Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Precautionary Principle

Every since climate change became public debate, I've encountered people on both sides of the climate change fence and many who are on the fence as well. I respect every one's opinions and their reasons for believing what they do. I never try to enter into a climate change debate because I'm certainly not an expert. But, unfortunately, since people know I'm a biologist, they automatically want to poke me on the issue. With climate change, I always resort to the precautionary principle. Here's a definition from

Main Entry:   precautionary principle 1
Part of Speech:   n
Definition:   the theory that an action should be taken when a problem or threat occurs, not after harm has been inflicted; an approach to decision- making in risk management which justifies preventive measures or policies despite scientific uncertainty about whether detrimental effects will occur
Example:   The precautionary principle was adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development.
Etymology:   1988
Main Entry:   precautionary principle 2
Part of Speech:   n
Definition:   in environmental matters, the theory that if the effects of a product or action are unknown, then the product should not be used or the action should not be taken
Example:   A comprehensive definition of the precautionary principle was spelled out in a meeting of scientists, lawyers, policy makers and environmentalists.
Etymology:   1988

When people start spewing out statistics and talking conspiracy theories, I just simply state that no matter what, it's always wise to take precautions. Worst-case scenarios should always be considered and planned for. We should never wait until disaster happens to act. In this case, even if climate change turns out to not be as deleterious as originally thought, the precautions put in place will be to our advantage no matter what the scenario. Can anyone say that moving towards sustainable energy is a bad thing? Is changing our consumptive, polluting behavior a bad thing? No. Usually when I break out the precautionary principle, the argument stops and agreement begins. Try it sometime.

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