Monday’s Mtg: Which Natural or Human-Made Catastrophes Should Most Worry Us?

This one is a fun albeit a bit dark topic idea from Bruce. Our meeting Monday is three days after 9/11, and a mass casualty terrorist attack is a real possibility. (ISIS is using chemical weapons as we speak.). Preventing another 9/11 or worse has been a necessary obsession of the national establishment every hour of every day for many years now.

But, what about other natural or human-caused catastrophes, Bruce asks? Which one(s) of them should also concern us a lot and which ones really just belong on overwrought History Network episodes or in Zombie Apocalypse movies? Obviously, climate change should be high up on the list. Many people think it IS the list. Others are long-standing fears, like nuclear war, pandemics, and mega-earthquakes. Still others are more cutting edge and speculative, like a disaster stemming from nanotechnology or out-of-control artificial intelligence.  We could all end up being Sarah Connor.

For Monday, I would like us to do better than a History channel episode by focusing on something more tangible than scary speculation: Disaster risk assessment and planning. Disaster preparation is a vast field, and was high priority long before 9/11. (Visit FEMA’s website to get a hint of the scale and scope of it.)  The first article I link to below summarizes a study that, I think, analyzes the risks of different big cats in a systematic way. I will read it and other basic stuff on disaster planning and try to open our meeting with some information on how the pros worry about these things.

We are discussing climate change on October 5, but the focus will be on ongoing international negotiations, not projected impacts. So, the links on climate this week are brief and concern the risks of not acting (which are often ignored, BTW).

Discussion Questions –

  1. Which ones: What are the worst natural or human-made catastrophes that experts fear could occur? What is the conventional wisdom on their probability and impacts?
  2. Assessing Risk: Whose job (in govt and the private and non-profit sectors) is it to assess these risks? How do they do it?
  3. Prevention I: Who is doing what? How do we know it’s enough?
  4. Prevention II: How willing are Americans to pay for disaster prevention and have their lives inconvenienced to prepare for them?
  5. Responses: How do you think Americans would react if a big catastrophe struck us? How would it change our politics?


Next Week: Natural rights’ existence and implications.


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