Rachel's Precaution Reporter #9
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

From: The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) ................[This story printer-friendly]
October 22, 2005


The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has issued a new report pointing out that all pesticides cause some harm and that less-harmful alternatives already exist for managing pests in public parks.

[Rachel's introduction: Citizens in Eugene and Portland, Oregon want city government to minimize the use of chemical pesticides in public parks because less-dangerous alternatives already exist.]

By Diane Dietz

Are you irritated at your neighbor who allows her copious dandelion fluff to tumble onto your pristine lawn, spreading its pesky seeds?

Or are you the guy who's traumatized by a neighbor who regularly carpet bombs his yard with poisons to ensure that every blade of weed be gone, gone, gone?

Imagine how it will be for the city of Eugene as it tries to bridge this divide. The parks maintenance staff is on the verge of declaring about a half-dozen small parks as pesticide-free zones.

Officials are trying to gauge whether Eugene residents must have every park pristine-looking, or if -- in the name of sending less poison into the air and soil -- people can tolerate some increased weediness around trees and along fence lines.

"We want to start relatively small and then evaluate about a year from now: Did it work for us? Did it work for the neighbors? Should we do the same thing again? Should we expand it?" said Kevin Finney, Eugene parks maintenance manager.

The Eugene-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides urged the city to designate some pesticide-free parks.

The coalition's new report "Pesticide-free parks: It's time," contends that all pesticides -- an overall term referring to both insecticides and herbicides -- can hurt people, pets and the environment.

To support their view, they point to an April 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Researchers found that terriers who were exposed to the common lawn herbicide 2,4-D were four to seven times more likely to contract bladder cancer than terriers in a control group.

The Purdue University authors theorize that the terriers carry a gene that makes them susceptible to the cancer -- and that some people are likely carry a similar gene.

Finney said he doesn't know whether the herbicides the city uses causes harm to people or pets. Researchers have produced contradictory evidence on many commonly used chemicals, he said.

"Some people have proposed the precautionary principle: If you don't know, you don't use. But that's a community-level decision," he said.

In fall 2004, the coalition -- which also works in Washington, Northern California, Idaho and Montana -- convinced the city of Portland to make three small parks -- Arbor Lodge, Lair Hill, and Sewallcrest -- pesticide-free.

"People want pesticide-free parks. They want places they can go with their children and pets where they won't be exposed to pesticides," said Megan Kemple, the coalition's pesticide-free parks coordinator.

"We would like to see all of Eugene's parks be pesticide free. And we're glad the city is ready to move forward," she added.

Joel Miller, Springfield's new parks director -- working at Willamalane Park & Recreation District -- is interested in the pesticide-free concept. He came six months ago from Olympia, where the idea has gained some traction.

Miller said he would attend a meeting Saturday to learn more about the coalition's plans.

Local parks managers say the pesticide-free movement caps a long effort to reduce the amount of pesticides used in parks.

"It used to be a standard thing to spray malathion everywhere to kill aphids and everything," Finney said, adding that Eugene hasn't sprayed for insects for a decade now.

Today crews use Roundup, an herbicide, to kill weeds in selected places such as rhododendron beds and along fence lines.

Crews don't use pesticides to treat the park lawns -- generally -- with the exception of sports fields, Finney said. There, they use chemicals to kill broad-leaf weeds such as dandelions and clover because those plants can create slick spots where athletes may slip and be injured.

If some Eugene parks go pesticide-free, the city may have to pay more for grounds crews to pull the weeds or for them to use alternative treatments such as clover oil or hot foam, Finney said. Even then, the parks may look a little bit shaggier.

That may clash with the norm in some Eugene neighborhoods, Finney said. In some neighborhoods, "it's a very highly controlled aesthetic. There's not a weed in the lawn. There's not a weed in the beds and everything is very trim and very nice," he said.

But in other areas of town, people seem to enjoy the dandelions, English daisy and clover riddling their yards, he said.

"Some people think if you have weeds in your lawn it means you don't care," Finney said. "I have weeds in my lawn, but it means my 4-year- old can run and play out there and I don't have to think about it. That's where I'm coming from, but my neighbors may not see it that way."


