To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Complexity, creeping normalcy and conceit: sexy and unsexy catastrophic risks

Karin Kuhlemann (School of Public Policy, University College London, London, UK)

Foresight

ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 29 November 2018

Issue publication date: 11 March 2019

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to consider few cognitive and conceptual obstacles to engagement with global catastrophic risks (GCRs).

Design/methodology/approach

The paper starts by considering cognitive biases that affect general thinking about GCRs, before questioning whether existential risks really are dramatically more pressing than other GCRs. It then sets out a novel typology of GCRs – sexy vs unsexy risks – before considering a particularly unsexy risk, overpopulation.

Findings

It is proposed that many risks commonly regarded as existential are “sexy” risks, while certain other GCRs are comparatively “unsexy.” In addition, it is suggested that a combination of complexity, cognitive biases and a hubris-laden failure of imagination leads us to neglect the most unsexy and pervasive of all GCRs: human overpopulation. The paper concludes with a tentative conceptualisation of overpopulation as a pattern of risking.

Originality/value

The paper proposes and conceptualises two new concepts, sexy and unsexy catastrophic risks, as well as a new conceptualisation of overpopulation as a pattern of risking.

Keywords

Citation

Kuhlemann, K. (2019), "Complexity, creeping normalcy and conceit: sexy and unsexy catastrophic risks", Foresight, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 35-52. https://doi.org/10.1108/FS-05-2018-0047

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited