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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 10:51 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 10:51 | SYDNEY

Pick your crisis

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COMMENTS

23 January 2009 14:40

Here's a quote from scientist, environmentalist and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery, on global warming:

The tragic history of climate change is a history of failures by governments to act with the speed and force commensurate with the severity of the crisis. If our policy response is tentative and incrementalist...then we risk greater damage to living standards, to the environment, and to the fabric of our ecosystem....In a crisis of this magnitude, the most prudent course is the most forceful course.

Actually, I made that quote up by changing a few key words from another quote. The real quote is from President Bush in 2003, on why America had to act so that Iraq's WMDs would not find their way to terrorists:

The tragic history of terrorism is a history of failures by governments to act with the speed and force commensurate with the severity of the threat. If our policy response is tentative and incrementalist...then we risk greater damage to living standards, to the economy's productive potential, and to the fabric of our society....In a crisis of this magnitude, the most prudent course is the most forceful course.

Sorry, I made that quote up too. Here's the real real quote, from US Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner on the global financial crisis:

The tragic history of financial crises is a history of failures by governments to act with the speed and force commensurate with the severity of the crisis. If our policy response is tentative and incrementalist...then we risk greater damage to living standards, to the economy's productive potential, and to the fabric of our financial system....In a crisis of this magnitude, the most prudent course is the most forceful course.

So only the last quote is real, though all three are plausible (in that it's not hard to imagine Bush or Flannery saying those things). 

What's the moral? Well, with the Iraq war in mind, you might say the lesson is 'Don't trust anyone who talks about crisis and advocates forceful action — it's probably an exaggeration and will just lead to trouble.' 

Fine, but where does that leave us in regard to climate change and the financial crisis? Sometimes the crisis is real and we do have to take forceful action.

But most of us don't have the time, ability or inclination to learn enough about a subject to determine real crises from made up ones. So who do you trust? No easy answers there, of course, though when it comes to deciding who to believe, it does help to be aware of your pre-existing biases and beliefs, and how to compensate for them.

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