Introduction: Global environmental
risk and society
Roger E. Kasperson, Jeanne X. Kasperson, and
Kirstin Dow, with contributions from Exequiel Ezcurra,
Diana M. Liverman, James K. Mitchell, Samuel J. Ratick,
Timothy O'Riordan, and Peter Timmerman
Global environmental risk is about threat; it is also about opportunity. On the one hand, stratospheric ozone depletion, potential global warming, and the continuing loss of bio- and cultural diversity signal the human capacity to transform – perhaps irretrievably – the planet on which humans depend. On the other hand, the growing worldwide recognition of this destructive power, and the initiatives undertaken since the Earth Summit in 1992 and the Kyoto Convention of 1997, carry the promise that the use and occupation of the earth may shift at the millennium to more sustainable trajectories. Global environmental risk also involves the recognition that the biosphere is both fragile and resilient: fragile, in that what supports life of present and future peoples and what these people value in their interactions with nature is often easily transformed – or even lost; resilient, in that the planet has an enormous capability to absorb abuse and to recover and that human societies are often enormously adaptive. Addressing global environmental risk, then, is about finding new pathways for averting ongoing destructive human activities and for creating a life-sustaining planet.
This book examines ways of identifying, conceptualizing, organizing, and addressing global environmental risk. Environmental risk analysis brings powerful concepts, methodologies, and experience to these tasks. At the same time, global environmental risks pose new challenges and fundamental problems. Clearly, new theories and analytic structures, as well as new syntheses across diverse ways of conceptualizing and re-