Towards global civility
In fact it is the multiplicity of globalisation processes, their contradictory tendencies and unregulated development that makes the world of today so dangerous (see Berger 1998). The intensity and frequency of encounters between adherents of different values and world views result from the freedom that states have in part given, in part been forced to relinquish, to individuals and business in an enormous expansion of markets and development of technology. The scope for free association worldwide by non-state actors needs now to be accompanied by a similar growth of worldwide civility. A climate of tolerance and preparedness to settle disputes peacefully can no longer be seen as the responsibility of state agencies alone, any more than good behaviour and mutual respect within states can be produced by law.
In many ways the threat of human-induced climate change represents a classic collective action problem. It is a problem which affects everyone and which, to different degrees, is caused by everyone. The scale of international cooperation that is required is in many ways without precedent. The sources of the problem are widespread and ingrained in the everyday practices of production and consumption. The problem spans from the global to the local level and therefore requires changes at all levels of human activity from the household upwards. This presents an enormous challenge for effective interventions. As Geoffrey Heal (1999: 222–3) notes, carbon dioxide is produced as a result of ‘billions of decentralised and independent decisions by private households for heating and transportation and by corporations for these and other needs, all outside the government sphere. The government can influence these decisions, but only indirectly through regulations or incentives.’
That difficulty is compounded by our anguish about the intensity and speed with which the world situation is deteriorating, which demands urgent action. Not to mention that with every passing day more and more people die for lack of food, medicines or basic sanitation, while the incessant quest for profit at any price continues to dominate economic activities in countries rich and poor. The dialectic of action and reaction set up by the present government of the United States in its war on terrorism is, in turn, driving insecurity worldwide. To make the situation even more serious, the same government – as if its threatened ‘preventive wars’ were not enough – is ringing China with military bases, signalling in that way the new enemy it intends to confront to maintain US hegemony. In addition, accepted and completely feasible measures to address the ecological risks facing humankind are being adopted at an extremely slow rate, and social irresponsibility on the part of business and government continues to prevail over efforts to control the harmful environmental effects of many systems of economic production and activity. In short, the prospects we face are little short of terrifying.
Conclusion: risk and human security
The past year has been a roller coaster year for global civil society. Events like the tsunami or the London bombings have exposed the meaning of world risk society. Global civil society action, ranging from respectable reports to anarchic demonstrations, can be understood as attempts to portray both everyday dangers faced by millions of people in the poorer and more violent parts of the world and their translation into risks faced by people living in the richer, supposedly more secure parts of the world.
Consciousness of global risk
The 2004 tsunami, global poverty and Darfur
According to one set of authors, ‘the essence of risk is not that it is happening, but that it might be happening’. Moreover, most turn-of-the-century literature focuses on risk as ‘manufactured, not only through the application of technologies, but also in the making of sense’ (Adam and van Loon 2000: 2). In this sense, the tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004 had nothing to do with risk. It had not been manufactured either in the technological sense or in the discursive sense. Instead, it came as a complete surprise, and afterwards it was no longer a risk but a reality.
The role that global civil society plays as the medium through which consciousness of risk is increased and risk protection is promoted also, of course , varies widely between rich and poor regions. Risk experienced in the poorer parts of the world is much more pervasive and less amenable to control than risks in the richer parts of the world. Indeed, authors like Douglas (1992: 38–54) and Luhmann (1993: 22–3) draw a distinction between risk and danger, between uncertainties that might be averted through alternative human decision-making and immediate threats to one’s daily survival. It could therefore be argued that worrying about risk is a luxury of privileged Northerners. People in conflict zones or at the margins of survival do not attend festival performances with a ‘risk’ theme. Yet it is the privileged Northerners who dominate global civil society and who therefore have the biggest say in determining what counts as global risk.
The de-bounding of risk
NGOs usually pushed for the second and third versions of the precautionary principle, which turned out to be more complex as it became clear that many risks at the global and transnational levels were of a different quality. Whereas the principle sought to establish an explicit – if typically under-specified and yet unproven – link between cause and effect, the risks of world society are of a qualitative different nature.
The precautionary principle, whose goal as a policy blueprint was to help manage risk, had a number of effects that went beyond the purpose of specific policies. It changed the relationships among stakeholders, including the general public, bringing about a new politics of risk management at the national and increasingly the regional and global levels. Importantly, it paved the way for civil society organisations to assume a greater role in the identification, handling and oversight of risk-related aspects of policy concerns such as the environment, human rights, industrial safety or transnational crime.
The precautionary principle and world risk society
The precautionary principle
The modern, state-centred concept of risk assumed its most developed expression in what has become known as the precautionary principle of policy-making (Lofstedt 2003; European Commission 2000). In its simplest formulation, taken from the 1992 Rio Declaration, the principle states, ‘where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.’ Subsequently, the application of the precautionary principle spread to other fields such as the chemical industry, pharmaceuticals, climate change, and even the threat of terrorism, although the term is largely used in relation to environmental risk. Indeed, it can be argued that the state’s responsibility for physical and material security – for protecting people against risks which range from nuclear war to poverty – was always an expression of the precautionary principle within the boundaries of the nation-state.
This is a yearbook about risk. What do climate change, migration, the tsunami of 26 December 2004, the terrorist threat and the fall in the dollar have in common? Ulrich Beck, one of the foremost theorists of risk, would say ‘world risk society’. Beck argues that the calculation and management of risk was part of the ‘master narrative’ of the first phase of modernity, the construction of nation-states and modern industry. The modern state was designed to protect and insure citizens against risk – the dangers posed by nature, personal risks of ill health and unemployment, as well as threats posed by foreign enemies. Civic preparedness programmes, military defence, and the welfare state are the results of the state’s response to collective risk.