Black elephant

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Black elephant

The author is an international news team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I knew if I waited around long enough something like this would happen.” British playwright Bernard Shaw personally ordered his own epitaph. It was translated in Korean as “I knew this was going to happen if I hesitated,” and it became another piece of life advice for its humorous insight into living life with no regrets.

The lesson of the sentence is the lamentation over “something you knew but didn’t do.” When you are faced with a natural disaster, it is depressing and agonizing, but doesn’t involve regret. But there’s nothing more painful than facing a catastrophe you knew was coming but neglected.

In futurology, this kind of disaster is called a “black elephant.” When a big elephant in the room is destroying the house, the owner pretends not to see it and does not respond. It is a disaster that occurs after not responding to a highly likely risk.

A black elephant is different from a “black swan,” which refers to a crisis that occurs unexpectedly. If extreme events like the volcanic eruption of Mount Baekdu or a comet colliding with the Earth is a black swan, the predicted crisis such as climate change and the decreasing fertility rate is a black elephant.

When uncertainty grows, a black swan can turn into a black elephant. The end of Pax Americana and the third World War used to be a typical black swan scenario, but having witnessed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s threat to Taiwan, many have changed their views and consider them black elephants.

The battle over accountability is intensifying in the political circle over the record rainfall in the capital region since Aug. 8. The Gangnam Station area, which is prone to flooding, was submerged in water once again, and the city of Seoul is being criticized for failing to implement preventative measures. Before seeking solutions, politicians are fighting over who should take the blame — former Mayor Park Won-soon, current Mayor Oh Se-hoon or the city council.

The Gangnam Station area floods often, suffering tremendous damages during the heavy rainfall in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2020. Due to climate change, it is expected that localized torrential rains will become heavier and more frequent. I am not sure who is responsible for catastrophic flood damage this time, but it is clear that it is a black elephant that everyone knew but let grow into a disaster. I knew something like this would happen while we blame each other.
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