Table of Contents...
South Korea Will Ban A Handfull of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals
South Korea adopts a precautionary approach to a handfull of
How to Get Responsible, Democratic Biotechnology
"In her new book, Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of
Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet, Caruso lays out in
chilling detail exactly why even (perhaps especially) those of us who
are strong supporters of science and innovation ought to be extremely
concerned about the unintended consequences of contemporary
biotechnological industrial research."
"I am an advocate, for example, of a proportionate version of
the precautionary principle treated as a democratizing peer-to-peer
deliberative framework for technodevelopment, one that seems to me as
likely to encourage public works and technoscientific r&d as to
Its Way Past Time to Go Beyond the Precautionary Principle?
This article reprints much of the Wikipedia entry for the
precautionary principle. It is obvious that someone needs to start
paying regular attention to this Wikpedia entry -- it's in pretty
rough shape in its present form.
Getting Warmer ...
"Based on the precautionary principle, principle of
intergenerational equity, and responsibility for species survival, it
is essential that we map our climate change policy to ensure we remain
under 2-degree Celsius warming."
From: The Korea Times, Feb. 13, 2007
TOXIC CHEMICALS BANNED FROM CHILDREN'S GOODS
By Bae Ji-sook, Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Chemicals that can harm children's health will be banned from
children's goods, the Ministry of Environment said Tuesday.
The ministry said it would propose a bill to prevent certain chemicals
from being used in products for children under 13 years old.
The ban will include phthalate, used in toys and plastic bags;
nonylphenols, in cleansers, inks and paints; arsenic pentoxide, in
wooden goods; formaldehyde, in leathering, textiles and wallpaper
glues; and lead, in children's accessories.
The chemicals are said to be endocrine disrupters or likely to cause
other health problems.
"The ministry has set a precautionary principle when it comes to
people's health," Bang Jong-shik, a ministry official, said. The
United States and the EU have already regulated the usage of most of
If the bill is passed by the National Assembly, manufacturers that
violate the law will be sentenced to up to five years in prison or
fined up to 50 million won.
Return to Table of Contents
From: WorldChanging, Feb. 12, 2007
HOW TO GET RESPONSIBLE, DEMOCRATIC BIOTECHNOLOGY
By Alex Steffen
Denise Caruso holds a somewhat legendary status among tech
journalists. A columnist for the NY Times (her old Information
Industries column was a must-read for years, while her new column
Re:Framing just kicked off on a bang with a piece titled Someone
(Other Than You) May Own Your Genes) and founder of the Hybrid Vigor
Institute (an NGO dedicated to facilitating interdisciplinary and
collaborative approaches to scientific problem solving), it's not
going too far to say that Caruso's work has helped shape our society's
thinking about the future of science.
That future may be riskier than we like to think. In her new book,
Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and
Life on a Biotech Planet, Caruso lays out in chilling detail exactly
why even (perhaps especially) those of us who are strong supporters of
science and innovation ought to be extremely concerned about the
unintended consequences of contemporary biotechnological industrial
We normally don't cover problems here on Worldchanging. Indeed, our
manifesto says "We don't generally offer links to resources which
are about problems and not solutions, unless the resource is so
insightful that its very existence is a step towards a solution." This
book does offer some solutions (about which, more later), but mostly
it offers a fervent, well-reasoned call to action. When such an "alarm
bell" book offers such clear thinking (I learned more about
biotechnology from this book than any other I've read), it becomes a
step towards solutions. And when the person ringing the alarm bell is
no luddite, but one of our brightest technology writers, the alarm
demands our attention.
The problem, Caruso says, is that the release of transgenic organisms
presents the risk of new kinds of unintended catastrophes, ones which
could "create stewardship challenges for generations into the future
that are already far beyond our present scientific knowledge or
"[W]hat we know from history is that every promise based on discovery
or invention, no matter how positive, comes factory-equipped with its
own unintended dark-side consequences.... It is not especially
difficult to come up with scenarios whereby mucking around in the
genes of living organisms leads to serious biological, social and/or
economic disruption. Yet neither knowledge of history nor dark-side
scenarios have tempered the zeal or the speed with which the products
of genetic engineering are being dispatched into the global
Caruso then explores a number of cases in which scientists themselves
have done a lousy job of risk assessment, and in which industrial
regulatory capture has prevented further exploration of known risks,
including the health effects of common plastics; the over-use of
antibiotics; the introduction of invasive species through intention or
One of the root problems, Caruso explains, is that we simply don't
know as much as we'd like to believe about the genetic mechanics of
life. The ability to sequence and manipulate DNA is a powerful (and
useful) technique; but there are other aspects of heredity which are
less well understood and which are almost impossible to predict or
control outside of a laboratory setting. Heredity can be influenced by
gene flow between species, horizontal gene transfers, mutations and
threshold effects, the effects of environment on the expression of
genes, the complex interactions between DNA and other proteins and a
variety of other factors. In aggregate, these factors render our
understanding of heredity so incomplete that relying on that
understanding to assess risk is extremely dangerous, especially when
the results of failure may reproduce or recombine to become genetic
pollution. (I have heard this argument made before by some in the
field, but she lays it out with great clarity.)
In the face of such uncertainty, scientists and business people (and
increasingly the two are inseparable in biotechnology -- the conflict
between entrepreneurial self-interest and scientific integrity is one
I think is too little explored in our society) have too often presumed
that if something can't be demonstrated to be dangerous, it must be
safe. Caruso quotes Roger Brent, saying, "Unless you can show me the
mechanism for risk, it doesn't exist." To which Caruso adds, "[R]isk
isn't about what scientists know. It's about what they don't know.
Risk is about uncertainty. And uncertainty is not what scientists do."
As one illustration, Caruso points to the first patent awarded on a
living creature, Ananda Chakrabarty's altered Pseudomonas bacterium
designed to eat oil spills. Though the patent was granted, the
bacterium was never used, because, Chakrabarty said, "The bacteria
itself is non-toxic, but once in the open environment it can combine
with pathogenic elements and show undesirable results." (To which
Caruso responds "Let us keep in mind that the 'open environment' under
discussion is ocean water, which covers 70 percent of the planet. Yes,
that might present a problem.") In this particular case, disaster was
foreseen and averted, but in a future episode we may be less lucky.
We can recognize the clear benefits of biotechnological research --
and Caruso does -- without accepting the risks imposed by poor
decision making about when it is safe to release transgenic plants and
animals into the the world's ecosystems, and, inevitably, our own
lives and bodies. We can acknowledge that biotechnology has brought
humanity incredible breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals and green
chemistry -- even that biotechnology offers incredible opportunities
for reasonably-safe-yet-rapid agricultural innovation through smart
breeding (which selects for certain traits within a species without
using any transgenic materials) -- and still demand that a reasonable
precautionary principle be applied to actions (like releasing
transgenic organisms into the wild where they might run feral beyond
bioconfinement) which cannot be undone. We can accept genetic insight
as a useful tool without granting its inventors the right of
The only means of controlling this "transgenic free-for-all," Caruso
argues, is a set of better and stronger national and international
regulations based on a new model of cost-benefit analysis.
The old model isn't working, both because of scientific blinders and
corporate manipulation. "No matter what industry you're in, if you've
got the nerve and the know-how, gaming an official cost-benefit
analysis can be irresistible...because cost-benefit analysis in the
real world is about power. Those who control what goes into the
analysis also control what comes out of it." Revolving-door policies,
for-profit university research and punitive litigation (i.e., suing
people who say unfavorable things) have all made the balance of power
in these investigations even worse.
But it's not working for other reasons, which have to do with the fact
that we don't know all that much about the world yet, really. To add
even more serious difficulty we have only select and imperfect
measurements of those aspects of the world we do sort of understand,
and we tend to misuse even those. (Put another way, in What the
Numbers Say, "There is always more than one way to measure something;
measurements are error-prone; even when correct, measurements are
still only an approximation for what you really want to know;
measurements change behavior." This last point is particularly worth
noting, Caruso says, as it explains why people get stuck in patterns
of reliance on unreliable data.)
