Understanding the nature of risks and uncertainty is an important part of the scientific understanding needed both for many public policy issues and for everyday decisions in our personal lives. . . . Once again it must be argued that better understanding fosters better public and personal decisions. 1
The origin of risk consciousness in highly industrialised civilization is truly not a page of honour in the history of (natural) scientists. It came into being against a barrage of scientific denial, and is still suppressed by it. . . . Science has become the protector of a global contamination of people and nature.2
The main purpose of this chapter is to introduce one of the more important contexts within which citizens encounter science and technology - issues of risk and environmental threat. I will argue that, for a number of reasons, this is an especially crucial area - not least because of the high levels of public concern which it engenders but also because of the special problems encountered by science. In introducing this area, it will be important also to consider sociological arguments about the ‘risk society’ and the changing relationship between ‘society’ and ‘nature’ which these suggest.
Overall, this chapter will provide the background to Chapter 3 ’s analysis of the relationship between science and the processes of policy-making in this domain. More particularly, discussion in Chapter 2 will challenge the current domination of risk and environmental debate by scientific modes of analysis. Instead, it will be argued that the social and cultural dimensions of environmental problems must be understood if we are to achieve understanding and practical action. Rather than simply presenting environmental degradation as an external threat, we need to ask fundamental