Introduction to the Precautionary Principle - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

1 / 36
About This Presentation

Introduction to the Precautionary Principle


is that technology--the use of tools--occurs in a social, political, cultural, ... Secrecy is the tool of tyrants. Lesson 11. Connect the dots. Search for pattern. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

Number of Views:279
Avg rating:3.0/5.0
Slides: 37
Provided by: CarolynRaf1


Transcript and Presenter's Notes

Title: Introduction to the Precautionary Principle

Introduction to thePrecautionary Principle
  • Carolyn Raffensperger
  • Science and Environmental Health Network

Questioning Technology
  • It is a truism that humans have and will always
    use tools. Just as obvious is that
    technology--the use of tools--occurs in a social,
    political, cultural, and economic context, and is
    never neutral. Tools are always shaped by their
    use, by the people or institutions which control
    their production and distribution, and by a
    culture which validates, circumscribes, or
    discourages their creation and/or use...
  • (T. L. Hill 1991)

  • What criteria should society use to evaluate
  • Do we have a right to say no to a technology?
  • Are there wise ways to say yes to a technology?
  • Can we increase our skill in predicting the
    consequences of a technology?

Laws of Technology
  • The bigger the technological solution, the
    greater the chance of extensive, unforeseen side
    effects. (Stephen Schneider, 1976)
  • The greater the rapidity of human-induced
    changes, the more likely they are to destablize
    the complex systems of nature. (Leopold 1949)

The Precautionary Principle
  • Wingspread Statement 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.

History of Precaution and Development
  • 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human
    Environment. Stockholm. Sustainable development
    elevated to a global ethic. First pairing of
    the moral principles of social justice and
    environmental responsibility.

The Bruntland Report, Our Common Future 1987
  • Poverty is a cause and effect of environmental
  • Present policies encourage environmental
    deterioration and deepen economic and social

1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and
  • Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Biosafety Protocol

The Rio Declaration
  • 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.

The Precautionary Principle has been
characterized as
  • Ethical Directive, Belief or Philosophical guide
  • Treaty Preambles
  • German word for precautionary principle means
    literally forecaring
  • Regulatory tool
  • Risk management (rather than prevention?)
  • Administrative Agency activity
  • Overarching principle guiding the research
    agenda, legislation, regulation and judicial

Common elements of the precautionary principle
  • Plausible threats of harm
  • Lack of scientific certainty
  • Precautionary action to prevent harm

  • To whom or what?
  • Environment
  • Public Health
  • Cultural, Social
  • Magnitude and kind
  • Serious
  • Cumulative
  • Irreversible
  • easily avoidable?

Scientific uncertainty
  • Uncertainty about cause or magnitude
  • Uncertainty, indeterminacy, ignorance
  • Value of more data
  • Unpredictability of complex systems
  • Asking the right questions

Precautionary Action
  • Anticipatory and preventive
  • Increases rather than decreases options
  • Can be monitored and reversed
  • Increases resilience, health, integrity of whole
  • Enhances diversity (one size does not fit all)

Components of implementation
  • 1. Establish goals.
  • 2. Locate responsibility in the system. The
    burden of proof lies with the proponents, not
    with the public. 
  • 3. Examine a full range of alternatives. Choose
    the least harmful.
  • 4. Make decisions through an open, informed,
    democratic process. Include affected parties.

Can We Say Yes to New Technologies
  • What is our yardstick for environmental
  • Proposal evolutionary biology. What does nature
  • Example Biomimicry

Can we Say yes to New Technologies
  • Shifting the Burden of Proof
  • Proposal Performance Bonds
  • Ex. Mining companies post bonds before mining
    public lands.

Can we Say yes to New Technologies
  • Keeping mistakes little (if weve said yes and we
    are wrong)
  • Proposal Monitoring at multi-levels of the
  • Example NASA and space shuttles
  • Example 2 Labeling for biotech foods

A Little Digression
  • Einstein taught us that Thought Experiments are
    useful in science.
  • What thought experiments can we use to imagine
    where things might go awry in the system?
  • Example What would an emergency room M.D. need
    to diagnose an allergenic response to a biotech

Precautionary questions for pharming
  • What are societys goals for
  • Agriculture
  • Medicine
  • Environment

Pharming questions cont.
  • What alternative methods do we have for meeting
    our goals?
  • What harms are relatively certain if we proceed
    with pharming?
  • What harms are uncertain?

Pharming questions cont.
  • Who or what will benefit?
  • Who or what will be harmed?

Pharming questions cont.
  • What early warning systems can we create?
  • Are there any events that would result in a total
  • What monitoring systems need to be in place?

Pharming questions cont.
  • Who needs to be at the table making decisions
  • Goals
  • Research agenda
  • Agriculture
  • Medicine
  • What constitutes harm?
  • What early warning systems are needed?
  • Remedies for harm
  • Alternatives to harmful activities

Lessons Learned aboutthe Precautionary Principle
  • Prevention is wiser and less costly than
    repairing damage.

Lesson 2
  • Consider worst case scenarios carefully. Low
    probability, high risk events not only follow
    Murphys law, they follow statistical
    probability. If we regularly truck shipments of
    high level radioactive waste across the United
    States, there will be an accident, some time,
    some place.

Lesson 3
  • Put certainty on a sliding scale rather than
    treating it as an absolute. If the potential harm
    is serious we need to take action even if we are
    less certain about the probability or magnitude
    of the harm.

Lesson 4
  • Foster the conditions that encourage
    foreseeability (openness, free-flowing
    information, protecting minority-view science).
    We failed to predict some problems like CFCs
    damaging the ozone layer, but that doesnt mean
    they were unforeseeable.

Lesson 5
  • Timing is everything. The higher the stakes, the
    more important it is to take precautionary action
    sooner rather than later. Speed up democracy.
    Slow down large scale deployment.

Lesson 6
  • Science isnt the only way to know something.
    Aesthetics and ethics are useful guides when the
    way forward is uncertain. If its a beautiful
    solution, its more trustworthy than an ugly
    solution. If its a respectful, compassionate
    solution, its more trustworthy than a
    disrespectful, hostile solution.

Lesson 7
  • Concentrating precious things (people) or harmful
    things (radioactive waste or hog manure in
    lagoons) increases the chances for major damage
    in the event of an unexpected problem. Scale
    determines whether a problem will be a minor
    disturbance or a catastrophe. Large scale
    activities (monocropping of corn, large
    consumption of fossil fuels) will cause trouble
    some time, some place.

Lesson 8
  • Favor actions that keep options open.
  • Favor actions that allow for experimentation.
  • Favor actions that can be monitored and reversed
    if there are unintended consequences.

Lesson 9
  • When the science is uncertain, switch sciences
    map relationships rather than measure things or
    move from toxicology to evolutionary biology,
    pharmacology and physiology. Rigid dependence on
    one discipline or scientific tool blinds us to
    the clues in other disciplines.

Lesson 10
  • Honor and protect information and wisdom.
    Adopt policies of openness rather than secrecy.
    Secrecy is the tool of tyrants.

Lesson 11
  • Connect the dots. Search for pattern.
    Emerging patterns provide new hypotheses and
    opportunities to avoid harm.

Lesson 12
  • Act out of love rather than fear or hate. Hate
    is extremely powerful, breeding revenge, damage
    and loss. Love is more powerful, breeding
    restoration, healing and protection.
Write a Comment
User Comments (0)