Some months ago BP, the international US/British owned and run oil company suddenly became known in America as British Petroleum. Everyone pointed fingers at them for creating an incredibly messy oil spill that has, undoubtedly and tragically, affected the lives and the livelihood of many people in the Southern USA. It was, according to the media at least, going to be a blight on the region for years - generations even. It led to the description by President Obama as being the "worst environmental disaster the USA has ever faced". Despite the heavy involvement of the US in terms of people, operating companies, investors and jobs, this "disaster" was a British creation, and nearly derailed relationships between the USA and the United Kingdom.
Fast-forward to today though, and people are having to ask themselves - was this really the devastating event that was first thought?
The statistics from such august (adjective) bodies as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seem to support the current views being put forward by the scientists and the marine biologists, most of who now apparently think that the Exxon Valdez spill was far more serious that that created by the BP disaster. In fact, they say, nature has cleaned up much of the mess created by BP and the impact will be far less significant than originally thought. Rather supportive of the views expressed (somewhat badly, admittedly) initially by Mr. Hayward, the BP CEO.
Of course, the debate will continue over the numbers, and "experts" - professional and amateur - will continue to argue the minutiae. But the bigger picture suggests that the original reactions - prompted by a media desperate for bad news, and a US Administration desperate to show its mettle - may have been overdone.
But are we surprised? Do we not live in a world fascinated by short termism - a world where it seems to be okay to make hurried comments and move on - irrespective of the long term facts or other realities?
In some ways it has been the same with the financial crisis, and everything that led up to it. Greed, shouted everyone - a headlong rush to jump on a short term bandwagon to make obscene amounts of money. A short term culture of bonuses. But was that the real cause? Okay, so perhaps it is a little unfair to go all the way back to the debate about - and subsequent implementation of tools such as - quarterly reporting - but maybe only a little. My memory was jogged last week by a comment from a Bank CEO (no not HSBC!), bemoaning the fact that his shareholders in general and the analysts in particular were spending all their time focusing on his quarterly results, and not giving him time to focus on building for the long term. Could the financial crisis have been the long term result of introducing regulations like quarterly reporting?
Were we any better off once quarterly reporting was introduced to the banking industry? Did it save us from the financial crisis? Of course the answer is no. In fact the British Bankers Association some four or five months ago issued an interesting paper that seemed to suggest that regulators would be much better served by taking a system-wide macro-prudential perspective. They even used the Hong Kong Monetary Authority as a good example of such a system.
So, you may think you have covered the bases, but the end result is not necessarily what you expect it to be.
Therefore the question is - why do we overreact to situations, and can we not stop it?
Probably not. Sadly. There are too many countries today that follow a "blame" culture. They want to find people doing things that are considered wrong, in their eyes, so they can blame them. And who starts everyone off on this cycle? - usually the media. And if we are not careful it is going to lead the world into a downward spiral. If you haven't read "1984" or Huxley's "Brave New World", or have not done so recently - this is a view of the future we will be left with when we have done all the blaming we can!
Oil spills and financial crises are not nearly as bad as world wars, but the hype that can be built up around them and events like them could, one day, lead us backwards rather than forwards.
These issues in our world need considered thinking, balance and perspective. We must weigh very carefully the effect of loose words, actions and ill thought-through regulations.