But we could do better. As Caruso tells it, the seminal National
Academies study Understanding Risk "stated flat-out that the results
of math-based analytical approaches to risk and innovation are no
longer acceptable on their own. Risk assessment is too subjective to
be calculated, it said. It is a political, ethical and value-laden
activity, period, and it needs to be conducted with the full
participation of everyone who stands to be affected by the decision."
In other words, risk is political, and ceding control over discussions
of risk to scientists, is not only profoundly undemocratic, it is
Instead we need an "analytic deliberative process," one which seeks
out uncertainty, and evokes foresight and speculation, and attempts to
incorporate in its deliberations not just accuracy, but wisdom. Caruso
thinks this can be achieved through a process of collaborative risk
assessment, exercised with transparency. (Her description of the
application of such a open, collaborative approach to judging the
riskiness of transplanting pig organs into people --
"xenotransplantation" -- resists easy summary, but is itself worth the
book's cover price.) She also says that we need to restore
independence and credibility to the regulatory process by resurrecting
the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA -- which got budgeted
out of existence by Republicans in 1995) or something like it: a
trusted overseer, which could "cast a fresh eye on a regulatory regime
for biotechnology." Finally, we need to be willing to demand that
those who work emerging technologies in general be held to clearer and
higher standards of usefulness and responsibility (One researcher,
Mary O'Brien, proposed that biotechnology be guided by the sharp
question, "What is the least hazard that is necessary to solve the
While it sounds the softest of the three answers, I think that it may
be the most important. We all tend to rise to the expectations that
others place on us, and we place on ourselves. If those of us who are
actually developing the astonishing new technologies which unfold
around us daily can raise the bar of responsibility, we will, I
believe, see not only fewer risks of catastrophic mistakes, but
greater real benefits to humanity. We need better process and strong
regulations, but better still would be those two things combined with
a new vision of responsible progress.
In summary, if the biological future we are engineering concerns you,
read Intervention. It's not often that a book fundamentally changes
the way I look at an important field. Those who value the scientific
project will find here a reasoned voice for integrity and caution;
those who fear the repercussions of altering living beings will find
here a tool for measuring the degrees of gray involved and making more
Return to Table of Contents
From: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Feb. 8, 2007
By Dale Carrico
Would-be professional techno-prognosticators, when they want to think
out loud about "the future," seem to me to turn more often to
discussions of concerns about human survival than to concerns about
human self-creation, so too to the demands of security over the
demands of democracy, as well as to the urgencies of threat over the
possibilities of hope.
This observation is not intended to prelude a tired chestnut about
pessimism versus optimism, but to highlight some differences between
expert and democratic formations of knowledge. More particularly, I
worry about the extent to which "futurists" seek to constitute
themselves as professionals very particularly through the incessantly
reiterated conjuration of a distinction of an elite knowledge of
objective threats as against presumably rash and biased popular
ignorance about or indifference to such threats.
Even though it is true that there are clearly occasions in which
reasonable foresight must hack its way through the hyperbolic
daydreams of omnipotence and nightmares of impotence that inevitably
freight the technological imaginary, it is no less true that a focus
on "objective threats" as the characteristic gesture of futurological
professionalization is apt to skew altogether too much of the
resulting "futurist" discourse into profoundly conservative default
assumptions and ends. This fearful futurology takes up forms that
drift then all-too-comfortably into ready-made neoliberal tropes and
terms, as well as into its preferred public genres of stress-
management and security-speak. All of this rationalizes the endless
bureaucratization and military spending that eventuates in no less
endless "anti-statist" state programs of affirmative action for
military and managerial elites.
When all is said and done, I will admit that I am not too keen on the
rhetoric of a humanity that needs saving in any case, since what I
think humanity needs most of all quite simply is to be free.
