A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

We Are Not Entitled to a Risk Free Existence

The current nuclear situation in Japan that resulted from the recent earthquake and tsunami has fostered a debate in the United States and elsewhere on the future of nuclear power as a source of energy. Those opposed to nuclear power have used the crisis in Japan to argue that the risks outweigh the benefits, while those who support expansion of nuclear facilities suggest just the opposite. I think it is safe to assume that nuclear energy is going to be a critical component in the world's energy usage along with other forms of energy. Jeffery Sachs, who is no political conservative, has said since the Japan disaster that foregoing nuclear energy is not the preferred solution to the risks of nuclear power.

The point of this post is not to argue for or against expansion of nuclear facilities in the United States, but rather to point out the obvious but often unacknowledged truth that no human being is entitled to a risk free existence.We sometimes act as if risk in not intrinsic to our lives. Often the rationale for frivolous lawsuits, which are motivated by greed, is that the offense incurred should not have happened because someone else is to blame due to negligence. In other words, "I want your money because I am entitled not to be exposed to risk and it's your fault that I was."

On an obvious level we know that each day is a risk. Sometimes people die in the comfort of their own homes. We hear on the news that someone died in the bathroom slipping in the shower, but that does not keep us away from our own bathtub. A airplane tragically crashes and the next day thousands of people fly anyway. No one has stopped building bridges because one collapsed in Minnesota a few years ago. We don't stop eating because we know of someone who choked to death. We don't stop driving because a family member was injured or killed in an automobile accident.

So, in one sense it is obvious to state that life is filled with risk, but when an accident happens the first thing human beings to tend to do is question who is to blame and why the disaster shouldn't have happened in the first place. Yes, it is important and necessary to figure out what went wrong and why and how things might be done differently in the future to minimize the risk, but we human beings in American culture tend not to think in these more nuanced terms. We tend to want to find an explanation that will comfort us with the notion that it should not have happened in the first place because we want to live a life free from risk.

Now I am not suggesting for a moment that we should not attempt to minimize risk in life. We will learn things from the terrible tragedy in Japan that we will hopefully utilize in the building and placing of future nuclear facilities. Having said that, it needs to be said that no amount of planning and preparation and procedure will produce a risk free situation. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake plus a tsunami is not a common occurrence (thank God) and perhaps no amount of risk minimization would have reduced the damage. With benefits come risk. That is simply the way it is.

And if it were possible to live a risk free life, what kind of life would that be? Would it truly be a life worth living? Would it be a life lived with purpose and meaning?

It appears that a life filled with wonderful benefits also carries its own risks.

So be it.


Mark said...

My local talk show station was just discussing this yesterday...how much we go out of our way to be comfortable and how modern generations try to protect their children from the harsh realities of life. Great post, Allan. You've been knocking 'em out of the park lately!

Unknown said...

We have already learned a great deal. There is design technology that creates a nuclear reactor that, i all safety devices are removed, simply melts down within its own containment. From France, that all control rooms should be identical - significantly reducing the risks of operator errors.