The city of Eugene will consider designating some neighborhood parks pesticide-free zones. But first, officials want to hear what the public thinks.

Meeting today: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Eugene Public Library. City parks officials and representatives from the Eugene-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides will discuss -- and hear public views -- on the concept.

Advocates' views: See NCAP report, "Pesticide-free Parks: It's Time," here.

Share your views: The Eugene parks maintenance manager is interested in public comment on the issue. E-mail your thoughts to kevin.p.finney@ci.eugene.or.us

Copyright 2005 -- The Register-Guard


From: Times Colonist (Victoria, B.C., Canada) ............[This story printer-friendly]
October 25, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "Victoria, British Columbia is on track to become the first municipality in the region to ban use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes in gardens and parks... following the lead of at least 70 other municipalities in Canada with similar regulations...."]

By Malcolm Curtis

Victoria is on track to become the first municipality in the region to ban use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes in gardens and parks.

Regulations, based on a model bylaw approved by the Capital Regional District [CRD], would ban "non-essential" use of chemicals used to destroy pests on all land in the city, public and private.

"I think the time is right," said Denise Savoie who, as chairwoman of the CRD's environment round table, has been promoting the new rules. "It's not an extreme kind of bylaw, it really deals with cosmetic non- essential use of pesticides."

Victoria council approved regulations in principle last week subject to a report from staff on the possible impact on municipal operations.

The city already limits pesticide use. But those policies didn't prevent city crews last year from using such chemicals as Trillion to kill weeds on playing fields. Exposure to Trillion can cause skin irritation, and studies -- which are in dispute -- have raised concerns about reproductive problems.

At CRD open houses last year, some owners of landscaping businesses worried about banning pesticides. They argued that customers want weed-free gardens.

But Savoie said the regulations follow "the precautionary principle" at a time when links between pesticides and health risks are well established. The bylaw requires of residents just a "slightly higher tolerance for weeds in your otherwise perfect lawn," she said. The municipality, she said, would embark on a program to advise residents of non-chemical alternatives to pesticides.

Organic gardeners often mention mulching, landscape fabrics, hand weeding, and hoeing as ways to keep weeds in check.

Regulations would not affect chemicals used to combat pests that could hurt public health, commercial food production or public safety. Exceptions include use of pesticides in an aerosol can.

The City of Victoria would be following the lead of at least 70 other municipalities with similar regulations, including the City of Vancouver. Saanich is also looking at the CRD model bylaw.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that municipalities have the right to restrict use of pesticides.

"In the long run it's probably a good thing," said Nathan Millin, assistant manager at the Garden Works store on Oak Bay Avenue. Millin said acceptance of gardening without pesticides is growing, particularly among younger customers.

Copyright Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005


From: International Herald Tribune .......................[This story printer-friendly]
January 20, 2004


[Rachel's introduction: The European Commissioner for environment and three other respected scientists say the earth is in danger of becoming less habitable and that the precautionary principle must be applied.]

By Margot Wallstrom, Bert Bolin, Paul Crutzen and Will Steffen

Our planet is changing fast. In recent decades many environmental indicators have moved outside the range in which they have varied for the past half-million years. We are altering our life support system and potentially pushing the planet into a far less hospitable state.

Such large-scale and long-term changes present major policy challenges. The Kyoto Protocol is important as an international framework for combating climate change, and yet its targets can only ever be a small first step. If we cannot develop policies to cope with the uncertainty, complexity and magnitude of global change, the consequences for society may be huge.

We have made impressive progress in the last century. Major diseases have been eradicated and life expectancy and standards of living have increased for many. But the global population has tripled since 1930 to more than six billion and will continue to grow for several decades, and the global economy has increased more than 15-fold since 1950. This progress has had a wide-ranging impact on the environment. Our activities have begun to significantly affect the planet and how it functions. Atmospheric composition, land cover, marine ecosystems, coastal zones, freshwater systems and global biological diversity have all been substantially affected.

