Thursday 16 September 2010

Risk & Ethics of Adventure: EMFF Oct 24th

At this year’s Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival I’m speaking at a debate on the Ethics of Adventure. Sunday 24th October, 2pm, details on the EMFF site here.
Of course there are many ethical aspects to adventure and adventure sport, and which we discuss I’m sure will depend on what you guys want to talk about on the day. I guess the most discussed of all is of course the issue of risk. I’m never sure whether it’s because I’ve studied, written and talked about the subject for years now, or whether I rub noses with it a lot, or whether I’m getting older. But when I observe attitudes to risk in some others or society in general, I get quite riled. I’m a passive sort of chap and that doesn’t happen easily. 
It strikes me that the general attitudes to risk and which risks are acceptable are not in my society has got progressively more messed up in my lifetime. My sport of climbing has been a welcome sanctuary of sense a lot of the time! It seems that people are content to take huge risks with life, limb or lifestyle without giving much thought (or none at all), yet are aghast at others risk taking that is proportionally far smaller, or balanced against much greater reward.
I’m being a little provocative here of course. I know that it’s a question of perception. A lot of our grave errors in risk awareness and management aren’t really our fault. We’re not hardwired to cope with the sorts of risks of modern life, and the corrupting influences of the media compound this to a quite staggering level. 
So more on this on the 24th… See you there maybe for a lively chat.


  1. Hi Dave, i’ve been following your blog and especially the OCC section with interest for some time now but, until now, have resisted the temptation to reply to any of your comments, in fact i have never replied to any on-line site of any type.
    However, having just read your blog on “risk and the ethics of adventure” i could not resist taking the opportunity to thank you for a small oasis of sanity in a world of crap.
    I often find myself thinking that my climbing is the only part of my life which isn’t governed by the social workers and politicians and it feels good to know that i’m not alone.

  2. "It seems that people are content to take huge risks with life, limb or lifestyle without giving much thought."

    I don't really understand, could you give some examples?

  3. Sure I'll give examples at the debate. Not much time now...

  4. I was thinking of the same thing when you were being interviewed during "The Great Climb" and you mentioned that you'd only been close to dying once or twice in your climbing career. The interviewer (forget her name) retorted "But you fall all the time... that's close to dying!" Err.. not really. You can chalk that up to ignorance about climbing gear, but it really does get frustrating to have climbing constantly categorized as an "extreme" support.

    People think you're crazy to take a 10 foot fall onto a system that could easily hold a semi-truck, but don't bat an eye if you spend more time looking at your text messages than the road while driving. Texting and driving... now that's an extreme sport!

    A nice article in the NY Times is apropos:

  5. Sounds really interesting Dave! When I hear you talk about taking risks, it always reminds me of Bruce Schneier. Schneier has many interesting things to say about risk vs. the perception of risk. See his blog and especially this essay at:
    And also this one, a review of the book 'How risky is it really? Why our fears don't always match the facts':

  6. @ ian:

    I recently showed my mum a video of Chris Sharma taking a lead fall on a sports route. Wanted to show her it was all safe and nothing to worry about, cause she always does.
    Result was that she started crying after the fall and told me I was not allowed to die...

  7. A Japanese doctor, Massie Ikeda, proposed "Seek-for-zero-risk syndrome", which he argued was wide-spread in the modern society, giving (far) more harm than good. I can't agree with him enough.

  8. Indeed Masa, the socio-cultural trend towards risk aversion has been well documented by sociologists and the Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck in books like the Risk Society,

    Interesting to view the wider public's views of climbing in this context!

  9. Hi Dave,
    I see you're quite busy, but is there any chance to write that overdue article for ?

  10. Nice Blog, i have been climbing for over 12 months and have started lead climbing outdoors, I love the sense of freedom climbing brings

  11. I hope I'm not stepping on toes but.......

    .... in reply to the first Anon comment made asking about you quote

    "It seems that people are content to take huge risks with life, limb or lifestyle without giving much thought."

    I am a paramedic and I see it a lot. People smoke and drink to excess and make lifestyle choices that are far more damaging and risking of their health and well-being than taking the odd considered and prepared for 'fall' on a climb.

    I pick up drink and drug drivers, motorcyclist's and young people who believe they are invincable because they have no consideration for the risks they are taking with not just their own lives but, at times, those of others too.

    I don't know if this is the kind of thing you were thinking Dave but that would be how I interept how the 'risk' involved in climbing is a careful and considered one. The sense of the kind of risks you can take and what constitutes a risk too far comes with experience and good practise.

    Again sorry if this wasn't the way you thinking on that one Dave but a wee look into how I see things.


  12. Hi, Dave. Is there any kind of register of the panel you took part in during the EMFF? I checked the EMFF website, but found nothing there. Thank you in advance.