By James Painter
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Additional info for Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty
And in the area of health and safety, UK companies are legally obliged to carry out risk assessments. The military is another sector where assessing risk in the context of uncertainty is an everyday practice. Risk management has been applied for decades by armies around the world. They have to make decisions about global security with incomplete information on a range of threats from international terrorism to nuclear proliferation. The military have to factor in events which have an unknown probability, but a high impact outcome if they were to occur (see for example Briggs, 2012).
Indd 37 37 24/07/2013 13:19 climate change in the media The correlation between smoking and harm to health is direct and informed. In the case of climate change, it is much more diffuse and with less direct, obvious impact, at least for the population in countries like France. It is therefore difficult to convey these risks, and difficult also for people to get a good understanding of what these risks mean. Indeed they often imply ‘you are partly responsible for what’s happening’. This is obviously a discourse that people don’t want to hear.
As many mainstream scientists and economists like Lord Stern argue, the climate change risk is greater in size and probability than anything we normally insure against. And some of the risk assessments that ordinary people make are on the same timescale as climate impacts – for example, taking out a pension policy which you will pay into for 40 years is the sort of period over which we will see some of the impacts from climate change. It is not just the insurance sector where risk assessment is embedded.