INHERENCY 1. US does not ha

INHERENCY

1. US does not have a general rule for precaution
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
Interestingly, in policymaking, the United States (US) has not explicitly accepted the PP as the official basis for its risk regulation, and the US has reproached the European Union (EU) for imposing illicit trade barriers in the name of precaution. A common but oversimplified transatlantic antithesis states that, whilst the EU endorses the PP, the US opposes it (see Wiener and Rogers 2002).
2. Although several environmental policies have precautionary measures, an over-arching precautionary framework is lacking from our regulatory system
Peter Montague(Director, Environmental Research Foundation; Editor, Rachel’s Environment and Health News) “Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle” March-April 2009 Published in the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (Academic OneFile)
As I mentioned, U.S. food and drug law takes a precautionary approach, assuming that new drugs are harmful or useless or both, and putting the burden on drug companies to prove otherwise. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires all government agencies to avoid actions that might harm a species that has been designated as “threatened” or “endangered,” even if this proves to be very costly. The ESA does not require cost-benefit analysis of proposed actions to show that protecting endangered species is “worth it.” The law assumes that protecting an endangered species is worth the cost.

Some parts of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act require that standards be set to protect human and environmental health without any cost-benefit balancing.
So there are instances of a precautionary approach built into several U.S. environmental statutes. But these are exceptions to the general rule that still guides most of our laws and regulations, namely that benefits are assumed to outweigh costs, and costs are assumed to be able to grow without limit. In general, the law assumes that the Earth can absorb unlimited harm and that no one has a right to curtail harm unless they can show that the harm is “unreasonable”–meaning that its social costs exceed its social benefits. Absent such a showing, the harmful activity gets to continue.

