100-Year Floods, Once-in-a Century Tsunamis, and Nuclear War

In October 2008, as the financial crisis was unfolding, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told the House Oversight and Reform Committee: “We are in the midst of a once-in-a century credit tsunami … [that] has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined.” How could he or any of the others in charge of the nation’s finances be held responsible for failing to have foreseen such an unlikely disaster?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article under the headline “After $9 Billion Loss Trader Revives His Career” (pages C1 and C3) that quotes a former coworker as saying, “His attitude had been that it was a 100-year flood. What was he going to do?”

New Orleans was known to be vulnerable to a slow moving Category 3 hurricane, and there had even been an emergency preparedness exercise a year before Katrina hit, based on a similar, fictional Hurricane Pam. But most saw such threats as once-in-a-lifetime events, and not of concern.

By its very nature, a nuclear war is a once-in-a-lifetime event. But, as the financial meltdown, multi-billion dollar trading losses and the destruction of New Orleans show, that’s no reason to ignore the danger. If you agree, please share this message with friends, ask them to read our web site’s home page and take the four simple actions listed at the end of that page under “What can I do to help?”

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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