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by Michael Kraten, PhD, CPA

In the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow, a trio of meteorological “super storms” triggers a global descent into a second Ice Age. How much time do the storms need to destroy the planet? A few days to a week is all they require to wreak havoc on the world.

In the field of risk management, this factor is known as Velocity. High risk concerns are usually “red flagged” as priorities if they are relatively likely to occur or if they would inflict (or “impact”) significant damage. They are considered even higher priorities, though, if little time is required to generate the damage.

Thus, disasters that spread very quickly are often considered the most worrisome problems of all. Such problems tend to cause the most spectacular catastrophes; that’s why they often serve as the basis for entertaining disaster films.

In the sustainability sector, though, some of our greatest risks are unfurling in slow motion. One such problem surfaced in Arizona last week, where Governor Katie Hobbs announced a freeze on the development of certain new homes in the Phoenix suburbs. The Governor cited the slowly dwindling water supply as the risk that necessitates the curtailment of the growth of the residential sector.

From a risk management perspective, the Governor’s decision is an unusually proactive one. Like a proverbial frog that is dropped into a pan of tepid water, and that refuses to jump out as the water is slowly heated, humans tend to defer taking action when facing low velocity risks. The Governor, though, is taking immediate action.

Why? There is an important difference between the situation that faces the proverbial frog and the one that faces the residents of Arizona. The frog has no ability to cool the heating water. Thus, it has no choice but to jump or die. Humans, however, can change their environments.

Some pessimists predict that humans will inevitably become environmental migrants and move to friendlier climes as climate change destroys their home regions. The Governor appears to believe, though, in acting to preserve the livable environments that we currently call home.

Originally published at All rights reserved by author.