The reaction of politicians, conservators and sundry minor bureaucrats to the weekend's semi-spectacular and thankfully disaster-free lahar has been, to summarise: "Phew!"
This is the measure of their relief, that -- thank goodness -- no one was killed by the unpredictable wall of water, mud and boulders that flooded down the mountain and (just) under road bridges and rail bridges and on down the Whangaehu River and out to the sea. That is, no one was killed by the risk that politicians, conservators and sundry minor bureaucrats took with other people's live in choosing not to intervene earlier, to drain the lake for example.
Thank goodness no one was killed -- older New Zealanders may remember the 151 people killed in 1953 when a similar event swept away the Tangiwai rail bridge -- but no thanks at all accrue to those who made the decision this time to let this natural process happen without doing anything to protect human life beyond setting up a rudimentary monitoring system. The irrational nature worship that values "intrinsic natural processes" like lahars above the lives of human beings who are put at risk by nature's potential destructive power is endemic, fashionable, written into law in the Resource Management Act -- and has all the character of religious belief.
It's not good enough. Rather than cowering pathetically in the face of such a natural process and putting human lives at risk, a rational approach would have been to take proper measures to control and protect against disaster -- human intervention to drain the lake is just one type of prophylactic measure that could have been undertaken.
Such measures would reflect that it's entirely natural for humans to shape the environment for our ends and for our own safety -- that's exactly what human beings do -- and they would have meant that the reaction this morning would have been characterised less by reactions like "Phew," and more like, "We knew."
RELATED: Ethics, Environment, New Zealand