10 November 2008

Avoiding disaster, nuclear or otherwise

Reviewing The Culture of War by Martin van Creveld, Barry Gewen writes:
The world came perilously close to nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, and as more and more countries acquire nuclear weapons, it requires a real leap of faith to believe that deterrence will continue to work at all times in all places. And that's not to mention nuclear terrorism.
I share Mr Gewen's pessimism. Many believe that there's something intrinsic in our nature that means our species will persist. With some this is a religious belief, with others it's an expression of faith in our rationality or self-interest. For myself, and as with other existential challenges, I don't think we should rely on such feelings. I think we could do more, and that we should be concerned not so much about the survival of the human race, but about the potential loss of millions of lives.

One way of addressing the challenge would be to issue Disaster Prevention Bonds, which could act so as to moderate or countervail the incentives currently on offer to the people and corporations who are quite happy to militarize our planet. These bonds could function as an insurance policy, rewarding people who work to avoid human catastrophes of any sort, specified or not. Disaster Prevention Bonds would not prejudge how human calamities shall be avoided, but would simply reward the sustained non-occurrence of such calamities. Under a bond regime, diverse, adaptive approaches that are efficient would be rewarded. Failing policies would be swiftly terminated.

Nuclear proliferation and environmental disaster are only two of the existential challenges we face. Others are looming and we cannot anticipate all of them. Under a Disaster Prevention Bond regime there would be no need to. The outcome - the avoidance of millions of avoidable deaths - would be specified, but not the means of achieving it. They would seem to me to be more reliable than crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

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