Global Environmental Risk

By Jeanne X. Kasperson; Roger Kasperson | Go to book overview

Editors' introduction

Risk, as we point out in chapter 1, is a joint product of environmental perturbations or (in the case of industry or technology) of the releases of energy, materials, or information on the one hand and the vulnerability or fragility of the receptor or affected system on the other. All the same, the history of risk and impact analysis, and other types of social-science analysis as well, has accorded much less attention to the second term than to the first. More than a quarter of a century after an intense debate over the need for greater prominence of vulnerability studies in hazard assessment (Hewitt 1984a), neither the scholars working in risk analysis nor their critics have fashioned a powerful theory of vulnerability. This is not to deny the increased attention to these issues and the significant progress, as the chapters in this section will attest. But this volume's call for a new global risk analysis, one in which vulnerability commands centre stage, suggests that an active search for theory and model development in vulnerability studies will need to be a high priority for risk studies over the next period.

Arguably, this development will nowhere be more important than for global environmental risks. Despite overall economic progress and enhanced societal coping resources throughout much of the world, the global toll from natural hazards is growing (Munich Re 1999; United Nations 1999; World Disasters Report 1999, 2000), as we detail in chapter 7. In addition, the growing loss of life is increasingly concentrated in developing countries, where vulnerability to events is greatest, long-term

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