Monday, December 20, 2010

Living in the Ingenuity Gap

A few years ago, Thomas Homer Dixon established himself as a public intellectual with his insightful book, The Ingenuity Gap. It was a compelling read and its thesis was an easy one to accept: the more than mankind tinkers with the environment and creates more and more modern versions of gargoyles and flying buttresses to cobble together our environs in a manner that suits our needs, the harder it will be to find the answers for the increasingly complex questions that our revised reality would impose.

I was reminded of the book during the weather-related snarl that has curtailed trans-Atlantic air traffic for the second time in 2010. The first occasion was when volcanic ash from Iceland made it risky to fly to and around Europe. That was clearly a situation where nature intervened to remind us that this green-blue orb isn't as dormant and indulgent of our ambitions as we would like to assume. In the case of the snow storms, which would easily spark a round of climate change debate, does give evidence of an occasion when our tinkering with the environment has created situations that we lack the confidence to resolve with our current intellectual and capital resources. Otherwise, London Mayor Boris Johnson, would not have found himself saying, “It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snow-ploughs or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going.”

With simple problems like shoveling snow, it is easy to tell when we are floundering. With bigger issues, ironically enough, it is much easier to pretend that we indeed have a solution.