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Sometimes the risks that receive the most attention in hindsight are actually less likely than what we realise. But there are important reasons for finding effective ways to respond to high-profile risks. Thinking through risk and taking a rational approach to mitigating it, or becoming more resilient to it, may mean looking at risk in terms of applying regulations that reduce threats of harm from the start (as in the case of reducing risk through positive reinforcement), or better understanding how populations respond to risky behaviours like smoking.
Instead of analysing the risk, people often respond to the emotion or feeling a particular risk will incite. Risk of a large earthquake, nuclear meltdown, or lung cancer from smoking cigarettes are all risks that may produce emotional responses, what Professor Paul Slovic, a leader in psychological research of risk perception has called ‘the feeling of risk’, also known in psychology as the affect heuristic – the positive or negative feelings we associate with experience. Affect is used as a kind of mental shortcut in order for people to make decisions or solve problems quickly, it is also better known as ‘gut feeling’. Read the rest of this entry »
There seems to be a paradox in how some risks are mitigated. For instance, there is a tendency to believe that implementing safety regulations will in effect reduce the risk of harm
. While implementing safety regulations helps reduce the levels of risk people are exposed to they can also redistribute the risk, eliminating some risks, but increasing others by decreasing the level of perceived risk. This has been given several names by researchers including ‘risk homeostasis’, ‘risk compensation’ and ‘offset hypothesis’ and there are good reasons to think that it could help to better inform policies and regulations for making people’s lives safer, but it is also controversial amongst scientists and practitioners working in public safety.
A satellite view of the floods at Somerset Levels as heavy rains earlier this month brought severe flooding to South West England. This comes at a time when extreme weather events have become more frequent throughout the world, particularly rainfall. In order to prepare for such events finding ways to adapt built infrastructure and coordinate services across the public and private sectors is vital.
Australia has experienced severe heatwaves recently with temperatures reaching over 40C (104F). 2013 is currently the hottest year on record, but if trends continue 2014 could be not far behind.
The extreme heat has led to fire alerts throughout the country making people evacuate some areas. According to the BBC, lightning strikes in Victoria caused more than 250 fires on Tuesday night alone. Some matches at the Australian Open have come to a halt due to the heat wave, with some players suffering serious health effects from the intense heat. This year parts of Queensland and New South Wales have set new heat records.
This is a satellite image of land surface temperature in Australia taken by NASA’s MODIS satellite:
From humanitarian aid to disaster risk reduction the word ‘resilience’ is involved in nearly every aspect of people’s ability to recover and adapt after a catastrophic event. Many researchers from various fields along with emergency practitioners, who are depended on during times of disaster throughout the world, use resilience in their everyday language, and even incorporate it into their operations in the field. Although its meaning remains elusive, researchers and practitioners have opportunities to learn from each other about resilience.
There is no one way of defining resilience yet this does not seem to have prevented it from growing in popularity (See The rise of the word resilience). On the contrary, it may have allowed it to spread far and wide in the first place. Within the context of disaster resilience reminds us that even the most damaging, traumatic experiences may reveal how vulnerable communities are able to adapt to unusual situations or environments. In recent academic and practitioner literature resilience is continually evolving.
As concerns about global food security are on the rise, there are many questions as to how the world will face growing demands for a sustainable food supply. While poverty and food distribution seem to underlie many of the challenges regarding food security, biotechnology in the form of genetically modified seeds could continue to play an increasing role in how food is grown and traded in both developed and less developed countries.
Does patenting seeds create new risks to food security or provide a way of securing the world food supply through centralisation? Are we simply looking at a new way of meeting the demands placed upon agriculture or a new way for chemical corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical and others to place new demands on society? Most importantly, where does this leave farmers and the communities they support?
Dr Giulio Selvaggi is former Director of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). He gave the first IHRR seminar of the term on the L’Aquila earthquake and its aftermath. He is one of six scientists in Italy found guilty of manslaughter for downplaying the risk of earthquakes in the region. They are appealing the verdict. The aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake is possibly one of the most politicised and publicised affairs of recent times involving scientists.
The L’Aquila earthquake led to the deaths of 309 people. The 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila not only revealed the unpreparedness of the city in dealing with the 6.3 magnitude earthquake, but the vulnerability of the buildings that collapsed. The fact that the earthquake took place is nothing unusual. It’s well known that L’Aquila is in a region of Italy with high risk of earthquakes. Unfortunately, the message conveyed to the general public of L’Aquila by government misinformed them about the actual risk of an earthquake occurring.
Selvaggi explained how one week prior to the earthquake he attended a meeting between The High Risk Commission (HRC) and National Service of Civil Protection (NCP) of Italy. The High Risk Commission is assigned with forecasting and mitigating large-scale risks, which includes serving as an interface between the scientific community and government. The NCP are responsible for taking action to protect the public from potential risks. The advice, however, given by scientists to the High Risk Commission, does not seem to match the message the NCP disseminated to the public. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the past summer regions of China have also experienced intense heat waves with eastern China setting a record of 40.8 C (105.4 F). Russia (Northern Siberia) has also had harsh rises in temperature over the summer. In China, cities such as Shanghai were particularly vulnerable. These images taken from the NASA Earth Observatory show the concentrations of the heat wave in different parts of China.
The ground breaking film Chasing Ice is now widely available online, on DVD, in cinemas and on TV. In fact, quite a few screenings are scheduled in the UK this autumn. It is also possible for education institutions to host a screening of this amazing film. It is really a film that should be seen on the big screen, but at the same time those who see it should think carefully about what it portrays so elegantly. The disappearance of the Earth’s glaciers in the Arctic has large implications for how it will affect the future of human societies, not to mention the ecosystems we depend on for survival. Read the rest of this entry »