SRA-NE held its second seminar on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The seminar featured a talk by Jonathan B. Wiener of Duke University titled The Tragedy of the Uncommons.
Abstract: A new type of problem looms: the “tragedy of the uncommons,” in which a rare extreme catastrophic risk – perhaps a one-shot existential mega-catastrophe – is neglected or mishandled. This presentation focuses on the psychology, political economy, and policy challenges of such tragedies. There are multiple possible tragedies, including: public neglect arising from factors such as the availability heuristic, (un)identified individuals (victims/villains), mass numbing, and underdeterrence; challenges for risk management such as priority-setting, under/over-reaction, optimal precaution, and risk-risk tradeoffs; and the difficulty of adaptive learning about rare catastrophes. Illustrative examples include asteroid collisions, back contamination from outer space, and extreme climate change. We suggest a twist in the longstanding debate over public vs. expert perceptions of risk; a justification for both precaution and careful regulatory impact assessment; and a need for new approaches to mobilizing and designing anticipatory policy measures.
More information on the seminar can be found here.