Monday, 19 February 2007

AAAS DAY 2: NEW UNIT OF MEASURE - "THE RUMSFELD"

BY JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member
AAAS Day 2: Friday 16 Feb 2007

In a wide-ranging lecture on “The Intersection of Burgeoning Human Populations and Natural Hazards, Caltech geologist Kerry Sieh introduced a new unit of measure today during a widely talked-about speech on earthquake preparedness. He explained that 1 “rumsfeld” (in honour of former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld) equals $100 billion per year, roughly what the US has spent on average per year during the four-year Iraq war.

At the same time, only about $2 million – or 20 “microrumsfelds” – has been spent in recent years on preparing infrastructure to withstand natural disasters for the roughly half a billion people who reside between Iran and Sumatra and live in grave danger of earthquakes and tsunamis. Sieh says he's being generous on that total, and just a few "fractions of a rumsfeld" spent by the US each year could spread much good cheer for American foreign policy.

Sieh’s new unit made the audience chuckle, but it also conveyed an important point – we’ve got our priorities seriously out of order, even when it comes to ‘global security issues’.

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