In Defense of the Precautionary Principle

Here’s a good post about the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs): “Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin”. The authors of the study in question point out the difference between local and global ramifications:

When harm is localised, it can be used as part of the learning process to prevent the same set of circumstances occurring again. Global harm is different. “We should exert the precautionary principle here because we do not want to discover errors after considerable and irreversible environmental and health damage,” conclude Taleb and co.

I don’t think the precautionary principle should be discarded even in the case of local harm (every problem is local to someone, right?), not to mention the fact that everything in nature is connected in ways that we simply don’t understand. You don’t even need to employ chaos theory to notice that everyone is downstream of somewhere.

But as the Jerry Mander quote I posted last weeks alludes, it doesn’t much matter when the precautionary principle is used, because it’s never taken seriously by people who can make risks with everything to personally gain while externalizing all the possible negative (catastrophic) consequences for everyone else. Do people who drill fracking wells give a shit about the short-term consequences, let alone the long-term ones? Is there a forum to air all of the possible—and likely—drawbacks of blasting the water table with chemicals and irrevocably disrupting rock formations? Do corporations lose anything more than drops in a the bucket when the inevitable accidents (i.e. not accidents at all, but the calculated cost of doing business) occur, destroying ecosystems for generations?

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