I do not mean to belittle in the least the discourse of existential
risk. I am an advocate, for example, of a proportionate version of
the precautionary principle treated as a democratizing peer-to-peer
deliberative framework for technodevelopment, one that seems to me as
likely to encourage public works and technoscientific r&d as to
discourage them (very much contrary to the baldly self-interested
corporate-militarist dogma that precaution constitutes some kind of
luddite plot to disinvent civilization). My point in decrying
futurological fearmongering is certainly not to deny the dangers in
ongoing and upcoming technodevelopments, but to insist that
democratization, say, yields robust, flexible, reliable, responsive
knowledges with which to deal with such dangers, and perhaps more in
tune with their actual heterogeneous impacts. To the extent that this
is true, then, it would be democracy rather than the given hierarchy
of existential risks currently preoccupying moneyed and educated
elites that should be one's priority -- even for those whose primary
worries are about danger.
Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes, (email@example.com)
IEET, Williams 229B, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford CT
06106 USA phone: 860-297-2376
Return to Table of Contents
From: Portland (Oregon) Independent Media Center, Feb. 5, 2007
ITS WAY PAST TIME TO GO BEYOND THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE?
Its way past time to wake up
By Ecotopian Yeti
Wake Up Cascadians!
This weekend I was reviewing a European Green concept that is common
among many Greens which is the Precautionary Principle. Below I have
posted the wikipedia entry. Just quickly its the idea that for the
better public good one should not wait for the final finding on a
potential crises... namely "global warming" and overpopulation. The
principle has always been a potential slippery slope for if you start
acting before the actual situation where do you stop... what if people
in authority start using the Precautionary Principle to protect the
public good from individual citizens or individuals who fall under
"profiling" (racial, ethnic, religious or ideology) that threaten the
The reason why I am posting this is that at this point I would argue
that we are beyond "Precaution" when it comes to Global Climatic
Change as well as issues like limited resource use (oil, natural gas
and potable drinking water) in relation to consumerism and
overpopulation. I think it way beyond time that those of use in the
Green movement start talking of a new paradigm that addresses the fact
that a changing biosphere and human impact on that biosphere.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The Precautionary Principle
The precautionary principle argues that if an action or policy might
cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a
scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof
falls on those who would advocate taking the action.
The precautionary principle is most often applied in the context of
the impact of human actions on the environment and human health, as
both involve complex systems where the consequences of actions may be
As applied to environmental policy, the precautionary principle
stipulates that for practices such as the release of radiation or
toxins, massive deforestation or overpopulation, the burden of proof
lies with the advocates. An important element of the precautionary
principle is that its most meaningful applications pertain to those
that are potentially irreversible, for example where biodiversity may
be reduced. With respect to bans on substances like mercury in
thermometers, freon in refrigeration, or even carbon dioxide exhaust
from automobile engines and power plants, it implies:
"... a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof [or]
evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that
further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature,
and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations."
The concept includes risk prevention, cost effectiveness, ethical
responsibilities towards maintaining the integrity of natural systems,
and the fallibility of human understanding. The principle can also be
interpreted as the transfer of more generally applied precaution in
daily life (e.g. buying insurance, using seat belts or consulting
experts before decisions) to larger political arenas, even though
these relatively trivial applications are not the intended use of the
Some environmental commentators take a more stringent interpretation
of the precautionary principle, stating that proponents of a new
potentially harmful technology must show the new technology is without
major harm before the new technology is used.(Montague, 1998)
Origins and theory
The formal concept evolved out of the German socio-legal tradition in
the 1930s, centering on the concept of good household management. 
In German the concept is vorsorgeprinzip, which translates into
English as precaution principle.
Many of the concepts underpinning the precautionary principle pre-date
the term's inception. For example, the essence of the principle is
captured in a number of cautionary aphorisms such as "an ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure", "better safe than sorry", and
"look before you leap". The precautionary principle may also be
interpreted as the evolution of the ancient medical principle of
"first, do no harm" to apply to institutions and institutional
decision-making processes rather than individuals.
