Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

The Age of Super Crises

by Ian I. Mitroff

The notion of healing or repairing the world is more vital than ever. Indeed, with the advent of super crises, it has taken a whole new meaning.

For over twenty-five years, I have researched and consulted on some of the major crises of our time. These include the Tylenol poisonings in 1982, September 11, Katrina, BP's spill in the Gulf, and the latest toxic sludge in Hungary.

Crises have the potential to destroy entire industries, bring down governments, and adversely affect large regions of the globe. Not only are they bigger, costlier, and deadlier, but they come at us faster and faster. We are engaged worldwide in the wrong kind of contest.

Consider the latest toxic spill in Hungary. To put it in terms that anyone can grasp, it is as though we filled up the entire Empire State Building with some of the worst stuff imaginable, tipped the building completely on its side, and then spilled the full contents on the ground. The resulting mess would have filled an area of approximately seventeen square blocks, or slightly over a half-mile in any direction. The Hungarian spill is estimated to be 264 million gallons, compared to the 190 million gallons that BP spilled in the Gulf. In the long run, it may also be more toxic.

As BP and the latest disaster demonstrate all too well, reacting after a crisis has occurred is not sufficient. If one is not well prepared before, then reacting not only fails to contain the initial crisis but actually makes it worse.

The good news is that there are model companies that not only want to do the right things to protect the environment, but have actually learned what to do in order to substantially lower the chances of producing super crises. In short, they have learned how to be prepared for a wide range of crises. Unfortunately, the bad news is that crisis-prepared companies make up only 15 percent to 20 percent of all companies at best. The remaining 75 percent to 80 percent are thereby crisis-prone. They are mega disasters just waiting to happen.

If crisis-prone companies are unwilling to learn and change on their own, then government has no alternative but to step in, monitor them closely, and require them to behave responsibly.

This will not, of course, please those who are calling for less government. But, government exists to protect its citizens from those dangers from which they cannot protect themselves.

Make no mistake about it. Super crises pose as severe a danger as any we face. The risks are now as dangerous as terrorism. They are certainly as big a threat as global warming.

Ian I. Mitroff teaches at Alliant International University and UC Berkeley. He is the co-author of Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely (Stanford University Press, 2009). His latest book in press is Swans, Swine, and Swindlers: Coping with the Growing Threat of Mega Crises and Mega Messes (Stanford University Press, 2011).


Source Citation: Mitroff, Ian I. The Age of Super Crises. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.

 

 
tags: Environment, Environmental Activism, Toxic Environments  
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