Strategies for Coping with Systemic Risks (2005 - 2010)
Systemic risks have an extremely high potential of danger. Risk sources, once estimated as harmless might unfold unimaginable damage over long distances or after a latency period.
In terms of both an accelerated technological and societal development and an increasing global network of economy, communications, politics and culture, risks are beginning to be perceived less as limited and therefore easily predictable risks. Additionally, strategies which focus on a single cause usually trigger even more risks in surrounding systems as a consequence.
Risk sources, once estimated as harmless such as chemicals or mobile phone systems might unfold unimaginable damage over long distances or after a latency period thus putting at risk the operational capability of the affected systems (including the environmental and health systems, financial and job markets or societal structures) as well as the original system itself.
Another crucial issue is the fact that it is barely possible to prove any connection between cause and effect beyond the original source. Systemic risks are usually characterized by a high proportion of complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity.
To cope with systemic risks, the precautionary principle is of great importance as it is in sustainability research. There have already been efforts to translate the precautionary principle into practical measures. Though by now, there have only been suggestions on how to reduce health problems caused by a range of substances. From the social-ecological perspective a comprehensive approach is required integrating social, economic and ecological analysis.
From 2006 to 2010 the funding programme Social-Ecological Research has been focusing on strategies for coping with systemic risks. Five projects selected by an expert committee dealt with explosive issues such as overweight and obesity in teenagers or drinking water contamination through pharmaceuticals. In 2008 the research projects expanded their focuses either within the original projects or by starting a completely new project.