Prevention -- of What?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Over at Spiked is an article following up on the recent, massive disruptions of air travel in Europe commonly blamed on the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull but, in fact, caused by central planners basing their decisions on worst-case scenarios instead of rational risk assessment.

This particular article answers a major question I still had after most flights resumed, namely whether an initial ban for a few days was not unreasonable. Apparently, even this was not the case.

While it's right to ask why it took so long to assess the density of the ash cloud over the UK (apparently the Met Office's aeroplane was being repainted at the time), it might seem a bit unfair to accuse the UK's air travel authorities of not knowing what was a safe density before the density threshold was established. I say "might," because it seems that plenty of people have long had a pretty accurate idea of what density of volcanic ash was a danger to aircraft engines and what was not. In the words of Roy Strasser of American weather forecasters WSI, "experience shows it's only when ash is visible that it's concentrated enough to be a hazard to aviation." Or if you like your visibility measurable, you'd be able to see the ash at approximately 2,000 micrograms of ash per cubic metre -- that is, half the official threshold. [minor format edits]
Said official threshold, by the way, is forty times the actual amount of ash in the skies during the ban. Furthermore, not only were the levels of ash safe for aviation already known before this disaster, airlines and even their regulatory authorities elsewhere already had established practices in place to account for such hazards.
... US aviation authorities, when dealing with volcanic ash clouds in the past, have tended to ignore the International Civil Aviation Authority guidelines and allow airline companies to make the decision themselves on whether to fly based on satellite maps showing visible ash cloud; ...
Writer Tim Black also revisits another precautionary disaster alluded to in the earlier piece by Frank Furedi, the swine flu "pandemic."

Precautionary thinking, like its close cousin in moral "evaluation," cynicism, is naive, irrational, and anti-life. As with the computer ash-dispersal models in the Eyjafjallajokull air traffic shutdown, government bureaucrats will often hide behind the skirt of "science" even though they are, in fact, guilty of an anti-scientific refusal to consider the full range of available evidence when making their decisions -- which they can then force others to act upon. This wreaks havoc on the lives of millions of people worldwide and causes science to look like a bullhorn for Chicken Little, rather than the useful tool for advancing human welfare that it actually is.

Thus the precautionary principle -- by marrying Pascal's Wager with government force -- not only prevents millions from exercising their own best judgment in living their lives, it increasingly makes science look foolish by association. In short, the only thing the precautionary principle actually prevents is man living a life proper to man.

-- CAV

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