Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The weather - a great excuse for everything

I was reading an interesting (if subjective) piece in today's Irish Times about the widespread flooding last week, and especially the complete inability of our road network to efficiently handle large amounts of surface water. The journalist (Tim O'Brien) particularly castigates the National Roads Authority (NRA) for it's "one-in-50-years" coping strategy, arguing that in Barcelona (a far, far sunnier clime than we're used to), the storm drains are capable of dealing with flash floods of up to 400mm - Dublin airport recorded 76.2mm of rain between midnight on Friday 6th and midnight Saturday 7th of August, the period when the worst of the traffic problems occurred.

Here's my take - Ireland gets a lot of rain. Anecdotally, I would say it's rained here at least every other day since the start of the year. We can pillory the NRA until the cows come home for their lack of foresight, but at the end of the day they are just another underfunded, poorly serviced, public sector behemoth, to whom innovation and decision making are concepts that send staff scurrying for cover like church mice in a thunderstorm.

But what about our private industry? We have the environment (by the bucketful :) - why aren't Irish engineering firms the world leaders at building roads that thrive (as far as roads can be described as thriving) in wet weather? Why aren't our materials scientists (I may have made that term up) producing dazzlingly brilliant products that, I don't know, deflect rain water, or gather the water from the surface of umbrellas and use it to generate electricity (patent pending).

There are opportunities here, yet we mostly see the problems. We could be world leaders at the production of wet weather materials and products: instead we are world leaders at feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining.

Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of that last sentence.

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