In economics, the precautionary principle has been analysed in terms
of the effect on rational decision-making of the interaction of
irreversibility and uncertainty. Authors such as Epstein (1980) and
Arrow and Fischer (1974) show that irreversibility of possible future
consequences creates a quasi-option effect which should induce a
"risk-neutral" society to favor current decisions that allow for more
flexibility in the future. Gollier et al (2000) conclude that "more
scientific uncertainty as to the distribution of a future risk -- that
is, a larger variability of beliefs -- should induce Society to take
stronger prevention measures today."
The application of the precautionary principle is hampered by the wide
range of interpretations placed on it. One study identified 14
different formulations of the principle in treaties and nontreaty
In deciding how to apply the principle, analyses may use a cost-
benefit analysis that factors in both the opportunity cost of not
acting, and the option value of waiting for further information before
acting. One of the difficulties of the application of the principle in
modern policy-making is that there is often an irreducible conflict
between different interests, so that the debate necessarily involves
International agreements and declarations
The World Charter for Nature, which was adopted by the UN General
Assembly in 1982, was the first international endorsement of the
precautionary principle. The principle was implemented in an
international treaty as early as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, and among
other international treaties and declarations  is reflected in the
1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (signed at the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development).
European Commission On 2 February 2000, the European Commission issued
a Communication on the precautionary principle, in which it adopted
a procedure for the application this concept, but without giving a
detailed definition of it. Earlier, the Maastricht Treaty adopted the
principle as a fundamental element of environmental policy: Article
III-233 of the draft Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe
Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of
protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the
various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary
principle and on the principles that preventive action should be
taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at
source and that the polluter should pay.
After the adoption of the European Commission's Communication on the
precautionary principle, the principle has come to inform much EU
policy, including that in areas beyond that of environmental policy.
It is implemented, for example, in the EU food law and also affects,
among others, policies relating to consumer protection, trade and
research, and technological development. While a comprehensive
definition of the precautionary principle was never formally adopted
by the EU, a working definition and implementation strategy for the EU
context has been proposed in Fisher et al. (2006):
"Where, following an assessment of available scientific information,
there are reasonable grounds for concern for the possibility of
adverse effects but scientific uncertainty persists, provisional risk
management measures based on a broad cost/benefit analysis whereby
priority will be given to human health and the environment, necessary
to ensure the chosen high level of protection in the Community and
proportionate to this level of protection, may be adopted, pending
further scientific information for a more comprehensive risk
assessment, without having to wait until the reality and seriousness
of those adverse effects become fully apparent".
USA On July, 18, 2005, the City of San Francisco passed a
Precautionary Principle Purchasing ordinance, which requires the city
to weigh the environmental and health costs of its $600 million in
annual purchases -- for everything from cleaning supplies to
Members of the Bay Area Working Group on the Precautionary Principle
including the Breast Cancer Fund, helped bring this to fruition.
Corporate The Body Shop International, a UK-based cosmetics company,
recently included the Precautionary Principle in their 2006 Chemicals
This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality
Please discuss this issue on the talk page or replace this tag with a
more specific message.
This article has been tagged since December 2005.
The application of the principle can be seen in the public policy of
requiring pharmaceutical companies to carry out clinical trials to
show that new medications are safe, as well as effective.
Fields typically concerned by the precautionary principle are the
Persistent or acute pollution (asbestos...)
Extinction of species
Introduction of new and potentially harmful products into the
environment, threatening biodiversity
Threats to public health, due to new diseases and techniques (e.g.,
AIDS transmitted through blood transfusion)
Food safety (e.g., Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease)
High energy physics and possibly catastrophic experiments
Other new biosafety issues (e.g., artificial life, new molecules)
The precautionary principle is often applied to biological fields
because changes cannot be easily contained; they affect everyone. The
principle has less relevance to contained fields such as aeronautics,
where the few people undergoing risk have given informed consent
(e.g., a test pilot). In the case of technological innnovation,
containment of impact tends to be more difficult if that techology can
self-replicate. Bill Joy emphasized the dangers of replicating genetic
technology, nanotechnology, and robotic technology in his article in
Wired Magazine, "Why the future doesn't need us", though he does not
specifically cite the precautionary principle.
