A Different Energy Crisis

Bill McKibben reviewed Henry Petroski's new book (To Forgive Design:  Understanding Failure) in the 20 June 2013 issue of the The New York Review of Books.  Beyond the useful summary of Petroski's book in the context of Petroski's other work over the past 30 years, McKibben makes the case that we are in for more failures of engineered systems in the coming years.   This is the different energy crisis--increase in atmospheric temperature means the atmosphere has more energy, which means more intense weather of all kinds, sooner or later.   Engineered systems fail when the environmental conditions they experience overwhelm the interplay of the system's design, construction and maintenance.   If design, construction and maintenance are based on historical patterns and those historical patterns are less and less relevant, we should expect more and more failures.   This tells me that George Box had it right in 1974 when he said that we need to learn fast in the face of complex environmental problems and challenges.

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