A2: VAGUENESS
1. Vagueness preserves the ability to adapt to specific measures
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
If the above claims are well-grounded, then a strong reason to reject the PP exists. Accordingly, in order to find out whether the argument from vagueness is valid, the following two questions need to be considered. First, is the PP (currently) ill-defined, ambiguous and/or vacuous? Second, if so, does it follow that the principle should be abandoned? I explore these issues in order.
A number of facts support an affirmative answer to the first question. The claim that the PP is ill-defined (in different senses) can be argued for as follows. Originally, the first references to the principle in official environmental policy documents were short and without a definition. In addition to the phrase ‘precautionary principle’, terms such as ‘precautionary measure’, ‘precautionary approach’, ‘precautionary action’, ‘principle of precaution’, and ‘precaution’ have been employed. Still, whilst most of the authors speak about one definite principle (e.g. Rogers 2001), others use the indefinite plural form (e.g. Lofstedt et al. 2002). Furthermore, whether there is a difference in meaning between ‘precautionary principle’ and ‘precautionary approach’ is not commonly agreed upon (see e.g. Conco 2003:642-643, Trouwborst 2002:3-5, VanderZwaag 2002:166-167).
Even if we sidestep the terminological issues, a positive answer to the first question is also supported by, at least, two further facts. Following David VanderZwaag’s (167-168) use of terms, these may be called as definitional variations and definitional generalities. The former refers to the fact that, not only one right (or commonly accepted) definition of the PP exists, but rather that there are several formulations of it. This is true of judicial texts and other official documents and also holds in regard to the commentary literature of the principle. In his article on the dimensions of the PP, Sandin (1999) presents 19 different formulations of the principle. Neil A. Manson states that “[v]ersions of the precautionary principle are many, both in terms of wording and in terms of surface syntactic structure” (2002:263, see also Adams 2002:302). In addition to the surface structure and wording differences, the formulations differ significantly in regard to their content (see e.g. Ahteensuu 2007). Given the multiple and differing formulations of the PP, it seems strange that the Commission of European Communities did not define the principle in their Communication (CEC), which was aimed to clarify the principle and its use.
Definitional generalities, in their turn, refer to the fact that different formulations of the PP are “loaded with generalities” (VanderZwaag: 167). Most of the particular formulations (or definitions) of the principle do not provide specific guidance as to what exactly must be shown to justify precautionary measures, for instance. Thus, they leave much space for discretion. In their analysis, Turner and Hartzell use the Wingspread Statement to illuminate definitional generalities. According to them, the statement “fails to indicate who must bear the cost of precaution; what constitutes a threat of harm; how much precaution is too much; and what should be done when environmental concerns and concern for human health pull in different directions” (449). It should, however, be noted that even if the official formulations of the PP include definitional generalities, attempts to clarify and specify the principle have been made in the academic literature (e.g. Sandin 1999, 2004). Admittedly, these analyses have illuminated various aspects of the PP–yet much of the work seems to be undone. VanderZwaag (167), for instance, contends that “[a]cademic efforts to clarify the meaning of the precautionary approach have also left considerable fuzziness”.
On the basis of above, I conclude that the PP is currently vague in a number of senses (and also a matter of ongoing disputes). It would, indeed, be hard to assure the opposite. This brings us to the second question, namely that of whether–and if so, to what extent–this matters. On the one hand, it has been argued that the (problem of) vagueness should be taken seriously. Kenneth Foster and his colleagues (2000) consider the extreme variability of interpretations of the PP as its greatest problem as a policy tool. Turner and Hartzell (459) argue that the ambiguity of the PP can only be seen as a good thing from a rhetorical perspective, not from those of moral philosophy and practical decision-making. On the other hand, some proponents of the principle do not seem to be concerned about the vagueness at all. According to Jordan and O’Riordan (18), it is not problematic that the PP only offers broad guidelines (or a frame) to policymakers. They even think that the vagueness is, in fact, desirable and a precondition for the functionality of the principle. “Paradoxically, we conclude that the application of precaution will remain politically potent so long as it continues to be tantalizingly ill-defined and imperfectly translatable into codes of conduct, while capturing the emotions of misgiving and guilt” (15). In their view, the precise meaning of precaution will only emerge when stakeholders come together to make a decision in a particular context, trading costs against benefits and determining the (un)acceptable levels of damage (18).
2. Vagueness is non-unique; would have to throw out several other principles as well
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
Should the vagueness of the PP result in its abandonment? As correctly pointed out by Sandin and his colleagues (2002:289), the lack of precision in the definition is not unique to the PP, but also holds in regard to several other decision rules. (Writing general policy objectives in legislation is, in fact, a common practice.) Consequently, the same objection could be raised in these other cases as well. This implies two options for the critics of the PP. One option is to argue that principles (such as the PP) in general are vague, and thus cannot provide useful guidance for decision-making. This might be based upon the fact that (decision-making) principles do not imply context specific guidance, and thus their application to concrete situations presupposes interpretation (see e.g. Beauchamp and Childress 1983:5, Gardiner, Nollkaemper 1996:80-81). Following Ronald Dworkin’s description of legal principles,
[a] principle […] states a reason that argues in one direction, but
does not necessitate a particular decision. […] There may be other
principles or policies arguing in the other direction […] If so,
our principle may not prevail, but that does not mean that it is
not a principle of our legal system, because in the next case, when
these contravening considerations are absent or less weighty, the
principle may be decisive. All that is meant, when we say that a
particular principle is a principle of our law, is that the
principle is one which officials must take into account, if it is
relevant, as a consideration inclining in one direction or another
(1978:26).
Dworkin makes here two important observations, specifically that principles (of law) have to be considered in the realm of other principles and that they (usually) leave room for discretion. Given the vague nature of principles in this sense, the argument from ambiguity has consequences which are not satisfactory. It follows that if the PP should be abandoned because its nature as a principle, then–in the name of consistency–other principles should go with the same strain. Provided that we are not willing to abandon most of our (conduct-guiding) principles–as a kind of a reductio ad absurdum–this way of argumentation is not plausible.
3. Abstract definition of the Precautionary Principle is not a reason to reject
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
The other, and more plausible, option would be to try to show that even if principles in general are vague and in need of interpretation when applied to concrete cases, the PP is ill-defined in a special way, and that this makes the principle flawed. Again, two sub-options for an argument emerge. First, that there is an essential difference between the PP and (most of the) other decision-making principles might be argued for. Yet what that difference could be in practice is hard to imagine. It is not the case that the PP offers us no guidance for action. The principle offers a rationale to act in the case of uncertain risks before the scientific proof of the causal relationship between an action and the assumed damage is achieved. Moreover, the existence of several definitions is not unique to the PP. The principle of sustainable development, for instance, has several definitions (and interpretations). Lastly, other legal principles and terms also require interpretation and deliberation when applied to particular cases. Thus, the burden of proof seems to remain with the proponents of this view.
4. Court cases, and historical precedent can be used to guide the use of the Precautionary Principle
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
Second, following the argument presented by Sandin and his colleagues,
even if other decision rules are not in principle more well-defined
than the precautionary principle, they might in fact be, in the
sense that due to their long period of use there has emerged a
substantial body of interpretations and practices that partly
compensate for the lack of exact definitions. There are, for
instance, governmental guidance documents and court cases that can
be of help in interpreting these principles (2002:289).
I do not deny this because the history of the PP in official texts and court decisions is still a brief one. Nonetheless, when considering the weight of this argument, the following facts should be taken seriously. Why the PP could not be defined more precisely in principle is hard to imagine. Several governmental documents (such as the CEC) have been established in order to clarify the principle and its use. In addition, academic efforts have been dedicated to define the principle more precisely (e.g. Ahteensuu forthcoming, 2007, Sandin 1999). Lastly, a number of court decisions already exist, and they can be used as precedents in the future.
5. Vagueness is not unique to, or problematic for, the Precautionary Principle
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
In sum, the PP is currently vague in several senses, but so are various other decision-making principles which we use. In order to demonstrate that the PP should be abandoned on this basis, one would have to show why the case of the PP is different from, and more problematic than, other principles with respect to its vagueness, and that this reason is strong enough for the rejection of the principle.

