How CEOs, Experts And Philosophers See The World's Biggest Risks Differently

How CEOs, Experts And Philosophers See The World's Biggest Risks Differently Activist Greta Thunberg was among attendees who want the world’s leaders to prioritize fighting climate change. AP Photo/Michael Probst

We live in a world threatened by numerous existential risks that no country or organization can resolve alone, such as climate change, extreme weather and the coronavirus.

But in order to adequately address them, we need agreement on which are priorities – and which aren’t.

As it happens, the policymakers and business leaders who largely determine which risks become global priorities spent a week in January mingling in the mountainous resort of Davos for an annual meeting of the world’s elite.

I participated in a global risk assessment survey that informed those at the Davos summit on what they should be paying the most attention to. The results, drawn from experts in a broad range of disciplines including business, happen to be very different from what company CEOs specifically see as the biggest threats they face.

As a philosopher, I found the differences curious. They highlight two contrasting ways of seeing the world – with significant consequences for our ability to address societal risks.

How CEOs, Experts And Philosophers See The World's Biggest Risks Differently Wildfires in Australia have destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares since September. AP Photo/Noah Berger

Two perspectives on the biggest risks

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report consolidates the perceptions of about 800 experts in business, government and civil society to rank “the world’s most pressing challenges” for the coming year by likelihood and impact.

In 2020, extreme weather, a failure to act on climate change and natural disasters topped the list of risks in terms of likelihood of occurrence. In terms of impact, the top three were climate action failure, weapons of mass destruction and a loss of biodiversity.

The specific perspective of corporate leaders, however, is captured in another survey that highlights what they perceive as the biggest risks to their own businesses’ growth prospects. Conducted by consultancy PwC since 1998, it also holds sway in Davos. I’ve been involved in that report as well when I used to work for the organization.

In sharp contrast to the World Economic Forum’s risk report, the CEO survey found that the top three risks to business this year are overregulation, trade conflicts and uncertain economic growth.

How CEOs, Experts And Philosophers See The World's Biggest Risks Differently President Trump’s trade war and other economic concerns tend to be the focus of corporate CEOs. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Economic or ethical

What explains such a big difference in how these groups see the greatest threats?

I wanted to look at this question more deeply, beyond one year’s assessment, so I did a simple analysis of 14 years of data generated by the two reports. My findings are only inferences from publicly available data, and it should be noted that the two surveys have different methodologies and ask different questions that may shape respondents’ answers.

A key difference I observed is that business leaders tend to think in economic terms first and ethical terms second. That is, businesses, as you’d expect, tend to focus on their short-term economic situation, while civil society and other experts in the Global Risk Report focus on longer-term social and environmental consequences.

For example, year after year, CEOs have named a comparatively stable set of narrow concerns. Overregulation is among the main three threats in all but one of the years – and is frequently at the top of the list. Availability of talent, government fiscal concerns and the economy were also frequently mentioned over the past 14 years.

In contrast, the Global Risk Report tends to reflect a greater evolution in the types of risks the world faces, with concerns about the environment and existential threats growing increasingly prominent over the past five years, while economic and geopolitical risks have faded after dominating in the late 2000s.

A philosophical perspective

Risk surveys are useful tools for understanding what matters to CEOs and civil society. Philosophy is useful for considering why their priorities differ, and whose are likelier to be right.

Fundamentally, risks are about interests. Businesses want a minimum of regulations so they can make more money today. Experts representing constituencies beyond just business place a greater emphasis on the common good, now and in the future.

When interests are in tension, philosophy can help us sort between them. And while I’m sympathetic to CEOs’ desire to run their businesses without regulatory interference, I’m concerned that these short-term economic considerations often impede long-term ethical goals, such as looking after the well-being of the environment.

An uncertain world

Experts agree on at least one thing: The world faces dire risks.

This year’s Global Risk Report, titled, “An Unsettled World,” depicts on its cover a vulnerable earth in the shadow of a gigantic whirlpool.

The cover photograph of the Global CEO Survey, which reported the lowest CEO confidence in economic growth since the Great Recession, shows an incoming tide beneath looming dark clouds, with the words: “Navigating the Rising Tide of Uncertainty.”

Between the covers, however, the reports demonstrate a wide gap between two influential groups that need to be on the same page if we hope to resolve the world’s biggest threats.

Last century, in the same year that World War II drew to a close, Bertrand Russell proclaimed that the purpose of philosophy was to teach us “how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation.”

In the 21st century, philosophy can remind us of our unfortunate tendency to let economic priorities paralyze action on more pressing concerns.

About The Author

Christopher Michaelson, Professor of Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-world Radicalism
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-World Radicalism
by Calvert Jones and Celia Paris
Humans are storytelling creatures: the stories we tell have profound implications for how we see our role in the world,…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
by Tim Radford
Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often.
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
by Paul Brown
As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and…
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
by Heather Alberro
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and the richest man alive, recently made headlines after pledging to donate $10 billion to a new…
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
by Alex Kirby
Educating both halves of humankind seems a no-brainer. Schools for girls could transform climate protection − and so…

LATEST VIDEOS

Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…

LATEST ARTICLES

Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
by Jack DeWaard
If it seems like extreme weather disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires are becoming more frequent, severe and…
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
by George Milev and Amin Al-Habaibeh
The COVID-19 lockdown has led to reduced pollution and emissions in the UK and around the world, providing a clear…
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
by Sarah McLaren
I would like to know if New Zealand’s carbon emissions of 0.17% include emissions produced from products manufactured…
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
by Ben Christopher Howard
The coronavirus pandemic has grounded thousands of aircraft, contributing to the largest-ever annual fall in CO₂…
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
by Alemu Gonsamo
Climate warming is leading to early springs and delayed autumns in colder environments, allowing plants to grow for a…
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
by Deidra Miniard et al
Political divisions are a growing fixture in the United States today, whether the topic is marriage across party lines,…
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
by Alexandra Macmillan and Jono Drew
I am wondering about the climate impact of vegan meat versus beef. How does a highly processed patty compare to…