Monday, August 27, 2012

Countdown To CAOmageddon: Flaw #25 - Bad Advice on Risk

Woody Allen is reported to have once said:
What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.
That's the quotation that came to mind when I read Jim Slocomb's article in the Island Guardian. Slocomb says he's speaking for himself, not the organizations he represents. He a long-time member of the Marine Resources Committee, formerly listed as a staff member of the Friends, and is working on the Town's SMP update. Despite not overtly referring to those organizations, he does implore the Council not to get "distracted by all the noise at street level." Take note of that folks. We're just "noise at street level," with the implication being that Jim Slocomb and all the high-and-mighty organizations he "participates in or works for" tower far above the noisy din caused by us street urchins.

From the great heights, Slocomb advises us to come to "grips with the balance between risk and reward," so let's examine his request from the standpoint of ecological risk. Like most people, I think Slocomb is terribly confused about ecological risk.

When we are sick, then taking medicine makes sense. It lowers our risk of continued illness and disease progression. Does it make sense to take medicine if we are well? Only if we are hypochondriacs, but for sane people, no. It makes no sense because we receive no disease-related risk-reduction benefit, and if we were to continue to take medicine, we would be accepting the risk of potential treatment side effects for no reason.

Eco-hypochondriacs are no different. They aren't really interested in the reality of risk and reward any more than health-centric hypochondriacs are. They lack the capacity to rationally comprehend their own risky behavior. If our ecological risk is already at de minimis levels, then it is not possible to lower risk below that, no matter what further "protections" are enacted. In that situation, when we try to do more, all we get are side effects and unintended consequences, the potential for which tends to increase risk.

Paraphrasing Woody Allen, when all risk is an illusion and it doesn't really exist, then we have definitely overpaid for "protection." Eco-hypochondriacs have "personal belief that our environment and therefore our way of life is dying the death of a thousand cuts" but little evidence originating from here to support their bad advice. It must be something about the grant-funded rarefied air they breathe.

That's what we believe down here at street level anyway.


  1. Dr. Savage has it correct. "liberalism is a mental disorder"

  2. Here is how the Precautionary Principle warps all rationale discussion about the environment.

    The Precautionary Principle is the hypochondriac's best Friend: "I don't have cancer. But, I could get cancer someday. Therefore, as a precaution, I should start chemo-therapy right away."

    That is not a real good way to deal with risk, but that is pretty much exactly what the County Council is being asked to do.

  3. And it's not precautionary either. Getting a diagnosis wrong is not precautionary ... it's an error ... and errors add risk.

  4. The Council should understand the errors of commission and omission embedded in the 65 pages vast appendices now before them for adoption. They should have a check list.

    The more complex the regulations, the more room for error exists, including but not limited to unintended ecological damage. Consider for example the hard lessons of fire science and management, that has actually increased risks of catastrophic fires in the San Juan Islands, not reduced them.

    The CAO generates risks rather than solving specific problems.

  5. "Noise at the street level"

    "What is one of the most condescending statements I have heard in recent years Alex?"

  6. Mr Slocomb's letter in the Guardian is revealing not just of his concept of government but of the organziations he supports...Marine Resources, Friends of the San Juans and their sponsor Puget Sound Partnership, San Juan Initiative etc. To use the term "the noise at street level" is eerily reminiscient of WWII language...that of an authoritarian government offical--haughty, privledged, looking down on the poor street dogs...the lowly 'public'...the "noise" who need to be muffled and shackled by regulation so they can be controlled in the manner the handlers want and made to obey.