ABOUT THIS BOOK
Nuclear bombs in suitcases, anthrax bacilli in ventilators, tsunamis and meteors, avian flu, scorchingly hot temperatures: nightmares that were once the plot of Hollywood movies are now frighteningly real possibilities. How can we steer a path between willful inaction and reckless overreaction?
Cass Sunstein explores these and other worst-case scenarios and how we might best prevent them in this vivid, illuminating, and highly original analysis. Singling out the problems of terrorism and climate change, Sunstein explores our susceptibility to two opposite and unhelpful reactions: panic and utter neglect. He shows how private individuals and public officials might best respond to low-probability risks of disaster—emphasizing the need to know what we will lose from precautions as well as from inaction. Finally, he offers an understanding of the uses and limits of cost–benefit analysis, especially when current generations are imposing risks on future generations.
Throughout, Sunstein uses climate change as a defining case, because it dramatically illustrates the underlying principles. But he also discusses terrorism, depletion of the ozone layer, genetic modification of food, hurricanes, and worst-case scenarios faced in our ordinary lives. Sunstein concludes that if we can avoid the twin dangers of overreaction and apathy, we will be able to ameliorate if not avoid future catastrophes, retaining our sanity as well as scarce resources that can be devoted to more constructive ends.
Worst-Case Scenarios is a powerful intellectual treatment about the most difficult problems facing society. The book makes it clear that these problems do not have easy answers. Sunstein's analysis also makes it clear that we would be better off if societal decision makers fully understood the insights he brings to these problems.
-- Max Bazerman, Harvard Business School
Sunstein cuts through a great deal of confusion that is preventing the development of coherent and rational public policies. The issues raised by low-probability, high-consequence events are becoming more important as the world is more interconnected. Governments and citizens are not prepared to deal with these issues. This book will help.
-- Jonathan Baron, University of Pennsylvania
Professor Sunstein provides cogent advice about how people should respond to low probabilities of catastrophe. He strikes a thoughtful middle ground, showing how we should be careful without being paranoid. While the applications to terrorism and climate change are insightful, his intellectual approach offers guidance for all sorts of possible catastrophes. The book is a must for leaders of business and government throughout the world.
-- John Graham, Dean, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Worst-Case Scenarios is a rich analysis, both explanatory and normative, of societal responses to catastrophic risks such as terrorism and global warming. Sunstein occupies the fertile middle ground between the proponents of traditional rational-actor models and cost-benefit analysis, and those who reject these approaches entirely.
-- Matthew D. Adler, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Worst-Case Scenarios is an important and timely book.
-- Glenn C. Altschuler Baltimore Sun
Sunstein's book is best when he discusses how we weigh up the costs of protecting ourselves against the benefits of doing so. Many object to cost-benefit analysis, regarding it as cold and mechanical, particularly the placing of monetary value on human lives. Sunstein accepts it is a rough instrument, but he argues that many of us implicitly use it.
-- Michael Skapinker Financial Times
Sunstein writes engagingly, though in a way that scolds us a little for our irrational foibles; and he can illuminate very complex areas of rational choice theory--controversies about future discounting, for example (most of us prefer the certainty of $10,000 now to the certainty of a larger sum ten years hence, even adjusted for inflation), and commensurability (the assessment of such diverse consequences as monetary loss, moral loss and the loss of a zoological species in some common currency of analysis)--so that intelligent thought about decision-making in conditions of uncertainty is brought within reach of the sort of non-specialist reader who is likely to have a practical or political interest in these matters...Sunstein illuminates a whole array of difficult and technical issues: the logic of irreversibility, the basis of low-level probabilistic calculations, the "social amplification" of large single-event losses, different ways of taking into account effects on future generations and ways of thinking about the monetisation of disparate costs and benefits.
-- Jeremy Waldron London Review of Books