Throughout this volume, we and our collaborators have argued that management of global environmental risks cannot be separated from questions about the future we desire and the processes by which we will conceive and decide among visions of alternative risks. Indeed, implicit in the very concept of risk – which we have defined as threats to people and the things they value – is the notion that our actions and technologies should be shaped to realize certain ends or futures and to avoid others. It is instructive that when the Society for Risk Analysis some years ago attempted to arrive at a consensual definition of risk, it quickly discovered that the exercise was laden with value issues and was highly contentious. With the inability to produce consensus came the realization that negotiating risk issues and objectives is inescapably political. A perceptive contribution of the social theorists of risk has been that risk controversies are as much about competing social visions, cultural biases, and world views as about narrower questions of the level of safety or security sought.
So risk matters are inescapably about different futures. Whereas experts use the risk concept as a helpful abstract, component, or metric for assessment, publics undoubtedly decide not on the basis of abstractions but on preferences about desirable or undesirable activities, technologies, facilities, or institutions. Furthermore, it seems clear that the intertwining of risk with broader social choices and alternative futures is certain to increase – indeed, to deepen. It is apparent that the often-quoted para