Application of the principle modifies the status of innovation and
risk assessment: it is not the risk that must be avoided or amended,
but a potential risk that must be prevented. Thus, in
the case of regulation of scientific research, there may be a third
party beyond the scientist and the regulator: the consumer.
In an analysis concerning application of the precautionary principle
to nanotechnology, Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder posit that there are
two forms of the principle, which they call the "strict form" and the
"active form". The former "requires inaction when action might pose a
risk", while the latter means "choosing less risky alternatives when
they are available, and [...] taking responsibility for potential
risks." This refinement offers the possibility of clearer
communication and closer understanding between proponents and
Change of laws controlling societal norms
Associate Justice Martha Sosman's dissent  in Goodridge v.
Department of Public Health, the decision of the Supreme Judicial
Court of Massachusetts that mandated legalization of same sex
marriage, is an example of the precautionary principle as applied by
analogy to changes in culturally significant social policy. She
describes the myriad societal structures that rest on the institution
of marriage, and points out the uncertainty of how they will be
affected by this re-definition. The disagreement of the majority
illustrates the difficulty of reaching agreement on the value of
The Traffic Light colour convention, showing the concept of Harvest
Control Rule (HCR), specifying when a rebuilding plan is mandatory in
terms of precautionary and limit reference points for spawning biomass
and fishing mortality rate.Several natural resources like fish stocks
are now managed by precautionary approach, through Harvest Control
Rules (HCR) based upon the precautionary principle. The figure
indicates how the principle is implemented in the cod fisheries
management proposed by the International Council for the Exploration
of the Sea.
In classifying endangered species, the precautionary principle means
that if there is doubt about an animal's or plant's exact conservation
status, the one that would cause the strongest protective measures to
be realized should be chosen. Thus, a species like the Silvery Pigeon
that might exist in considerable numbers and simply be under-recorded
or might just as probably be long extinct is not classified as "data
deficient" or "extinct" (which both do not require any protective
action to be taken), but as "critically endangered" (the conservation
status that confers the need for the strongest protection), whereas
the increasingly rare, but probably not yet endangered Emerald
Starling is classified as "data deficient", because there is urgent
need for research to clarify its status rather than for conservation
action to save it from extinction.
This article or section may be confusing or unclear for some readers.
Please improve the article or discuss this issue on the talk page.
This article has been tagged since December 2006.
In the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares Bill Durodie points out
In essence, the precautionary principle says that not having the
evidence that something might be a problem is not a reason for not
taking action as if it were a problem. That's a very famous triple-
negative phrase that effectively says that action without evidence is
justified. It requires imagining what the worst might be and applying
that imagination on the worst evidence that currently exists. But once
you start imagining what could happen then there is no limit. This is
a shift from the scientific "what-is" evidence-based decision making
to the speculative imaginary "what-if"-based worst-case scenario.
Do no harm
"Do no harm", in fact, can be applied more directly to "don't violate
natural rights and damage economies" when faced with a "threat" not
proven to exist.
Since imposition of the precautionary principle involves assuming
things not yet proven, it need not weigh risk versus benefit. By
definition, the principle focuses on size of the consequences, rather
than the chance of it happening.
Critics of the principle argue that it is impractical, since every
implementation of a technology carries some risk of negative
consequences. 
Proponents counter that the principle is not an absolute rule, it is a
conceptual tool to clarify arguments, and especially an issue of where
the burden of proof lies. Someone in a debate regarding a proposal can
say, I oppose this proposal on the grounds of the precautionary
principle, without necessarily invoking the precautionary principle
for other proposals.