Yet it is the magnitude and rate of human-driven change that are most alarming. For example, the human-driven increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is nearly 100 parts per million and still growing -- already equal to the entire range experienced between an ice age and a warm period such as the present. And this human-driven increase has occurred at least 10 times faster than any natural increase in the last half-million years.

Evidence of our influence extends far beyond atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and the well-documented increases in global mean temperature. During the 1990's, the average area of humid tropical forest cleared each year was equivalent to nearly half the area of England, and at current extinction rates we may well be on the way to the Earth's sixth great extinction event.

The Earth is a well-connected system. Carbon dioxide emitted in one country is rapidly mixed throughout the atmosphere, and pollutants released into the ocean in one location are transported to distant parts of the planet. Local and regional emissions create global environmental problems.

The impacts of global change are equally complex, as they combine with local and regional environmental stresses in unexpected ways. Coral reefs, for example, which were already under stress from fishing, tourism and agricultural pollutants, are now under additional pressure from changing carbonate chemistry in ocean surface waters, a result of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Similarly, the wildfires that hit southern Europe, western Canada, California and southeastern Australia last year were a result of many factors, including land management, ignition sources and extreme local weather. However, prevailing warm and dry conditions -- probably linked to climate change -- amplified fire intensity and extent.

Poor access to fresh water means that more than two billion people currently live under what experts call "severe water stress." With population growth and economic expansion, this figure is expected to nearly double by 2025. Climate change would further exacerbate this situation.

Biodiversity losses, currently driven by habitat destruction associated with land-cover change, will be further exacerbated by future climate change. Beyond 2050, rapid regional climate change, as would be caused by changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, and irreversible changes, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the accompanying rise in sea levels of 6 meters, or 20 feet, could have huge economic and societal consequences.

It is now clear that the Earth has entered the so-called Anthropocene Era -- the geological era in which humans are a significant and sometimes dominating environmental force. Records from the geological past indicate that never before has the Earth experienced the current suite of simultaneous changes: we are sailing into planetary terra incognita.

Global environmental change challenges the political decision-making process by its uncertainty, its complexity and its magnitudes and rates of change.

Because of the uncertainties involved, decision-making will have to be based on risks that particular events will happen, or that possible scenarios will unfold. A lack of certainty does not justify inaction -- the precautionary principle must be applied.

Because of its complexity, global environmental change is often gradual until critical thresholds are passed, and then far more rapid change ensues, as seen in the growth of the ozone hole. Some rapid changes -- such as the potential melting of the Greenland ice sheet -- would also be irreversible in any meaningful human timescale, while other changes may be unstoppable, and indeed may have already been set in motion.

Because of the magnitudes and rates of change, we are unsure of just how serious our interference with the dynamics of the Earth's system will prove to be, but we do know that there are significant risks of rapid and irreversible changes to which it would be very difficult to adapt.

The first step toward meeting the challenge presented by global change is to appreciate the complex nature of the Earth's system, the ways in which we are affecting the system, and the economic and societal consequences. Scientists and policy-makers must establish a dialogue to communicate current knowledge and to guide future research.

Real policy progress must address the need for large-scale change, technological advances and global cooperation. Incremental change will not prevent, or even significantly slow, climate change, water depletion, deforestation or biodiversity loss. Breakthroughs in technologies and natural resource management that will affect all economic sectors and the lifestyles of people are required.

Although action at local, regional and national levels is important, international frameworks are essential for addressing global change. We must develop new approaches that consider the diversity of national circumstances and interests, based on a shared political will for action. Never before has an effective multilateral system been more necessary.

The evidence of our impact on our own life-support system is growing rapidly. Will we accept the challenge to respond in a precautionary manner, or wait until a catastrophic, irreversible change is upon us?


Margot Wallstrom is the European Commissioner for the environment. Bert Bolin is the founding chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Paul Crutzen was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Will Steffen is executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program. This comment is based on "Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet Under Pressure," which looks at the findings of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program.