A2: INCOHERENCY/INCONSISTENCY/CONTRADICTORY NATURE
1. Intro to the ‘Incoherence’ argument
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
Besides the argument from vagueness, the PP has also been objected to on the basis of other alleged problems. More specifically, the principle has been argued to be inherently incoherent (e.g. Morris). The basic logic of the argument from incoherence is as follows: incoherent principles should not be used as a basis for societal risk decision-making; the PP is incoherent; thus, it should be abandoned. Gary Comstock (2000), for example, has argued that “[t]he precautionary principle commits us to each of the following propositions: (1) We must not develop GM crops. (2) We must develop GM crops.” In their paper “Extending Human Lifespan and the Precautionary Paradox”, John Harris and Soren Holm (2002, see also 1999) similarly claim that the PP is incoherent and consequently does not provide the kind of justification (for a precautionary ‘pause’ from proceeding with new technologies) that it is often presumed to offer. Their main argument is that the principle cannot coherently be employed as a decision rule, an epistemic rule, or a moral principle. The argument from incoherence is also found in Cass R. Sunstein’s recent book on the PP.
The real problem with the Precautionary Principle in its strongest
forms is that it is incoherent; it purports to give guidance, but
it fails to do so, because it condemns the very steps that it
requires. The regulation that the principle requires always gives
rise to risks of its own–and hence the principle bans what it
simultaneously mandates (…) The principle threatens to be
paralysing, forbidding regulation, inaction, and every step in
between (2005:14-15).
2. About the Incoherence argument
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
If Comstock, Harris and Holm, and Sunstein are right, the PP should be abandoned. In order to evaluate the argument from incoherence, distinguishing its different forms is necessary. First, the definition of the PP may be incoherent. Second, the PP (or precautionary decision-making in general) may be based upon false presumptions about risk-imposition, particularly that of risk governance as a risk-free enterprise, and thus–when applied symmetrically to different risks (taking also into account the risks induced by regulatory actions)–implies contradictory conduct-guidance. If so, the application of the PP results in demands, i.e. precautionary actions, which are impossible to implement in practice. In short, the policy implications of the PP may be incoherent. Third, the PP may be employed in argumentation and policymaking in inconsistent, and thus unacceptable, ways.
3. The Precautionary principle is well-defined, and is non-contradictory
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
Next, I assess the three forms of this argument one by one. First, if one takes a look at the formulations of the PP found in official documents and in the academic commentary literature, it becomes obvious that the definitions of the principle per se are not contradictory (see e.g. Wingspread Statement). The PP–as commonly defined–does not simultaneously state that precautionary measures should be taken and should not be taken. Thus, the principle is not incoherent in this sense, and the possible incoherent formulations can be easily revised. How, then, to explain Comstock’s position? What he is most probably thinking is not the inherent incoherence in a particular definition of the PP, but that it is impossible to exclude the very possibility of invoked precautionary actions (or measures) resulting in a severe environmental damage or in health hazards, and thus that the PP should also be applied to the precautionary actions prescribed by the very same principle. Accordingly, the (kind of a first-order) precautionary action prescribed by the PP should be taken and should not be taken at the same time.
4. The incoherence argument fails to provide a convincing reason to reject the Precautionary Principle
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
In sum, the argument from incoherence put forward by the critics of the PP is not convincing. The principle per se is not incoherent, and–given certain specifications to the trigger condition and to the prescribed action in the formation of the principle–it does not imply contradictory conduct-guidance. The critics seem to derive from a common source, namely from the consequences of our imperfect knowledge about the nature and its causal relationships and (sometimes stochastic) interactions.
5. Inconsistency with the Precautionary Principle is an external factor; rejection is not warranted
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
Third, that the PP can be used in argumentation and actual policymaking in inconsistent ways is a fact. But this–as being external to the PP–does not provide a sufficient reason to abandon the principle altogether. Not only the PP but also the other decision-making principles can be employed in inconsistent ways. Although they should not be used in such ways, the prescription not to do so is not inherent in the principles themselves, but a kind of a meta-rule (or general guideline) on how to use principles in the first place. For example, in their Communication on the PP, the Commission (CEC) urges that precautionary measures which will be taken should be consistent with similar measures implemented earlier, that is, comparable in scope and nature to those already taken in equivalent areas in which relevant and adequate scientific data is available.

