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Perspectives on Risk, AAPG-CSPG Conference Presentation


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These slides accompanied a talk I gave at the AAPG-CSPG Oil Sands & Heavy Oil Symposium: A Local to Global Multidisciplinary Collaboration in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, October 14-16, 2014.

The slides complement the related working paper: "Perspectives on Risk: From Techno-Economic Calculations to Socio-Cultural Meanings," available at

Recent news reports have been filled with debates concerning energy and environment risks. For instance, are nuclear power plants safe, or should they be modified in light of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster? Is hydraulic fracturing a technological breakthrough for natural gas extraction, or a threat to humans and the environment? Is the proposed Keystone XL transnational pipeline an economic boon, or an environmental bane? More fundamentally, is climate change a problem, and if so, what should be done about it? Given questions such as these, risk has become a central concern for businesses, regulators and communities. At one level, risk is about calculations and numbers. When it first emerged in the seventeenth century, risk was related to gambling; risk meant the chances of an event occurring, and the magnitude of the losses or winnings it might bring. Such understandings are evident in technical perspectives on risk, including engineering, epidemiology, toxicology and probabilistic assessments, as well as in economic perspectives on risk, including finance, actuarial and insurance approaches. But at another level, risk is about narratives and meanings. We all live in a “risk society”; risk is a way of framing debates and giving meaning to what is at stake. Such understandings are evident in perceptual perspectives on risk, including psychological, behavioral, and public opinion studies, as well as in cultural perspectives, including sociology, political science and conflict resolution approaches. In this paper, we argue that understanding energy and environment risks requires bringing together both numbers and narratives. Only by going beyond techno-economic conceptualizations of risk and considering socio-cultural issues can we explain risk within and across societies, whether at a given point in time, or dynamically over time.

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Perspectives on Risk, AAPG-CSPG Conference Presentation

  1. 1. Perspec'ves on Risk Joel Gehman, University of Alberta Credit: h9p://­‐content/uploads/2014/07/Risk.jpg
  2. 2. Technical perspec've: • Risk can be measured, managed • Located in systems • F = probability X consequences • Common in engineering, epidemiology, toxicology, etc Credit: h9p://­‐graphical-­‐models-­‐book-­‐by-­‐daphne-­‐koller/
  3. 3. h9p:// Credit: h9p://
  4. 4. Economic perspec've: • Risk can be priced, traded • Located in markets, courtrooms • F = preferences X value • Common in game theory, law, finance, actuarial science, etc Credit: h9p://­‐katrina.jpg
  5. 5. Credit: h9p://
  6. 6. Perceptual perspec've: • Risk can be amplified, a9enuated • Located in cogniPon, comm. • F = interpretaPon X response • Common in psych, behavioral econ, public opinion studies, etc Credit: h9p://
  7. 7. Cultural perspec've: • Risk can refract, diffuse • Located in acPon nets • F = trajectories X spillovers • Common in sociology, poliPcal science, anthropology, etc Credit: h9p://­‐risk-­‐reducPon/
  8. 8. A:er Fukushima Credit: h9p://­‐content/uploads/2011/04/fukushima-­‐before-­‐1.jpg
  9. 9. Credit: h9p://­‐in-­‐march.jpg
  10. 10. Credit: h9p://­‐oneyearlater/index.html
  11. 11. Credit: h9p://
  12. 12. Fukushima ! Europe Credit: Google Maps
  13. 13. France = Con'nued Investment Credit: h9p://­‐content/uploads/Nicolas-­‐Sarkozy.jpeg
  14. 14. Switzerland = Licensed Decline Credit: h9p://­‐in-­‐der-­‐schweiz-­‐en.jpg
  15. 15. Italy = Renewed Moratorium Credit: h9p://­‐europe-­‐13741105
  16. 16. Credit: h9p://
  17. 17. Germany = Accelerated Phaseout Credit: h9p://évrier14.pdf
  18. 18. Lessons from Fukushima? 1. Risks are not singular but consist of mulPple or plural realiPes à a parPal strategy is insufficient 2. Rather than numbers vs narraPve à vulnerability reducPon vs. risk reducPon 3. Design for incompleteness à system redundancies, assessment redundancies, overlapping governance, transparency and traceability
  19. 19. Acknowledgements Collaborators: Michael Lounsbury, Lianne Lefsrud, Chang Lu For sources and further details, please see our working paper: “PerspecPves on Risk: From Techno-­‐Economic CalculaPons to Socio-­‐Cultural Meanings” h9p:// Financial support provided in part by a grant from the Helmholtz-­‐Alberta IniPaPve
  20. 20. Comments welcome Mail jgehman at ualberta dot ca TwiHer @joelgehman
  21. 21. Thank You!