Enfrentando riesgos catastróficos

A un año del tsunami del Océano Índico, ¿cuáles son las lecciones? La mayor es que fue el tipo de desastre al que quienes diseñan las políticas prestan poca atención, uno que tiene una probabilidad muy baja o desconocida de ocurrir, pero que provoca enormes pérdidas si es que ocurre. Con todo lo grandes que fueron las pérdidas de vidas humanas, el sufrimiento físico y emocional de los sobrevivientes y el daño a la propiedad causado por el tsunami, otros desastres de baja (pero no insignificante) o desconocida probabilidad pudieron haber infligido pérdidas incluso mayores.

Por ejemplo, el asteroide que explotó sobre Siberia en 1908 con la fuerza de una bomba de hidrógeno podría haber matado millones de personas si hubiera explotado sobre una gran ciudad, y eso que tenía sólo unos 60 metros de diámetro. Uno mucho más grande (entre los miles de asteroides peligrosamente grandes que se encuentran en órbitas que intersectan la de la Tierra) podría golpear nuestro planeta y causar la total extinción de la raza humana, a través de una combinación de ondas expansivas, incendios, tsunamis y bloqueo de la luz solar, independientemente del punto donde cayese.

Otros riesgos catastróficos pueden ser las epidemias naturales (la influenza española de 1918-1919 mató entre 20 y 40 millones de personas), ataques terroristas nucleares o biológicos, ciertos tipos de accidentes de laboratorio, y un calentamiento global abrupto. La probabilidad de que ocurran catástrofes, intencionales o no, resultantes de la actividad humana parece estar en aumento debido a la rapidez y dirección de los avances tecnológicos.

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