Sunday, May 24, 2009

Population, Prudence and the Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle states that if an action might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, the action should not proceed until the advocates have provided scientific consensus that harm would not ensue. This statement, which is only common sense after all, has been adopted by the European Union and is promoted by the United Nations.

Unfortunately, society’s commitment to constant economic and population growth has trampled this fine tenet underfoot. There is no time for caution or common sense.

A growing population and increasing GDP demand ever more products, more services and more resources. How else can we provide jobs and a good standard of living to the growing population? The system requires never-ending innovation and production. Being careful would only slow things down. And heaven forbid that we should slow the train, it must keep chugging forward.

Take synthetic chemicals such as, for example, the organochlorines: PCBs, DDT, dioxins, furans. Only after they are shown to be toxic and have permeated the global environment is removal from the marketplace considered. These chemicals (not to mention nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms) are innocent until proven guilty; forget the precautionary principle. Why? Because we need growth: more, more, more.

Bizarre isn’t it? Not only is growth degrading the environment, destroying biodiversity and depleting resources, but it is also sapping us of the will to manage our affairs properly. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Imagine now a smaller population, say 3 or 4 billion, that is in equilibrium. There would be no pressure for growth, no need to pump out new chemicals and products heedlessly. Of the many benefits, the best is that we could re-establish the precautionary principle. We could act in a prudent, cautious manner.

2 comments: said...

The leaders of the family of humanity can do better and I trust all of us, leaders and followers alike, will choose necessary behavioral change rather than the profane maintenance of a morally disengaged and patently unsustainable socioeconomic status quo. Socioeconomic reasoning is feeble, fundamentally flawed reasoning, and suggests its inconsequentiality, because such “self-interested” reasoning is faulty; it has everything to do with what is economically expedient and socially suitable {as well as politically convenient, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed} and nothing to do intellectual honesty, moral courage and an appreciation of the practical requirements of biophysical reality. What is often called socioeconomic reasonng is a kind of ‘reasoning’ that cannot lead the human community to meaningfully embrace sustainable lifestyles, to sensibly protect biodiversity and to recognize the necessity for preserving Earth and its environs.

For the past eight dark years economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the absurdly enriched talking heads in the mass media have adamantly insisted that everyone live as they have, without regard either to human limits or Earth’s limitations and in evidently unsustainable ways. Our children will learn {the hard way} from these not-so-great elders the price to be paid for the unadulterated arrogance and unbridled greed of a single generation.

The brightest and best, most powerful advocates of socioeconomic reasoning are leading the children down a “primrose path” to some sort of colossal ecologic and/or economic wreckage, I fear, the likes of which only Ozymandias has witnessed. said...

Not enough scientists have been willing "to speak truth to power". It seems that too many experts have chosen elective mutism and, thereby, allowed science to be suppressed, censored, gag rules imposed and countless distractions presented whenever reasonable and sensible evidence would come into conflict with what the economic powerbrokers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians determine, out of their own selfish interests, to be real and true.

Science appears to present the leaders of the global political economy with evidence of politically inconvenient and economically inexpedient truths. If that is so, who knows, perhaps the super-rich and powerful people among us might learn something that leads them to exemplify values other than the goodness of greed and personal aggrandizement as well as the false rightfulness of living unsustainably large and irresponsibly free in the planetary home God blesses us inhabit.