The Precautionary Principle The Politics of Doom
Precautionary Principle• When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.• Proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof• The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.
Origin • 1992 Earth Summit: Declaration on Environment and Development • Principle 15, advocating the widespread international application of the precautionary principle. “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”Source: http://www.unep.org/Documents.multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=78&ArticleID=1163
Examples of Precautionary Principle Targets• Environment • Chemicals – Global warming/cooling – DDT and other pesticides – Loss of species – BPA – Population explosion • Health• Energy – Vaccinations – Nuclear power plants – New drugs – Fracking • Technology• Food safety – Cell phones and towers – Genetically modified crops – Mad cow disease – Mercury in fish – Chlorinated water
Examples of Precautionary Principle Users• EPA • Dept of Interior – CO2 pollutant classification – Drilling moratoriums – Utility MACT, Boiler MACT • Dept of Energy – Mining and power plant – Nuclear plants permits • FDA• Community development – New drug approval times planners – Drugs withdrawn from – Smart growth/sustainable market development/livable • Consumer Product Safety communities/Agenda 21 Commission• Transportation departments – Crib recalls – Rail and other public transportation – Alternative cars
Prudence vs Inertia (Analysis Paralysis) “When applying the principle, it is recommended that society establish a minimal threshold of scientific certainty—the threshold of plausibility—before undertaking precautions. In practice, no minimal threshold of plausibility is specified as a “triggering” condition, so any hint that a proposed product or activity might harm health or the environment is sufficient to invoke the principle. Often the only precaution taken is a ban on the product or activity. Prudence transformed into a power grab.”Source: http://theresilientearth.com/?q=content/precautionary-principle-power-grab
Comparison Precautionary Principle Proactive PrincipleBasic Concept Take no chances! Get ‘er done!Mood Pessimism, fear Optimism, courageRisk Assessment Guilty until proven Innocent until proven guilty innocentKey Words May, might, could, risk Calculated risk, opportunityGov’t Impact More regulation, suppress Encourage innovation and innovation entrepreneurshipMottos Better safe than sorry Nothing ventured, nothing gained Look before you leap Necessity is the mother of invention An ounce of prevention is Practice makes perfect worth a pound of cureMotive Political power grab Freedom and liberty
Precautionary Principle in Real Life• If you really buy into the Precautionary Principle, would you…. – Drive a car (risk of crash, being stolen) – Marry (risk of divorce, unfaithful spouse, incompatibility, grow apart) – Have a baby (risk of medical problems, early death, grow up to be a criminal/drug addict) – Start a business (risk of bankruptcy) – Walk down stairs (risk of falling and injury) Everything in Life is a RISK!
“Perhaps the ultimate application of the precautionary principle should be to sex. After all, there are some very nasty diseases that can be transmitted by intercourse. My suggestion is that all true believers in precaution stop having sex immediately, even protected sex, sinceprophylactics have been known to fail. This would have two salubrious effects: first, eco-activists everywhere could no longer enjoy sexual congress, depriving them of much pleasure—just payback for the misery they have inflicted on the rest of humankind; and second, not being able to reproduce will eventually purge our species of these pusillanimous precautionists—think of it as evolution in action.”Source: http://theresilientearth.com/?q=content/precautionary-principle-power-grab