A2: ADVERSE AFFECTS
1. About the ‘adverse effects’ argument
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
In addition to the alleged problems of vagueness and incoherence, it has been argued that the implementation of the PP would lead to serious and commonly unwanted consequences, and thus that the principle should be abandoned as a policymaking tool. The argument from adverse effects says that, instead of decreasing it, the PP increases our risk-imposition in total. This argument also takes several forms.
2. Indur Goklany does not conclude with a rejection of the principle
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
The use of the PP may result in different kinds of adverse effects–directly or indirectly. First, precautionary measures taken may, in themselves, impose a new environmental threat or a health hazard. In his book entitled The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environment Risk Assessment, Indur Goklany (2001, see also 2000) provides us with a detailed analysis as to why the application of the PP to various contentious environmental issues may lead to undesirable effects and to increased risk-taking. In particular, he considers three specific case examples: the use of DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) in the developing countries; the effects of greenhouse gases emissions and, more generally, the effects of global warming; and possible benefits and risks of the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. In all of these cases, the PP has been invoked to justify bans and tightened controls. It should be noted, however, that although Goklany (2000:221) argues that the implementation of the proposed precautionary bans and controls “would, in fact, increase overall risks to public health and the environment”, he does not conclude that the PP should be abandoned altogether. In his view, the increased risk-taking follows from the current misapplication of the PP “on a limited set of consequences of the policies themselves” (221). In particular, the problems, i.e. public health and environmental consequences, are framed too narrowly.
3. ‘Adverse effects’ claims are not usually well-grounded, and are based on narrow applications of the Precautionary Principle
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
When the PP is objected on the grounds of adverse (or no) effects, the following facts should be borne in mind. First, most often, the argument from adverse effects is put forward in the form of a conditional without a reference to empirical observations or studies on the issue. Second, even when there have been cases in which taken precautions have de facto resulted in detrimental effects, an understanding of the PP in which the consequences of the precautionary measures are not taken into consideration has been employed. As is seen above (in the Section 2.2.), these particular formulations (or interpretations) of the PP should be abandoned. If a precautionary response to a threat imposed another risk (or an actual loss with the probability of which being one) that is regarded as unacceptable, both risks should be considered symmetrically. It is also important to notice that pre-emptive measures prescribed by the PP may take the form of outright bans, phase-outs and moratoria, but also that of pre-market testing, labelling and requests for extra scientific information before proceeding. Still another kind of a precautionary response would be the establishment and implementation of new precautionary risk assessment methodologies (see e.g. Tickner 2003).

