Friday, February 4, 2011

On risk

After a wonderful discussion about food in class last night, Lydia and Samantha stayed after class to keep me company while I ate (the students brought in wonderful food for a potluck). After Samantha left, Lydia and I talked for an hour about, of course, the environment and government, she being in the School of Public Policy. She used a term that was insightful, and one that we don't necessarily think about in our daily lives, and one that I have not used at all in the last year - risk.

We take risks all day, every day. Many of us don't realise that some actions are risky, but that doesn't stop us from doing them. Some of us decide to get into cars, and drive ourselves around. We put our complete faith in other people, hoping that they won't drive, from the other oncoming lane, into your lane, at fifty miles per hour. As a cyclist, you are even more vulnerable, and several people I know have been hit by cars. When we decide to heat food up in the microwave in plastic containers, we accept, whether we want to or not, the risks of plastics and plasticisers leeching into our food. When we decide to pass through a full-body scanner at the airport, there are risks to developing some complication, no matter how small those risks may be. In fact, the standards that are set by the government, be they for car crash safety, whether or not a plastic is microwavable, or for X-ray imaging, are set by evaluating the risks for all of these actions. There is nothing that is not risky with these sorts of standards. Someone, somewhere, will experience side effects of medication - we run that risk. Risk is inherent and calculated into whether or not an oil exploration company will decide to drill into an exploratory oil well - I am absolutely sure those at BP, Halliburton and Transocean had some conversation about the risk. Whether they decided to do something about it or not, that is a different story.

But in our daily lives, how much do we think about the risks of our actions ruining the environment? There almost seems to be a tacit acceptance of those risks in favour of "progress" (1, 2, 3) and "development" (1, 2). Any acceptance of how we have behaved so far only legitimises the acceptance of these risks. On the other hand, what do we risk if we change our behaviour? What do we risk if we did choose to live under the paradigm of sufficiency, rather than efficiency (1, 2, 3) and neoliberal economic growth? We risk the staggering and unquantifiable - we risk living with and within the limits and capacity of Earth rather than forcefully and violently against those boundaries. We risk being better to other people and animals. We risk not filling up landfills to their created capacity. We risk preservation and conservation. Are we willing to take that risk?

1 comment:

  1. People are unwilling to risk living in contradiction with a social norm, whether perceived or actually in place.