Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Further thoughts on risk

I have written about risk previously (here, here, here), which stems primarily from our limited mental capacities and a carelessness toward potentially disastrous outcomes. People take risks only if the desirable outcome provides much more "good" for them than "bad." Yet the way we have structured our society is that the potential good, or profit, is always concentrated, and the risks are diffuse and spread out over everyone else. The way corporations and government is set up is that those that make the decisions are furthest away from the non-desirable outcomes of an action, i.e. the risks. For example, after the BP-Macondo Well oil spill, their ex-CEO Tony Hayward, although having been battered in public, got a huge severance package, and millions of shares in BP. What about the risks of oil and exploratory drilling? Well, the Gulf of Mexico and the people and nature there will be bearing the worst outcomes of risk for many years to come. In this case, the risks of drilling exploratory wells were made evident by the spill. But do you know what? Even after the most disastrous oil spill in US history, Transocean, the rig operator, gave bonuses to its top executives for its "best year for safety in the company's history." Here's what an article from The New York Times says...

"Transocean moved on Monday to contain the damage from its description of 2010 as a good safety year, which appeared in a securities filing on Friday disclosing that its top executives received about 45 percent of their targeted performance bonuses for the year. 

Ihab Toma, Transocean’s executive vice president of global business, said in a statement on Monday that 'some of the wording in our 2010 proxy statement may have been insensitive in light of the incident that claimed the lives of 11 exceptional men last year and we deeply regret any pain that it may have caused.'"

When a nation decides to go to war, the risks and non-desirable outcomes of such a decision - potentially increased taxes, deaths of men and women, ecological destruction - are thrust upon the people of the nation, particularly the nation in which the war is being fought in. Those that made the decision to go to war do not ever go to the front lines; they are probably playing golf while others risk their lives for someone else's ego.

We've all heard about the precautionary principle - if an action is potentially dangerous, don't do it. Such is the argument made to stop using the atmosphere, the land and the water as dumping grounds, but to no avail. But it isn't that we aren't implementing the precautionary principle at all. Derrick Jensen argues that the way the precautionary principle is currently implemented is that if any action harms the profits of corporations, that is deemed potentially dangerous, and we don't do it. What if we were to, as Jensen suggests, move the burden of the risk is moved from everyone else to the one who is actually making a profit? People may argue that we have laws in place that "hold people accountable for their actions." Well, it is never the richest or most powerful person that gets into trouble. The less well off does, however. In fact, many leaders have immunity, and that immunity exists because no one would be willing to make decisions that are risky unless the immunity existed.

No comments:

Post a Comment