Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle is a means to stop doing something. If there is a risk of any sort, the precaution precludes doing it. In a way, it is a guilty unless proven innocent approach to maintain the status quo. Precautionary Principle Power Grab describes the problem.

Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity’s development.

The premise seems to be that risk is binary in nature. Either it exists or it doesn’t. If there is any risk, no matter how small, in doing something, then you should not do it. The problem here is that there is always a risk and the issue is that of comparing benefits to costs. With genetically modified foods the balance is between healthy and well fed impoverished populations and the panoply of fears about such foods which have nothing to support their existence as a practical matter. Nuclear power is another: the benefit of an abundant energy supply for health and welfare balanced with the risks of a disaster that has yet to occur despite many many years of experience.

In 2008, with China experiencing widespread food shortages, the government backed an aggressive effort to pursue transgenic engineering. Over the past 15 years, Chinese rice yields have stagnated while at the same time use of pesticides and fertilizers has risen sharply. Scientists are looking to GM rice and other staples to raise yields and simultaneously curb the use of agricultural chemicals. The goal is to feed the Chinese people and improve the environment, but the irrational forces of far left eco-advocacy are having none of it. What would they prefer? Poisoned rivers and widespread starvation?

Then there’s the automobile. Traffic deaths per million miles driven is down to 60 year lows but every time you get into a car to get to work or to go shopping, you take the risk that you’ll have an untoward experience. That risk will occur even if you choose to walk rather than drive. What do you do?

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