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domingo, 1 de maio de 2011

@Allochthonous @Geoblogfeed polarisation of risk

Chris Rowan

[An interesting comparison] RT @: Ash cloud and swine flu anniversaries: lessons on the polarisation of risk

Ash cloud and swine flu anniversaries: lessons on the polarisation of risk

By Matt

It’s roughly the second anniversary of the kicking off of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and the first anniversary of the European ash cloud airspace closures.

There are some interesting parallels between these two events. Both were unexpected to some degree—in the case of the impact of the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, spectacularly so.

In retrospect, the surprise is a little surprising. It’s common knowledge that Iceland has volcanoes, and sometimes violent ones. Well within historical times, ‘killer clouds’ from such eruptions are believed to have caused thousands of deaths throughout Europe. Historians and volcanologists researching the 1783 Laki eruption would probably have agreed on the calamitousness of a similar event occurring today; but they may also have recognised, at least intuitively, that planning for such an unlikely disaster has its limitations. In the event of a catastrophic sulphur dioxide smog from an Icelandic volcano, it would be impossible to provide the entire population of western Europe with breathing masks. Having a detailed ‘Laki Eruption Crisis Plan’ might seem like overkill. Where do you draw the line: the Canary Islands Megatsunami Mitigation Plan, or the Comet Impact Plan?

Which is not to say stuff wouldn’t be done. In the event of a Laki-like eruption, modern communications technologies would allow rapid dissemination of expertise from parts of the world that do have to contend with these sorts of problems. At least modern housing would provide some refuge, particularly against particulates, compared to 18th century buildings. Weather forecasting and strong health systems— allowing identification of high risk groups— would allow mapping of risk and preventive measures to reduce the overall population health impact. It would be disastrous, but the continent would go into ‘crisis mode’ and solutions would be sought and implemented rapidly.