Measuring costs of disasters, modeling your world, and accounting

October 29, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Nature

A hurricane or tropical storm is hovering in the Atlantic soon to hit the east coast, including my home in New York City. I keep seeing predictions of the size of the damages from however the storm affects us.

You see similar predictions of the size of how many things affect us — people estimate, say, how much money in productivity traffic delays cause us and things like that.

I always wonder, relative to what? And when I answer, I feel I find untested, unchallenged, and often unjustified assumptions in people’s models for their worlds. Or misattribution of cause and effect.

It seems to me the storm, as a part of nature, isn’t causing damage so much as we built things in ways that were affected by a storm we didn’t anticipate or account for. I hope I don’t sound like I’m dismissing any pain or suffering — physical, emotional, or otherwise — for people affected by the storm. I empathize with them as, I’m sure, you do too. I hope to help them if I can.

I’m just looking from another perspective. If you calculate the costs, don’t you have to calculate them relative to another outcome than what happened? Does that mean a world with no storms? That makes no sense. Did we build our cities and worlds anticipating no storms?

What does that say about us, that our picture of normal — our standards — miss what nature does yet we say our flawed models are normal?

It seems to me we should learn from nature to build following it, not saying what it does runs counter to our standards. We should also account for damages in ways to improve our worlds. If we say the storm caused the damages instead of we didn’t prepare, how will we do better next time?

I would say the storm isn’t costing us money. We poorly understood our world, prepared for an outcome that didn’t occur, and now aren’t accounting for what led to the damages.

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