When are seemingly rational choices illogical?
Often after a natural disaster, when humans fall prey to a phenomenon called “uncanny wisdom,” said George Rogers, a Texas A&M professor of urban planning, who coined the term describing actions that eventually exacerbate the problems they were meant to solve.
How and why humans faced with sustainability issues exhibit uncanny wisdom Rogers explained, recounting inadequate responses to historic Houston floods during an April 2018 TEDx Talk at Texas A&M University.
“In 1935, there was a huge rainfall of 16 inches, which was the worst flood of its time and caused massive destruction,” said Rogers, “It was so bad that the citizens of Houston went to the legislature and petitioned them to create the Harris County Flood Control District.”
The organization responded, building channels and reservoirs to guide the water away — a solution that facilitated the average rainfall in the 1930’s, but failed to anticipate increased rain levels and the city’s future population growth and expansion.
“Urban development clearly outstripped what was going on,” he said. “This set the stage for the Hurricane Harvey disaster which dumped 40 inches of rain on Houston, causing $125 billion in damages and the loss of many lives.”
The long-term impact of sustainability choices must not only be considered as they are made, he said, but monitored to anticipate when times and conditions might change.
“Despite humans being the most intelligent creatures on earth, we constantly fail to create a sustainable environment,” he said. “Understanding uncanny wisdom may help us shape the world in sustainable ways.”
See Rogers and other Texas A&M faculty and students speak at TEDxTAMU on YouTube.