- Kenneth Verosub, University of California, Davis
In the British television series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, three actors dressed in red as Roman Catholic cardinals burst in on an unsuspecting (modern) English couple. The husband exclaims, “I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.”, to which one of the cardinals (Michael Palin) replies, “Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!”.
Maybe in these days nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but at least a few people understood natural disasters well enough to expect events like the Japanese tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011, the Pakistani floods of 2010 and the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami of 2004. Other recent “unthinkable” events are the shutdown of all European air travel due to a relatively minor volcanic eruption in Iceland and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, both of which had been predicted and discussed beforehand, admittedly by only a small group of interested individuals. In these cases, as in many others, the problem is not that nobody understands the processes well enough to predict what might happen, but rather that organizations and individuals are not willing to take these predictions seriously and consider the actions that are needed to mitigate them, even when the entire exercise can be shown to be highly cost-effective.
The goal of this session is to discuss why it is so difficult to get individuals and organizations to think about the unthinkable and how it might be possible to change this paradigm.