Signal blindness

What makes people miss clear signals of danger or imminent disaster? Companies have for a while now been very keen to learn to detect and act on weak signals, but forget the weak signals for the moment. I’m talking about reacting to signals that are so in-your-face that you’d think even idiots couldn’t miss them. And still it seems to happen, on all scales.

“Small”-scale signal blindness in Egypt..

In Egypt, a “small-scale” incident took place early this year. Listing and having fire onboard a ship are right up there on the list of the worst things to happen on a ship. For one, when a fire breaks out and you can’t immediately put it out, what do you do? You try to contain it. You call for help. You prepare to evacuate the ship if needed. If you can still move, you move towards the nearest harbor. And you do all of these steps.

And what happened in Egypt? The ship Al-Salaam Boccaccio 98 caught fire just 20 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia, its departure point. The only acceptable course of action is mentioned above: call for help, plan to evacuate, go back to shore. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, the crew makes the decision to push for Egypt’s shores, over a 100 miles away. It continues its journey for hours. No distress call, no calls for help. Supposedly they thought the fire was contained, but that’s the thing with fires – they rarely play nice. So having a list and a fire to worry about, what do they do? Nothing. They would’ve had HOURS to evacuate the ship, call for help, head for shore – nothing. The result? Over 700 dead.

They say hindsight is always 20-20 and it’s probably true here, too. But when there’s potentially big trouble, one would hope people erred on the side of caution.

.. and large-scale denial globally

Erring on the side of caution would certainly be a good thing to do when it comes to experimenting with the health of the only planet we can survive on. The planet essentially also has a fire on board. We know what caused it (we did), we know how to put it out, we know what’ll happen if we don’t and we know that by doing nothing, most on board will perish before we reach the other shore – and yet we still go full steam forward. And I’m not talking about just climate change here.

planb20.jpgI’m only like one third of a way through my current to-read book, Lester R. Brown’s “Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization in trouble“, but I can wholeheartedly already recommend it. I’ll get to it in more detail later with a real review, but it – again – hightlights how human civilization is ignoring all-too-clear signs of the planet being in dire trouble. It’s like we just beg for the inevitable overshoot-and-decline scenario to become an overshoot-and-collapse-scenario instead.

I would really love to see people – especially politicians but really all people – read through just two books for starters. First Collapse and then this one. That ought to shake away some of the complacency that still seems to hold here. The world has urgent issues humanity must deal with and they are not SEPs (Somebody Else’s Problems).

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