Rachel's Precaution Reporter #77
"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"
Wednesday, February 14, 2007.........Printer-friendly version
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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Table of Contents... South Korea Will Ban A Handfull of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals South Korea adopts a precautionary approach to a handfull of hormone-disrupting chemicals. 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." Futurological Fearmongering "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..." 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 [Printer-friendly version] TOXIC CHEMICALS BANNED FROM CHILDREN'S GOODS By Bae Ji-sook, Staff Reporter email@example.com 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 those chemicals. 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. Copyright KoreaTimes.co.kr Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: WorldChanging, Feb. 12, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] 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 research. 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 capabilities." "[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 marketplace." 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 "escapes." 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 unregulated transgenesis. 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 intellectually bankrupt. 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 problem?"). 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 informed decisions. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Feb. 8, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] FUTUROLOGICAL FEARMONGERING 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, (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 [Printer-friendly version] ITS WAY PAST TIME TO GO BEYOND THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE? Its way past time to wake up By Ecotopian Yeti http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Cascadian_Bioregionalism/ 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 "public good". 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 unpredictable. 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 precautionary principle. 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." Application 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 declarations. 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 politics. 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 computers. 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 Strategy. Environment/health This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. 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 possibility of: 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 opponents. 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 competing perspectives. Resource management 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. Criticisms 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. Triple-negative In the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares Bill Durodie points out that: 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. Perspective 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. Motivation 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 technologies. 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 lifespan.  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 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. See the Proactionary Principle, a less-restrictive alternative to the precautionary principle, which shifts the burden of proof to those who propose restrictive measures. References Arrow, K.J. and Fischer, A.C. (1974), "Environmental preservation, uncertainty and irreversibility", Quarterly Journal of Economics 88(2):312-319. 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 75(2):229-253. 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 [Printer-friendly version] 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 report available. 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 1990s. 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 temperature. 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 dangerous. 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 serious redesign. 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 Return to Table of Contents ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 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? 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