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #9 ....................[This story printer-friendly]
October 26, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "Let's keep our focus on establishing the precautionary principle at the 'new product development stage' so it can redirect the path of innovation towards safer technologies, as it has with food additives and drugs." -- Professor Clark Bullard]

By Clark Bullard

Elizabeth Whelan's essay "Can Too Much Safety be Hazardous? in RPR #3 deserves a response. What she advocates is backsliding into the same "risk assessment" morass that has failed us in the past.

She frames her critique around a hypothetical ban on chlorine, asserting that evidence to date indicates that the benefits of chlorine exceed its risk, and therefore a "precautionary" ban would be unwise. And she makes the more general claim that "the precautionary principle assumes that no detriment to health or the environment will result from the proposed new banning or chemical regulation."

In fact the precautionary principle substitutes precaution for recklessness, not for evidence. The idea is to apply the principle at the outset, when a new chemical (or other risk) is first proposed and ignorance reigns. Just as we do in the case of food additives and drugs, we hold a new product off the market until evidence of its safety is produced. Often those scientific experiments identify a safer pathway to progress.

With 20-20 hindsight, Whelan claims that chlorine turned out to be worth the environmental costs. We can never know whether a precautionary approach would have led to the invention of ozone-based bleaches and related technologies decades earlier. What we do know is that other large-scale experiments on non-consenting human subjects have turned out to be disastrous: DDT, lead-based paint, and CFC's, for example. Now a billion people in the developed world are trying another such [poorly designed, poorly controlled] experiment with greenhouse gases, while billions of nonconsenting humans in the developing world have the most to lose.

Would we perform such experiments in our laboratories? No, it would be unethical. Has that moral taboo retarded scientific progress and prevented discovery of some miracle drugs? Maybe. But I would not recommend that we start conducting scientific experiments on nonconsenting human subjects, just so we can look back a half-century from now and see how many succeeded and how many failed.

Let's keep our focus on establishing the precautionary principle at the "new product development stage" so it can redirect the path of innovation towards safer technologies, as it has with food additives and drugs.

Clark Bullard Professor of Mechanical Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 1206 W Green St Urbana IL 61801 217 333 7734 (voice) 217 333 1942 (fax) http://acrc.mie.uiuc.edu/


From: The Economists' Voice ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
June 15, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "We argue that the precautionary principle does not help individuals or nations make difficult choices in a non- arbitrary way. Taken seriously, it can be paralyzing, providing no direction at all."]

By Robert W. Hahn and Cass R. Sunstein


Over the coming decades, the increasingly popular precautionary principle is likely to have a significant impact on policies all over the world. Applying this principle could lead to dramatic changes in decision making. Possible applications include climate change, genetically modified food, nuclear power, homeland security, new drug therapies, and even war.

We argue that the precautionary principle does not help individuals or nations make difficult choices in a non-arbitrary way. Taken seriously, it can be paralyzing, providing no direction at all. In contrast, balancing costs against benefits can offer the foundation of a principled approach for making difficult decisions.


Over the coming decades, the increasingly popular precautionary principle is likely to have a significant impact on policies all over the world.

The simplest interpretation of the precautionary principle is that it is better to be safe than sorry. But the principle comes in many diverse forms, ranging from weak to strong. One scholar counted nineteen.

An example of a strong form is the influential Wingspread Declaration, produced in a meeting of environmentalists in 1998: 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.[1]

The European Union has taken a leadership role in promoting the precautionary principle as a basis for making decisions on environmental policy and other areas, such as trade. The EU has not specified the version of the principle that it would like to use in particular settings. But it has clearly endorsed the general idea that regulatory action should be taken even when harm cannot be established, and indeed even when it is highly speculative.

Applying this principle, in any of its forms, could lead to dramatic changesin decision making. Possible areas in which it might be applied include climate change, genetically modified food, nuclear power, pesticides, cell phones, homeland security, new drug therapies, and even war.

For this reason, serious thought needs to be given to the strengths and weakness of adopting this principle before using it to help make difficult decisions.

Why It's Not Always Better to Be Safe than Sorry

Even the simplest interpretation of the precautionary principle that it is better to be safe than sorry raises complex questions. To begin, an essential dilemma for policy makers is that it is not clear what to do if one wants to be safe. How safe is safe enough? Without considering the costs of providing safety, it is virtually impossible to answer this question.

