An Environmental Sociological Analysis on Risk Perception and Typology from Perspectives of Environmental Justice, Post-Materialism, and Environmental Democracy

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Ryoichi TERADA, Meiji University, Japan
According to Ulrich Beck, “risk society” is the society in which “production, distribution, and definition of risks” become the most crucial issues. However, engineering scientists always assess the risk level using an equation: Risk = Hazard x Probability (or Exposure) without taking social process of “definition” into account, as Shrader Frechette criticizes as naïve “scientific” reductionist.

In this presentation, I propose a three-fold typology of environmental risk; a) risks with fixed probability that can be assessed with R = H x P equation, b) risks with scientific uncertainty, and c) catastrophic and irreversible (accordingly incalculable) risks. Well-known pollutants such as heavy metals and SOx belong to type a) and recently discovered ones like endocrine disruptors are type b). Nuclear accidents and GMO pollution would be categorized as catastrophic types. I hypothesized correlation between type a), well-known risks and “environmental justice” cause. While type b), uncertain risks and type c), catastrophic risks would be rather correlated with “environmental democracy” or precautionary principal concerns. Also, we can expect that those in lower social strata tend to concerned about the former and that those in upper-middle strata with more “post-materialist” values tend to concerned about the latter.

We conducted opinion survey twice to verify the hypotheses, once in East Japan area in 2012 and the other both in Japan and in Taiwan in 2017. We found that the respondents’ perception of risks broke down roughly into the three categories and those in lower strata were more concerned about disproportionate distribution of risks (environmental justice). Those with critical view on nuclear energy or GMOs tended to support environmental democratic policy principles. Difference in political culture also affected the perception. In Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party supporters were more anti-nuclear in particular.