By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
Another threat, another worry, yet another bogus bludgeon for a risk few people are ever affected by.
I mean, seriously, when's the last time anyone mentioned solar storms at a Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc. cocktail party? Wardrobe malfunctions, OK, but solar storms? Let's leave that to the Trekkies who prefer living beyond the planet Earth instead of on it.
Solar activity has, of course, affected some lives here on beautiful planet Earth. One such flare in particular, in October 2003, has been blamed for causing blackouts as far north as Sweden and for causing transformer damage as far south as South Africa.
Anecdotal observations--and I stress "anecdotal"--have also linked earth-bound disruptions, particularly malfunctioning railroad signals and communication equipment failures, with a series of solar flare-ups over the past 150 years. The cause-and-effect between solar activity and earth-bound disruptions hasn't been all that conclusive. Even so, there are plenty of other risks to be worried about.
Time magazine recently ran a big story exploring why many of us are fixated on threats way out of proportion to the risk. Vested interests in magnifying the risk play no small part. Remember Y2K. That was the perceived risk to data as computers went from 1999 to 2000, and two-digit dates would revert to change from 99 to 00. Those two simple digits, 0-0, spawned a cottage industry of consultants, futurists, strategy officers, visionaries, management gurus of all stripes, and yes, a bevy of news articles.
In the end, Jan. 1, 2000 came and went, with barely a hiccup. Solar storms are in that class of risk. The risk is real, yes, because it exists, but it's the kind of risk that needs to be filtered through the prism of proportionality.
Solar storms may or may not register high on the perception risk meter, but they certainly score very low on the reality risk meter. Let us not confuse this kind of "spin cycle" risk with their converse: risks that score low on the perception meter but high on the reality meter.
I'm talking about risks associated with climate change, for example, or with stuffing food with chemically-generated preservatives, or with the exponential increases in physical forces generated by a cars driving five or 10 miles faster than posted limits.
Now ... do you see the light?
(Read Senior Editor Dan Reynold's other side of the argument, "Solar Storms Are
October 15, 2010
Copyright 2010© LRP Publications