THE RISK SOCIETY AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
Ulrich Beck describes “the risk society” as being characterized by contingencies, or “risks,” created by scientific, technological, and industrial progress that can no longer be controlled by the typical institutions of industrial society. In this new social pattern, abstract risks interact with the concrete risks that formerly characterized industrial society. Concrete risks can be foreseen and controlled. Abstract risks, however, are unforeseeable and uncontrollable. Abstract risks can only be managed.
While the risks described by Beck affect many distinct fields of social life, environmental problems are among the most prominent worldwide issues. Fernando dos Reis Condesso presents the following data: Atmospheric pollution tripled in the last three decades; between the years 1992 and 1998, approximately 50,000 biological species became extinct; only four-thousandths of the planet's water is available for human consumption; because of human activities, about 10 percent of the earth's surface has been transformed from forest and fertile ground into desert.
Beck observes that environmental risks are limitless through time, global in extent, and potentially disastrous. Because of the increasing complexity of these risks, industrial society has lost the ability to control them. In this context, the environmental crisis has reached a new dimension. It has become a global and complex crisis, an undivided and interdependent part of a larger crisis, which Edgar Morin calls “poly-crisis.” Within this poly-crisis, it is not possible to establish a hierarchy of concerns because there is not just one critical problem but many interlinked critical problems.