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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


March-April 2016

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Systemic Risks: The New Kid on the Block

This is the fourth commentary in Environment Magazine's retrospective on “Our Hazardous Environment,” following the first three commentaries published in the January/February issue of Environment. The original three articles discussed in the following and other commentaries are available at

Europe 6,000 years ago: Three representatives of the Homo sapiens species are sitting outside their cave, talking. “We have perfectly clean water,” says the first. “Yes,” agrees the second, “we eat purely natural food and don't have stressful jobs.” “That's true,” muses the third, “and this all sounds idyllic, but we won't live more than 30 years.” Today, on the other hand, average life expectancy in the United States is 78 years and in most parts of Europe and Japan even higher than 80. This extremely positive trend can largely be attributed to four factors: a healthy and balanced diet, medical and technological advances, relatively good welfare provision, and high standards of hygiene. These factors alone account for the fact that the risks to life and health have steadily declined for decades and continue to do so.1

Ortwin Renn is Director of the International Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam/Berlin and a full professor of environmental sociology and technology assessment at the University of Stuttgart.       

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