Gulf of Mexico disaster may distort perception about risks of oil tanker traffic

The port cities committee of Metro Vancouver will evaluate the risks of the increasing oil tanker traffic in the region1. This is great news! I praise the city council’s foresight and interest in the issue. At the same time, I fear that the assessment might be distorted by the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

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Lions Gate Bridge
Photo by Tak Ishikawa

The port cities committee of Metro Vancouver will evaluate the risks of the increasing oil tanker traffic in the region1. This is great news! And I praise the city council’s foresight and interest in the issue. At the same time, I fear that the assessment might be distorted by the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has rightfully received generous media coverage and thus it is patently present in our minds. As a result, the public and the port cities committee are likely to perceive oil risks as more impending. 2

To illustrate this idea, consider how many people are more afraid of flying than of driving, despite the statistics (car collisions produce more injuries and deaths per year than airplane crashes). Because airliner tragedies get more media coverage, and are more dramatic and memorable than car collisions, many people believe that flying is more dangerous. 2

The same is happening with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a dramatic event with catastrophic consequences and vast media coverage. As a result, we the public are now more concerned with oil spills and believe that they are more likely to happen. Let’s hope the port cities commitee does not fall in this risk perception trap.

(see update on this post, July 21, 2010)

References

  1. Lee, J. (2010). Metro should evaluate Vancouver’s oil tanker traffic risks: city council. In The Vancouver Sun, July 6.
  2. Slovic, P. Fischhoff, B, Lichestein, S. (1992). Informing the public about the risks from ionizing radiation. In Arkhes, H.R. & Hammond, K.R., Judgment and decision-making. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, MA.

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