Social perspectives on risk and uncertainty: reconciling the spectacular and the mundane

Lockie, Stewart, and Measham, Thomas (2012) Social perspectives on risk and uncertainty: reconciling the spectacular and the mundane. In: Measham, Thomas, and Lockie, Stewart, (eds.) Risk and Social Theory in Environmental Management. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, VIC, Australia, pp. 1-13.

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[Extract] The idea of risk inevitably conjures images of the spectacular - the catastrophic failure of technological systems, the devastation of natural disasters, the creeping threat of global warming etc. While risk may be defined as any exposure to potentially negative consequences, it is usually only when the consequences are substantial that we begin, en masse, to take notice. And when risks are translated into realities - even ambiguous and contested realities - we especially begin to take notice. The concept of risk is not just an objective measure of potential harm, therefore, it is a cognitive and emotional bridge between the negative events affecting other people and our own fears and expectations. Take, for example, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. On 11 March, a magnitude 9 earthquake off the east coast of Japan triggered tsunami waves that swept up to 10 km inland, killing at least 15 000 people and damaging two reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant 250 km from Tokyo. Months later, efforts to contain radioactive fallout and repair the damaged reactors' cooling systems were ongoing. Within a few days of the earthquake that precipitated these events, media attention had started to shift from the humanitarian crisis and rescue efforts in devastated coastal towns to debate over the scale, causes and likely implications of damage to the Fukushima reactors. Long before a reliable picture began to emerge about the scale of that particular crisis, arguments between opponents and defenders of the nuclear industry became a major feature of the news cycle. These arguments were not solely, if ever, about Fukushima. They were about existing political agendas, protecting economic interests, reconciling different environmental imperatives and competing paradigms of risk calculation and management. They were also about the extent to which natural hazards may be amplified or alternatively mitigated by the technological and economic systems in which contemporary societies are embedded. Complex issues were boiled down by some into a straightforward (albeit false) choice between the risk of another Fukushima versus the risk of anthropogenic climate change.

Item ID: 30971
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-0-643-10412-9
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2014 05:15
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160801 Applied Sociology, Program Evaluation and Social Impact Assessment @ 80%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160802 Environmental Sociology @ 20%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960504 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Farmland, Arable Cropland and Permanent Cropland Environments @ 10%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960601 Economic Incentives for Environmental Protection @ 10%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 80%
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