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The University of Southampton
Centre for Risk Research

Researchers Provide a Fresh Perspective on Managing the Challenges of Global Population Growth

Published: 24 March 2014

In a new paper to be publish in the journal Risk Analysis, Dr Ian Dawson and Professor Johnnie Johnson have outlined a number of ways in which risk perception and risk communication research can play a key role in helping to address the challenges associated with the growing human population.

Dr Ian Dawson outlined the contents of the paper by explaining that "In 2011 the global human population reached 7 billion and it is forecast to reach somewhere between 9 and 10 billion by 2045. Current academic theories and evidence suggest that this growth may increase the risk of adverse events such as climate change, resource shortages, socio-political instabilities and species extinction. However, many academics have also argued that the size to which the global population grows and the extent to which this growth increases the risk of adverse outcomes will largely be shaped by individuals' decisions (in households, organizations, governments, etc.). We are aware, from a large body of evidence in the field of risk research, that there is a strong relationship between decision behaviours and risk perceptions. Therefore, we found it is surprising that there remains a lack of scientific research that has specifically examined the perceived risks of population growth and how these perceptions might influence important related decisions. In our paper, we have outlined a number of ways in which this line of research could be developed and, importantly, how the findings could be utilised to help better understand how all individuals might play a role in addressing the challenges of global population growth."

Dr Dawson, who has recently been awarded a £11,800 grant by the University's 'Annual Adventures in Research Scheme' to start this line of research, added that "We believe that research into people's perceptions of the difficulties that may stem from global population growth could provide important insights into the way that people may respond to the issue and how these responses might shape the course of future events. Furthermore, such insights could help to identify circumstances where risk communications and educational interventions might be used to help people make more informed decisions."

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