For those who favor taking regulatory precautions, the conceptual difficulty is even worse. Risks, sometimes unforeseen, can arise from action as well as from inaction; consider the war in Iraq. And reducing risks in one policy domain (say, the environment) could increase risks in another (say, defense) especially when resources are scarce.

A key problem with strong versions of the precautionary principle is that they are logically inconsistent. They would frequently eliminate all policies from consideration including the status quo because almost all policies impose risksof one kind or another.

A Few Examples of How All Policies Even Precautionary Ones Impose Risks

To understand the difficulty, consider some examples. Genetic modification of food has become a widespread practice. The risks of that practice are not known with any precision. Some people fear that genetic modification will result in serious ecological harm and large risks to human health; but others believe that genetic modification will result in more nutritious food and significant improvements in human health.

Many people fear nuclear power, on the grounds that nuclear power plants create various health and safety risks, including some possibility of catastrophe. But if a nation does not rely on nuclear power, it might well rely instead on fossil fuels, and in particular on coal-fired power plants. And such plants create risks of their own, including risks associated with global warming. At the same time, nuclear energy may actually decrease environmental risks: China, for example, has relied on nuclear energy, in a way that reduces greenhouse gases and a range of air pollution problems.

In the early years of the Bush Administration, one of the most controversial environmental issues involved the regulation of arsenic in drinking water. There is a serious dispute over the precise level of risks posed by low levels of arsenic in water, but taking the worst-case scenario, over one hundred lives might be lost each year as a result of the original, 50-part-per-billion standard that the Clinton Administration sought to revise. At the same time, however, the proposed ten-part-per-billion standard could cost over $200 million each year, and it is possible that it would save as few as six lives annually.

In these cases, what kind of guidance is provided by the precautionary principle? It is tempting to say that the principle calls for strong controls on genetic engineering of food, on nuclear power, and on arsenic. After all, in each of these cases, there is a possibility of serious harms. Genetically modified foods, for example, seem like a core area in which to apply the Wingspread Declaration, as there are threats of harm (not fully proven) to human health and the environment.

But so applied, is the precautionary principle really helpful? The answer, in each of these cases, is that it is not. One reason is that regulation might well deprive society of significant benefits, and hence produce serious harms that would otherwise not occur. In some cases, regulation eliminates the benefits of a process or activity, and thus causes preventable deaths. If this is so, then regulation is hardly precautionary; indeed, it violates the precautionary principle.

The problem is not limited to these examples. It is quite general. Consider, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's precautionary decision to ban almost all uses of asbestos. That decision was invalidated in federal court, in part, on the ground that in some contexts, the alternatives appear to create larger risks than asbestos itself does.

In the court's words, the EPA cannot say with any assurance that its regulation will increase workplace safety when it refuses to evaluate the harm that will result from the increased use of substitute products especially since many of the substitutes that EPA itself concedes will be used in place of asbestos have known carcinogenic effects.[2]

The Necessity of Considering All Relevant Risks Not Just Those Lessened by Regulation

These examples suggest that regulation sometimes violates the precautionary principle because it gives rise to other risks, in the form of hazards that materialize, or are increased, as a result of regulation.

Consider the drug approval process. If a government takes a highly precautionary approach to the introduction of new medicines and drugs onto the market, it will protect people against harms from inadequately tested drugs; but it will also prevent people from receiving potential benefits from those very drugs.

Of course, the proper approach to new drugs is much disputed. But the precautionary principle cannot help to answer a key question within this inquiry: What is the appropriate level of pre-market testing? If the strong version of the precautionary principle is taken seriously, extensive regulatory requirements are both required and forbidden. Would it not be better to ask whether any particular approval process creates benefits, through preventing iatrogenic illness, that exceed the costs of unavailable medications and foregone innovation?

