Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Predicting Fires

I happened to pass two grass fires today, each almost certainly sparked by a discarded cigarette. The weather forecast for the day cautioned of fires. We can predict fires but we can’t prevent them. We can predict fires like these because people toss burning cigarettes in the grass every day, and weather models tell us which days these are likely to turn into a raging fire. We don’t really try to prevent fires like these. To do so, we would need a way to persuade people who have cigarettes that their actions have consequences on days like today. But if someone doesn’t believe in consequences on any other day — if a person has cigarettes at all it is obvious that their sense of cause and effect is weak at best — then why should today be different?