Wasted effort no answer

Ever noticed that when we do not know how to solve a major problem, we do the wrong thing but with twice the zeal, twice the effort and, usually, twice the resources?

Rather than admitting we do not know the answer and then spending time and resources in the attempt to find one, we plunge off in some – any – direction with a great amount of noise and carry on, hoping that with all the music and dancing, no-one will notice that we have no idea what we are doing.

There is a reputedly Roman excuse to justify poor battlefield performance: “Having lost sight of our objective, we redoubled our efforts.”

This trend is disturbingly active at the moment.

The international nuclear industry, through Pangea, is hyping the necessity to dump its radioactive waste in, according to Professor Barry Brady in a UWA press release of 21 August, “repositories constructed in deep geological formations”.

Tucked away in the middle of Professor Brady’s glowing reassurance is this little gem: “Repository performance cannot yet be proved for the long time scales involved.”

Great. The only thing we definitely know is that almost every means of burying nuclear waste to date, whether in the deep sea bed or deep in the desert, has leaked radioactivity – and that in only a few decades!

It is long past time for the nuclear industry’s backers to accept that louder reassurances will not work. We need to spend time and resources on innovative research to find ways of turning radioactive waste into useful products.

The timber industry is another example of effort going into beating the drum for short term gains rather than funding the search for long term alternatives such as how to preserve our forest heritage, how to better use our limited timber and how to create healthy sustainable employment outside the timber industry for rural timber workers.

Another very real and tragic problem is getting very noisy attention: the road toll and speed limits. The statistics show many fatal road accidents involve speeding. The theory goes that if we drop the speed limit, we won’t have as many fatalities. This seemingly logical answer is nothing of the kind – speeding drivers will continue to break the speed limits, only now with a larger margin.

Car racing champions say that speed is not what causes road accidents – bad driving is. However, speed certainly compounds the results of bad driving. Those champions will also admit to being very nervous city drivers because of the universally bad drivers on our roads. Unfortunately, no-one knows how to make good drivers so we will redouble our efforts in the wrong direction – by lowering the speed limits.

While lowing speed limits will not stop the road toll, it should make law-abiding drivers travel the roads more slowly, which is wonderful news. Anything which gives the suburbs back to people and not automobiles is beneficial to the community. Good idea, wrong reason.

l Ann Macbeth is a futurist and principal of Annimac Consultants.

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