Regulation Typically Creates New Risk Profiles, Rather than Simply Lessening Risk

It turns out that the danger that regulation will create new or different risk profiles is the rule, not the exception. In the case of arsenic, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency expressed concern that aggressive regulation, by virtue of its cost, will lead people to cease using local water systems and to rely on private wells, which have high levels of contamination. If this is so, then stringent arsenic regulation violates the precautionary principle, for the same reason that less stringent regulation does.

The issue is compounded by the fact that regulations and policy interventions use scarce resources. A great deal of empirical work suggests that anexpensive regulation can have adverse effects on life and health. It has been argued, for example, that a statistical life can be lost for an expenditure of between $7 to $15 million.[3]

We do not mean to accept any particular amount here, or even to suggest that there has been an unambiguous demonstration of an association between mortality and regulatory expenditures. Rather, for purposes of evaluating the precautionary principle, with its attempt to prevent even speculative harm, our only point here is that reasonable people do believe in that association.

This tradeoff between wealth and health makes the precautionary principle hard to implement not merely where regulation removes benefits, or introduces or increases other risks, but in any case in which the regulation costs a significant amount.

For this reason, the precautionary principle raises doubts about many expensive regulations. The most general point is that, the precautionary principle is frequently paralyzing: It can stand as an obstacle to regulation and nonregulation, and to everything in between.

Privileging Existing Risks over New Risks Makes Little, If Any, Sense

Advocates of the principle might be able to find ways out of this dilemma. For example, they could say that new risks are unacceptable, but existing risks are fine. And, indeed, a bias in favor of existing risks does seem to animate many uses of the precautionary principle. But that bias is hard to defend in principle. By its logic, we would never have accepted electricity, the automobile, the Internet, or countless other inventions that allow our modern society to function but that impose risks. (Alternatively, one could embrace all new risks and scoff at existing risks but that would lead to an equally troubling result, leading us to accept even very highly risky innovations with little benefit.)

Or one could say that the precautionary principle will be applied to the risks that are most salient or of most concern to the public and that the less salient or visible risks will be ignored. And in fact, the precautionary principle often seems motivated by this form of selectivity favoring the kind of risks that cause tragedies that make headlines, while ignoring the kind that show up only as a result of statistical analysis.

But why would that be sensible? Isn't a death or illness that occurs quietly, as a result of, say, a cumulative risk, just as important as a death or illness that occurs in a spectacular fashion that makes news? Subtle causation is no less deadly.

These points help to identify another problem. The precautionary principle does not provide guidance on how much to regulate; it does not easily allow for weighing the variables that are at stake. It leaves questions like these unanswered: How does one account for tradeoffs between present and future risks? How should we weigh expenditures on reducing particulate matter against the possible loss in resources available for food or health care? Does one value a life today more than one tomorrow? Without helping to answer such questions, the principle is not useful.

The Need To Balance Benefits and Costs

We do not believe there is any principled way of making policy decisions without making the best possible effort to balance all the relevant costs of a policyagainst the benefits. Looking only to costs, and ignoring benefits, is always a mistake.

Of course, the proper cost-benefit analysis can and should incorporate concerns about precaution. For example, a problem characterized by irreversibilities such as the persistence of certain chemicals in the atmosphere that deplete the ozone layer can be modeled using standard techniques in cost-benefit analysis. Uncertainties about both benefits and costs can also be incorporated, perhaps by specifying a range of possible outcomes, perhaps by seeking to preserve specified options, or perhaps by identifying the worst-case scenario and showing a degree of risk aversion with respect to that scenario.

In some cases, the balancing of benefits and costs will be easy. In others, it will be hard to quantify benefits as, for example, in the case of regulations designed to protect against terrorism, where it is hard to assign probabilities to various outcomes. But even these hard cases should not excuse decision makers from at least attempting to make quantitative estimates of the costs of various options.

The Fallacy of Believing We Can Live Risk-Free

The fact is, even in the case of terrorism and other hard cases, societies cannot afford to seek totally risk-free environments. If they try, they might well magnify the problems they face. For example, governments do not ban air travel, even though such bans would eliminate a possible source of terrorist attacks. An intuitive benefit-cost analysis suggests that the costs of banning air travel would greatly outweigh the benefits.

