Keith Halliday’s Sept. 19 column about the liquefied natural gas warning posters he noticed around town takes an unusual path.
The posters warn about the evacuation zone from the now under construction facility. Halliday clumps the unlikelihood of an LNG accident killing himself with numerous other risks he sees around Whitehorse but is not worried about, noting that “behavioural economists have shown that humans tend to obsess about risks that are new, uncontrollable and catastrophic.”
It doesn’t take an expert to see that humans also tend to obsess about risks that are old, uncontrollable and catastrophic. It’s good to obsess a bit about risks that are in your midst, especially if they have the potential of producing catastrophic effects and if authorities don’t seem to be obsessing too much on your behalf.
Halliday found studies that show that people tend to underestimate the risk of activities that have perceived benefits or that they like. Right. So then the LNG posters are providing an interesting little poke – asking people not to see just the perceived benefits and consider the risks to themselves, to the city.
It’s a false logic to limit concern about the LNG facility because there are lots of other risks around. We do live with risks, sure. Natural forces or human error may or may not cause events to occur. But LNG is explosive and has exploded in a number of places.
If something did happen, what would be the effects and threats? It’s about wisdom and planning, foresight, looking out for the common good (not just the economic good) and common sense.
Of course all kinds of accidents occur with individuals. These are unfortunate and sometimes tragic. But often their possibility is tied to the actions and control of the individuals. But as we waive the control of situations to planners, corporations, utilities, and governments, we expect that their analyses will not overemphasize the perceived benefits.
We expect higher standards of planning, safety, risk assessment and it’s a bit difficult to see where that has been done in the case of the LNG facility location. It’s beside the dam and water supply; a few feet from a major commuting artery; with an evacuation zone that includes most of downtown, all of Riverdale, the airport, part of Hillcrest, and the hospital. Winds do tend to blow south-north. Is this a good place to build an industrial facility with liquified natural gas? It doesn’t seem so.
If the posters got your attention Keith, it might not be because they are a new risk that you are conditioned to attend to. It might be because citizens pointed out something that makes sense and you’re questioning why a smarter location wasn’t chosen.