However, such selectivity in its use is in itself criticised, because
it leaves open the possibility that it will only be used in the
context of technologies that advocates of the principle typically
oppose -- such as nuclear fission or genetically modified organisms.
Indeed, selective application of principles in government are
considered a fundamental form of injustice, which is why selective
enforcement is considered an abuse of power.
Another criticism of the precautionary principle is that it is only
applied to new technologies, not the existing technologies that the
new technology might supersede.
Proponents of the principle argue that this is a misapplication of the
principle, and that it should be applied to existing as well as new
For example, whereas proponents of healthy life extension argue that
significant research effort should be expended to find a way to slow
or even reverse the effects aging, some precautionists argue that the
known effects of overpopulation and the resulting pollution and drain
on resources provide reasons not to radically extend the human
In another example, some argue against expanded use of wind power,
fearing noise pollution, potential bird kills, and a negative effect
on the landscape, while proponents of wind power argue that its
negative effects are greatly outnumbered by those of coal power and
other currently used forms of electricity generation.
Its use is sometimes confused with protectionism (such as the case of
beef fed with hormones, as dealt with by the World Trade
Organisation), or as Neo-luddism in the case of opposition to genetic
engineering, nanotechnology, stem cell research and related therapy,
or even development of wilderness areas.
Likewise, the precautionary principle is almost always[citation
needed] presented by those who will profit from the government force
involved, on the principle of "Fear Equals Funding", for example:
government agencies seeking the power to expand their control, or
scientists whose funding has become based upon fear of some
frightening scenario like global warming or asteroid impact.[citation
See the Proactionary Principle, a less-restrictive alternative to
the precautionary principle, which shifts the burden of proof to those
who propose restrictive measures.
Arrow, K.J. and Fischer, A.C. (1974), "Environmental preservation,
uncertainty and irreversibility", Quarterly Journal of Economics
European Union (2002), European Union consolidated versions of the
treaty on European Union and of the treaty establishing the European
community, Official Journal of the European Union, C325, 24 December
2002, Title XIX, article 174, paragraph 2 and 3.
Epstein, L.S. (1980), "Decision-making and the temporal resolution of
uncertainty", International Economic Review 21(2):269-283.
Elizabeth Fisher, Judith Jones and Rene von Schomberg. (eds)
(2006),Implementing the Precautionary Principle: Perspectives and
Prospects, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, US: Edward Elgar
Christian Gollier, Bruno Jullien and Nicolas Treich (2000),
"Scientific Progress and Irreversibility: An Economic Interpretation
of the 'Precautionary Principle'", Journal of Public Economics
Harremos, Poul, David Gee, Malcolm MacGarvin, Andy Stirling, Jane
Keys, Brian Wynne, Sofia Guedes Vaz. The Precautionary Principle in
the 20th Century: Late Lessons from Early Warnings, Earthscan, 2002.
Review, Nature, 419, Oct 2002, 433
Return to Table of Contents
From: OnLine Opinion, Feb. 9, 2007
GETTING WARMER ...
By Stephanie Long
The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the
Physical Science Basis: A Summary for Policymakers (PDF 1.25MB),
being the first of three reports to be released this year, which
together will make up the Fourth Assessment Report (4AR).
The 4AR has been six years in the writing and is based on peer
reviewed and published scientific data, with contributions from about
1,500 climate scientists across the world. The final text in the
Summary for Policy Makers which was released last Friday had been
reviewed word by word by governments and lead authors for four days
prior to its release. It is the most scrutinised climate science
As the work of the IPCC is based on consensus, the outcome is general
a conservative assessment and analysis of climate change science and,
in particular, climate change projections and models. However, the
highlights of the 4AR include a very high confidence (9 out of 10
chance) that human activities have resulting in the warming of the
climate. This is the highest level of confidence that the IPCC can
attribute to any subject, and demonstrates that the climate science
community agrees that we have made the planet hotter and climate
change is real.
