Gambles are ‘the fruit fly of the risk researcher’ suggests Paul Slovic in the intro to his rich and useful The Feeling of Risk (2010). Although Slovic and co spend much of their time looking at small scale human interactions, and risky behaviours around food, drugs, smoking and making bets the book has helped me interpret the dramatic transformation of feelings about nuclear power over the space of the last week.
Attached is a review of Slovic’s book I drafted a couple of weeks ago for The Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning (pre-Fukushima, pre-earthquake). While most of us don’t need telling that the way humans respond to risks is about feelings as well as facts the risk management experts have found that thought very difficult to absorb. A large portion of Paul Slovic’s career has been taken up with helping his number crunching colleagues understand this, and helping the rest of us understand how these feelings about risk can be systematically researched and better understood. The book gathers ten years of academic and policy papers and is, amongst other things, a testament to how productive a collaborative research practice can be: most of the 22 chapters arise out of partnership working.
Thinking about the book is helping me understand how quickly – and at some level bizarrely – the mood around nuclear energy has shifted. It is not that the figures in the technical risk assessments have changed for Europe or North America: the geological and technical considerations are very different. It is that politicians and policy specialists know without being told that both public and investor feelings about the risks of nuclear have been transformed by a clip of the first gas explosion at Fukushima.
Slovic P. (ed.) The Feeling of Risk, Earthscan London