Risk has become a central concern for businesses, regulators and communities. At one level, risk is about numbers and information. But at another level, risk is about narratives and meanings. In this paper, we describe four risk perspectives: technical, economic, perceptual, and cultural. Technical and economic perspectives inform techno-economic approaches to risk, whereas perceptual and cultural perspectives inform socio-cultural approaches to risk. We argue that understanding energy and environmental risks requires consideration of information and meaning, and numbers and narratives. We illustrate these perspectives with a brief case study of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster and consider Canadian energy development debates. The discussion suggests that risks within and across societies—whether at a given point in time, or dynamically over time—can be more fully explained by going beyond techno-economic conceptualizations of risk through consideration of socio-cultural issues.

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