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Society For Risk Analysis Annual Meeting 2008

Risk Analysis: the Science and the Art

Session Schedule & Abstracts

* Disclaimer: All presentations represent the views of the authors, and not the organizations that support their research. Please apply the standard disclaimer that any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in abstracts, posters, and presentations at the meeting are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other organization or agency. Meeting attendees and authors should be aware that this disclaimer is intended to apply to all abstracts contained in this document. Authors who wish to emphasize this disclaimer should do so in their presentation or poster. In an effort to make the abstracts as concise as possible and easy for meeting participants to read, the abstracts have been formatted such that they exclude references to papers, affiliations, and/or funding sources. Authors who wish to provide attendees with this information should do so in their presentation or poster.

Common abbreviations

Global Catastrophic Risks

Room: Webster   2:00-3:30 PM

Chair(s): Jason Matheny

W3-I.1  14:00  Climatic consequences of nuclear conflicts. Oman LD*; Johns Hopkins University

Abstract: We use a modern climate model and new estimates of smoke generated by fires in contemporary cities to calculate the response of the climate system to a range of nuclear wars, producing 5, 50, and 150 Tg of smoke. The response to both regional and large scale nuclear war scenarios produce climate changes that are large and long-lasting because the fuel loadings in modern cities are quite high and solar insolation heats the resulting smoke cloud and lofts it into the high stratosphere, where removal mechanisms are slow. We find that even a much smaller regional nuclear conflict can have global effects. The significant cooling and reductions of precipitation would last years, which would impact the global food supply and have devastating consequences for the planet.

W3-I.2  14:20  Catastrophic climate change scenarios. Baum SB*; Pennsylvania State University

Abstract: Climate change is widely recognized as a major global risk. However, the magnitude of expected damages is subject to great uncertainty. One key source of uncertainty concerns whether climate change could be "catastrophic" on a global scale, i.e. if it could end civilization as we know it or even cause humanity's extinction. In the absence of rigorous probabilistic estimates of catastrophic climate change, it is helpful to consider catastrophic climate change scenarios. This session will discuss three scenarios in which climate change could be so catastrophic. The first scenario involves massive change to the physical climate, leaving Earth marginally inhabitable or completely uninhabitable. The second scenario involves a more moderate physical climate change triggering global violence in the form of war or terrorism. The third scenario involves the backfiring of a climate change response effort such as geoengineering or draconian climate policy. The session will review the state of the art knowledge on these scenarios, consider what policies may be effective at reducing the chance of climate catastrophe, and discuss important directions for future research.

W3-I.3  14:40  Global Risks: A Quantitative Analysis. McCabe TS*; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Abstract: The scope and possible impact of global, long-term risks presents a unique challenge to humankind. The analysis and mitigation of such risks is extremely important, as such risks have the potential to affect billions of people worldwide; however, little systematic analysis has been done to determine the best strategies for overall mitigation. Direct, case-by-case analysis can be combined with standard probability theory, particularly Laplace's rule of succession, to calculate the probability of any given risk, the scope of the risk, and the effectiveness of potential mitigation efforts. This methodology can be applied both to well-known risks, such as global warming, nuclear war, and bio-terrorism, and lesser-known or unknown risks. Although well-known risks are shown to be a significant threat, analysis strongly suggests that avoiding the risks of technologies which have not yet been developed may pose an even greater challenge. Eventually, some type of further quantitative analysis will be necessary for effective apportionment of government resources, as traditional indicators of risk level- such as press coverage and human intuition- can be shown to be inaccurate, often by many orders of magnitude.

W3-I.4  15:00  Public engagement with global warming: A social representations approach. Smith N*, Joffe H; University College London

Abstract: The present investigation explores public engagement with global warming risk. Using an open ended and exploratory interview schedule, the associations of 56 British respondents to the term ‘global warming’ were explored. Virtually all respondents believe that human activities are to blame for recent temperature increases although the location of this cause is geographically distant with ‘other countries’ blamed for polluting the atmosphere. The tangible impact this is having in the UK, however, brings the issue closer to home with ‘unsettled weather’ and ‘changing seasons’ widely discussed. Although concrete examples are readily identified, respondents do not feel personally at risk from any immediate danger. Interpreted within a social representations framework, the global warming threat is assimilated into popular understanding of environmental issues more generally, with recycling widely symbolised as an action the public can take to ‘make a difference’ at an individual level. The findings challenge existing public perception research that finds global warming to be a future-orientated threat but also illustrate the utility of using qualitative methodologies to identify nuanced understandings of public engagement with risk issues.

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