The Precautionary Principle And The Environment

August 11th, 2012
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Most of us carry insurance; even though whatever we’re insuring ourselves against is unlikely to happen. The fact it could happen and the results being financially disastrous; it makes sense to take out coverage – just in case.
 
Insurance could be considered a form of observing the “precautionary principle”, a term you may have heard in connection to environmental issues.
 
However, insurance isn’t about avoiding events – just dealing with the outcome of a disaster.
 
The precautionary principle focuses on looking at the potential of any action or event for harm and if the chance of harm is too great or the harm too severe; to take evasive action.
 
While the precautionary principle has its roots in Germany in the 1930′s (Vorsorgeprinzip), when it related to household management, a more modern definition was developed at a meeting of environmental leaders in 1998, which states:
 
“When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”
 
A very good example of applying the precautionary principle environmentally speaking is in relation to climate change. Just a few years ago, we had far less information than what we have now on the phenomenon. 
 
While general consensus was building and further research being carried out, it was argued that the potential effects of climate change were so severe and the chances of those effects occurring so great; to put off taking action until we were 100% certain simply wasn’t an option as by that time it may be too late.
 
Where application of the precautionary principle is at its finest is where the results of the action taken are positive even if the threat it is designed to combat doesn’t materialize.
  
Harking back to climate change again, the rapid uptake of renewable energy isn’t only helping in that battle; it’s also addressing issues such as peak oil. A thriving green collar industry has also sprung up, providing jobs.
  
Additionally, banging some more nails into coal’s coffin – with the burning of coal and associated carbon emissions a major driver of climate change – has positive implications for human health generally.
 
I believe the climate change issue has also helped to make more people aware of environmental issues generally, or reawakened people who had let their concern for the environment wane. Using an example very close to home, Green Living Tips was started as a direct result of An Inconvenient Truth – Al Gore’s presentation on climate change. Love him or hate him, Mr. Gore is directly and indirectly responsible for a new generation of environmentally aware consumers.
  
In a nutshell, even in the very unlikely event it is determined human activity does not have a direct link to climate change; the actions being taken and their knock- on effects have a multitude of other benefits – and all thanks to the application of the precautionary principle. 


Michael Bloch
Green Living Tips.com
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