Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Precautionary Principle

I am childless, old, and sterile. I have NO stake, biologically, in the outcome of the climate crisis. I likely won't even live long enough to (have to) endure its harshest consequences (which are going to be horrific!@)

But still I'm fond of this big blue marble, and most of its inhabitants--including even some (few) humans.

So I have become an advocate of the Precautionary Principle, which states: If an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those who advocate taking the action.

This principle provides a rationale for policy makers to make "discretionary decisions" in situations where there is evidence of potential harm in the absence of complete scientific proof.

The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk.

Such protections might be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.

In some legal systems, as in the law of the European Union, the application of the precautionary principle has been made a statutory requirement.

A decade ago, already, environmentalists concerned about the impending climate catastrophe were insisting that it be brought to the table even though, in the CorpoRat-owned USofA, it was always a non starter:
A comprehensive definition of the precautionary principle was spelled out in a January 1998 meeting of scientists, lawyers, policy makers and environmentalists at Wingspread, headquarters of the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wisconsin. The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, which is included in full at the end of this fact sheet, summarizes the principle this way:

"When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."

Key elements of the principle include taking precaution in the face of scientific uncertainty; exploring alternatives to possibly harmful actions; placing the burden of proof on proponents of an activity rather than on victims or potential victims of the activity; and using democratic processes to carry out and enforce the principle-including the public right to informed consent.
If even a sterile, childless curmudgeon such as I can find sympathy for such an instrument, why, I wonder, do not parents rise up and DEMAND it inform climactic policy decisions, if not for themselves, then for their kids?

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