Long Term Risk Governance: When Do Societies Act Before Crisis?
29 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2018
Date Written: August 13, 2018
Many environmental problems entail a temporal dilemma. Societies benefit from resource use now that will have cumulative negative impacts on future generations. All too often, societies only act to address these risks after a crisis (such as a fisheries collapse or a river on fire) has occurred. Climate change presents a particularly challenging case since when society decides the harms are too great to withstand, reducing greenhouse gas emissions drastically will take time and society will be left to suffer, adapt, or undertake risky geoengineering. In this paper we ask the question: Under what conditions do societies act to address a long term risk before crisis? We draw from the literature in economics, psychology, sociology, and political science to provide a range of potential factors that would contribute to addressing long term risks. We find that long term risk governance is under-theorized and that existing relevant understandings are highly fragmented. We also find that empirical studies testing these theories are limited in number and have mixed results. We propose that case studies of long term risks that have been addressed could be a fruitful avenue forward in developing a more cohesive and empirically rooted theory of when societies address a future risk before a crisis point.
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