At the personal level, risk-benefit decisions often involve the question of whether to avoid substances that may be harmful to health. Is the flavor of a steak well marbled with fat worth a possibly increased probability of dying of a heart attack? Is the relaxation, pleasure, and possible ease of weight control that accompanies smoking a sufficient benefit to counterbalance the substantially increased possibilities of dying young of lung cancer or circulatory disease? Do the benefits of using aerosol underarm deodorants or hair sprays compensate for possible health effects, which are certainly small (and may be zero), of inhaling them? People informally weigh such risks all the time, always in the face of uncertainty and often even without access to the basic information about the risks that society possesses.
Even when considerable information is available, and the power to act is in your hands, decisions may not be easy. Suppose it were announced that your town’s drinking water contained that chemical that gives you a one in 10 million chance of dying of liver cancer if you drink that water for the rest of your life. Would you spend $10 a year on a filter to remove the material? $100 a year? $1,000? Your answer would obviously depend on many things, including your age and financial situation.
Consider a more familiar example. There are undeniable benefits to driving a private automobile’s convenience being paramount among them. But when everybody is driving a private automobile and commuters spend hours daily in near gridlock, the convenience factor is reduced and the direct (accident) and indirect (air pollution) risks escalate. Even now the benefits of driving are difficult to balance against the escalating risks. How does one calculate into the conveniences and inconveniences of automobile commuting the risks of additional exposure to airborne carcinogens and heart-threatening carbon monoxide or the contribution that the automobile makes toward global warming? Is the residual convenience worth a month-shorter life expectancy? A year? Two years? Is it worth a 1-percent chance of subjecting your grandchildren to food shortages by contributing to future crop failures caused by global warming? A 2 percent chance? A 5-percent chance?
... Risk/Benefit Analysis: Insecticides and Pesticides History records that ... environmentally friendly practice. Before we get into the risks and benefits of insecticide and pesticide use, we should ... insecticide and pesticide use in farming, the risks and benefits of their use to gain a better understanding ... other ideas such as these originated hundreds of years ago all over the world and have continued ...