, expect them to try the impossible: to immunise overdeveloped coastal cities against irregular, unpredictable events.

There genuinely are no solutions to this kind of catastrophe. Early warning systems run by scientists sound fine, in principle, but when other scientists point out that the best warning systems are visual ones, what then?

Professor Plimer says while it is impossible to predict the future for any area, the quickest warning is a visual one.
"If you can see Lake Illawarra suddenly draining and the ocean beaches suddenly draining then head for the hills," he said.

Well that's encouraging, if the hills are within running distance. (If you lived on any number of flood plains on the East coast, that'd be a serious jog). I think Australian cities would do better at surviving disasters because of the other things we have: more doctors, better equipped hospitals, better communication, more emergency facilities. These things are also pretty good things to have in the non-disaster times as well.

If we're to help out with foreign aid, not just immediately but in the long term, then we can try to build up the infrastructure of coastal cities, rather than try to prevent the impossible.


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