For terrorism, climate change, and other vexing problems, hard choices must be made. The precautionary principle does not help individuals or nations to make such choices in a non-arbitrary way. Indeed, taken seriously, the precautionary principle can be paralyzing, providing no direction at all. Balancing costs against benefits ought not to be understood as a way of placing regulators into an arithmetic straightjacket. But it does offer the foundation of a principled approach for making difficult decisions.


Robert Hahn is co-founder and executive director of the American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Joint Center, which focuses on regulation and antitrust. He is the author of In Defense of the Economic Analysis of Regulation (AEI-Brookings, 2005), which was recently written up in the Economist. In addition, Dr. Hahn is co- founder of the Community Preparatory School an inner-city middle school in Providence, Rhode Island, that provides opportunities for disadvantaged youth to achieve their full potential.

Cass R. Sunstein is Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School. His publications include Risk and Reason (2002), Punitive Damages: How Juries Decide (with several coauthors, including W. Kip Viscusi); The Second Bill of Rights (2004); and Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005).

References and Further Reading

Arrow, K.J., et al., Is There a Role for Benefit-Cost Analysis in Environmental, Health, and Safety Regulation? Science, No. 272 (1996), pp. 22 1-222.

Arrow, K.J. and A. Fisher, Environmental Preservation, Uncertainty, and Irreversibility, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 88, No. 2 (1974), pp. 3 12-3 19.

European Commission, Communication from the Commission on the Precautionary Principle, Brussels: The Commission of the European Communities(2000).

Graham, J. and S. Hsia, Europe's Precautionary Principle: Promise and Pitfalls, J. of Risk Res., Vol.5, No. 4, (2002), p. 380.

Graham, J. and J. Wiener, ed., Risk vs. Risk: Tradeoffs in Protecting Health and the Environment, Harvard University Press (Oct., 1995).

Lave, L. The Strategy of Social Regulation: Decision Frameworks for Policy, Washington DC: The Brookings Institution (1981). Peltzman, S. An Evaluation of Consumer Protection Legislation: The 1962 Drug Amendments, Journal of Political Economies, Vol. 81 (1973), pp. 1049-9 1.

Office of Management and Budget, Report to Congress on the Costs and Benefits of Federal Regulations, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/2003draft_cost-benefit_rpt.pdf, (2003), p.84.

Sandin, P. Better Safe than Sorry: Applying Philosophical Methods to the Debate on Risk and the Precautionary Principle, Stockholm (2004), available at http://www.infra.kth.se/~sandin/dissintro.pdf.

Sandin, P. Dimensions of the Precautionary Principle, Human and Ecology Risk Assessment, Vol. 5 (1999), pp. 889-907.

Sunstein, C. The Arithmetic of Arsenic, Georgetown L. Rev., Vol. 90 (2002), p. 2255.

Sunstein, C., Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle, Cambridge University Press (2005).

Stewart R. Environmental Decision-Making Under Uncertainty, Res. in Law and Econ., Vol.7 1 (2002), p. 76.

Wildavsky, A. Searching for Safety, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books (1988).

Wildavsky, A. Richer is Safer, The Pub. Interest, Vol. 60 (1980), p. 27-29.

Wiener, J. Comparing Precaution in the United States and Europe, J. of Risk Res., Vol. 5, No. 4, (2002), pp. 3 17-349.

Zhong, Ling. Nuclear Energy: China's Approach Towards Addressing Global Warming, Geo. Int'l Envtl. L. Rev., Vol. 12 (2000), p. 493.

Copyright 2005 by the authors. [1] Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, available here.

[2] Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201 (5thCir. 1991).

[3] Ralph Keeney, Mortality Risks Induced by Economic Expenditures, Risk Anal. 10, 147 (1990). R. Lutter, J. Morrall, and W. K. Viscusi, The Cost-per-Life Saved Cutof for Safety-Enhancing Regulations, Economic Inquiry 37, 4: 599-608. (1999).

Citation: The Economists' Voice Volume 2, Issue 2 (2005).


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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