The IPCC continue to assess the rate of warming as greater than at any
period in the past 10,000 years, with the rate of change between 1995
to 2005 faster than any period in the previous 200 years. The major
cause of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is combustion of fossil
fuels, and carbon fossil fuel emissions which have risen since the
One of the major advances of 4AR from the previous Third Assessment
Report (TAR) (published in 2001) is the certainty of future climate
projections. If greenhouse gas emissions were kept constant at 2000
levels (i.e. a slight decrease to present day greenhouse gas
emissions), we would be locked into future warming.
Irrespective of which of the IPCC six emission reduction scenarios we
embrace (they differ by how much we reduce our greenhouse emissions
and by when) decadal average warming of 0.2 degree is expected until
2030. Sea level rise and anthropogenic warming is projected to
continue for centuries.
Current or increased greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be 90
per cent likely to result in greater climatic change this century than
was experienced in the last, with specific mention of sea-ice
shrinkage, hot extremes, heatwaves and heavy precipitation.
These unavoidable climate changes are a consequence of positive
feedback in the carbon cycle and lag time of greenhouse gas emissions
in the atmosphere.
The message from these climate projections is clear: What we do today
affects the climate for decades to come. We are now tasked with
dealing with the "locked-in" climatic change that is a result of our
historical actions, as well as massively reducing our current
emissions to avoid over 2-degree Celsius (2C) global rise in
This brings the climate change debate to a new level of maturity.
Currently thinking must now rapidly turn to how much we need to reduce
our greenhouse gases to avoid a 2C rise in temperature -- the
threshold at which ecological systems, food security and coastal
erosion becomes internationally dangerous. It is also incumbent upon
us to recognise that for some regions of the world, a 1C or 1.5C rise
in temperature with a consequential rise in sea level, tropical
drought and potential increased intensity of extreme weather events is
Based on the precautionary principle, principle of intergenerational
equity, and responsibility for species survival, it is essential that
we map our climate change policy to ensure we remain under 2C warming.
All of the IPCC emissions reduction scenarios see potential warming
over 2C indicating that the "storylines" of future action to mitigate
climate change as influenced by economic growth and population need
Dr Malte Meinshausen of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
Research (PIK), Germany assessed a range of trajectories (PDF
1.51MB) for remaining below 2C and found that to remain above a 90
per cent certainty of not hitting 2C rise requires stabilisation of
CO2 equivalents (CO2e) at 350 parts per million (ppm).
The IPCC have found that we are already at 379 ppm of just CO2 in the
atmosphere without considering non-carbon dioxide emissions such as
methane and nitrous oxide. To peak and then return to a 350ppm CO2e
stabilisation level requires immediate action to reduce emissions,
combined with efforts to increase the quantity of carbon "sinks" to
absorb the excess emissions in the atmosphere.
An essential question to ask is: who is responsible for what level of
mitigation? A key indicator of equitable burden sharing for greenhouse
gas is a per capita or per person level of stabilisation. All people
have the same rights of survival, therefore per capita scenarios
provide us with the fairest method for assessing responsibility to
mitigate climate change.
Meinshausen finds that under population projections each person in the
world must reach emissions levels of less than 2 tonnes of CO2e per
year if we are to stabilise concentrations at 400ppm by 2050. To give
an indication of current annual per capita rates: Australians
currently emit 27.5 tonnes of CO2e, Chinese emit 3.05 tonnes of CO2e,
and Indians emit 1.4 tonnes of CO2e.
The gross imbalance in consumption levels and pollution levels across
the world -- considered along with the imperative to act now to avoid
a 2C rise in global temperature -- means Australians need to expand
their sense of global citizenship.
Climate change is an international phenomenon and we can no longer
design climate policy out of self-interest alone. We also must
immediately shift our intellectual and scientific efforts to
understanding how much we need to reduce emissions and by when, all
within the criteria of highest certainty of avoiding 2C.
Stephanie Long is actively involved of Friends of the Earth
Australia's climate justice campaign.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Copyright The National Forum and contributors 1999-2007
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