Jeremy Waldron has a great piece in the latest LRB reviewing a recent book by Cass Sunstein. He has a nice discussion of the Cheney doctrine that even a one-percent probability of a catastrophic event should be treated as a certainty for policy purposes, where the class of catastrophic events is limited to those with a military, security or terrorist dimension. Reasoning like this interacts neatly with “ticking-bomb” scenarios: now a 1 per cent chance that the there’s a ticking bomb the terrorist knows about is sufficient in to justify waterboarding or worse. Of course other potentially catastrophic developments—such as climate change—haven’t generated a “treat as if certain” policy response from the US government, even thought even the most determined denialists must evaluate the probability that anthropogenic global warming is happening at greater than one in a hundred.
Waldron is also pretty acid about Sunstein’s treatment of global warming and distributive justice, noting some of the shortcomings of the idea that poor people’s lives should be valued according to what they’re prepared to pay to avoid the risk of death. But read the whole thing, as they say.