To:Richard Stengel, managing editor
From: Time’s newly minted reporters
Re: Top 50 blunders at the “Creation”
Rich, due to the popularity of our recent article on top failed inventions, we thought a smart follow-up would be to take the same kind of critical look at the “Creation” of the world. Depending on whom you believe, humanity has either lived on Earth for thousands or millions of years. That practical experience gives us the perfect perspective to really fundamentally question whether safety was given appropriate weight at the dawn of time. We’ll identify the key flaws and suggest approaches that could have saved millions of lives.
Just to give you a flavor, here are three areas where we’ll raise questions:
Gravity: Granted, this is the force that keeps the atmosphere on Earth and all of humanity tethered to our world. But there’s a hidden downside: It has killed untold millions of people. In the United States alone, 21,000 people died from falls in the latest year for which we have statistics. That’s a whopping 70 percent increase since 1990. Should trends continue, we’ll all be dead by 2043. The butcher’s bill for this one mistake is incalculable. For instance, not a single airplane crash would have occurred without gravity.
Fire: Sure, fire gave man the opportunity to survive in a cold, hostile world and also provided the key to building a technological culture - from the Bronze Age to the Space Age. But at what cost? Even today, the power of fire far outpaces our ability to use it safely. Nearly 3,000 people die annually in the U.S. from fires and its dangerous byproducts: smoke and heat. That number could rise dramatically. Today, the combined power of state, local and federal government isn’t enough to combat fire’s dangerous side effects - more than 750,000 Americans must serve as volunteer frontline troops to battle out-of-control fires. The overstretched effort - more than triple the size of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq combined - could crumble at any moment.
Water:Yes, it is the chemical that makes life possible, but we can’t forget that it is a chemical - indeed, a central chemical to many industrial operations as a solvent and lubricant as well as for the disposal of nuclear waste. Once again, U.S. accidental deaths tell the sad tale: nearly 4,000 deaths a year. That’s 100 times the combined annual mortality from coal mining and oil drilling, two of the nation’s most dangerous professions, which also happen to depend on the industrial use of water. As grisly as they are, those official statistics are but a fraction of water’s deadly toll. Avalanches often involve water. Evaporation of water plays a key role in the formation of hurricanes. Water also is a known greenhouse gas. And water interacts in key ways with other”genesistic design flaws.” The death toll from gravity would be significantly lower without water’s power as a lubricant. Water and gravity can combine to cause floods. Even when they don’t kill directly, floods spread disease and wipe out livelihoods, leading to significantly shortened life spans.
Don’t think of this as another frivolous thumb-sucker. It is as timely as BP’s offshore oil spill. Consider: Long-term ecological and economic damage of the “Deepwater Horizon” tragedy is just as dependent on uncontrolled, unregulated water as accidentally gushing oil. Indeed, without water, BP would be cleaning up a puddle, not preparing for a criminal investigation and decades of litigation.
David Mastio, Washington Times deputy editorial page editor.