Global risk, uncertainty,
Silvio O. Funtowicz and Jerome R. Ravetz
Science evolves as it responds to its leading challenges as they change through history. The problems of global environmental risk, along with those of equity among peoples, present the greatest collective task now facing humanity. In response, new styles of scientific activity are already under development. Traditional oppositions, such as those among natural-science disciplines and between the so-called “hard” and “soft” sciences, are being overcome. The reductionist, analytical world view that divides systems into ever-smaller elements, studied by ever-more esoteric specialties, is giving way to a systemic, synthetic, and humanistic approach. The recognition of real natural systems as complex and dynamic entails moving to a science based on unpredictability, incomplete control, and plural legitimate perspectives.
We are now witnessing a growing awareness among all those concerned with global risks that no single cultural tradition, no matter how successful in the past, can supply all the solutions for the problems of the planet. Forms of knowing other than those fostered by modern Western civilization are also relevant for an exploratory problem-solving dialogue. Moreover, we should harbour no pretence of an Olympian detachment from the fate of our own species and that of our neighbours or, indeed, from the special problems of those rendered more vulnerable to environmental change owing to nationality, race, class, gender, or disability. Owing to the new recognition of linkage among regions and interdependency among peoples, as chapters 1 and 7 suggest, issues of equity be