ADVOCACY
1. Laundry List of reasons we need the Precautionary Principle
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
First, owing to a number of factors (such as the growth in the world’s population; the increasing change, complexity and interdependencies of societies; and the new possibilities provided by the rapid technological development), the stakes have become higher than before. Human action can lead–and has already contributed–to serious and irreversible environmental damage. Second, a growing recognition of ecosystems’ sensitivity as well as of their intra- and interdependencies is not without significance. Our limited understanding of several natural processes and related risks has increasingly been admitted and emphasised. Furthermore, the prevailing institutionalised risk governance methodology (especially quantitative risk assessment) has been subjected to substantial criticism. In this methodological approach, it is presumed that the strict boundary between scientific knowledge and unscientific beliefs (i.e. mere opinions or speculative guesses) is appropriate to the governance of environmental risks. Conclusive scientific proof has been employed as a prerequisite for taking preventative measures. Notwithstanding this, there have often been weak indicators (or early ‘warnings’) of damage before its materialisation. Because the available evidence for the threats has not fulfilled the strict criteria of scientific knowledge, real risks have been ignored with highly detrimental consequences. European Environment Agency’s report Late Lessons from Early Warnings: The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000 (EEA 2001) examines fourteen case studies on taking no precaution in the state of uncertainty, and the serious consequences of this omission (see also Wingspread Statement). Moreover, that the popularity and highlighted nature of the PP may reflect a change in people’s fundamental values and world-views and/or a changed situation with regard to the inducement and management of environmental threats and health hazards is also worth noticing. Lastly, taking absolutely no precaution would be immoral from the ethical point of view and irrational from the decision theory’s point of view.
2. Precaution needs to be second nature
Peter Montague(Director, Environmental Research Foundation; Editor, Rachel’s Environment and Health News) “Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle” March-April 2009 Published in the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (Academic OneFile) [Brackets Added]
We should aspire to making precautionary thinking second nature. Just as it would be unthinkable to re-introduce chattel slavery in the U.S., we should aim to make it unthinkable to undertake a project or product without examining all available alternatives to find the least harmful way. We should put the burden of proof of safety and efficacy onto all economic actors. As our technologies grow evermore powerful and therefore ever-more dangerous, we need to alter the approach that the U.S. has favored for 200 years, which is roughly, “Damn[Forget] the torpedoes, full speed ahead, nothing ventured, nothing gained.” We need to embrace and champion those opposing threads that are woven throughout our culture: A stitch in time saves nine; Better safe than sorry; First, do no harm.

A2: COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

1. Precautionary Principle shifts the burden from the cost-benefit analysis; for the better.

Peter Montague(Director, Environmental Research Foundation; Editor, Rachel’s Environment and Health News) “Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle” March-April 2009 Published in the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (Academic OneFile)

As lawyer-scientist Joseph Guth has shown in a series of scholarly papers, cost-benefit analysis enjoys a special status in U.S. law and policy. From the mid-19th century onward, U.S. law was designed to promote economic growth. With few exceptions, statutory law, common law and government regulations all presume that economic growth provides net benefits (more benefits than costs) to society until an explicit cost-benefit analysis can show otherwise. Even when considerable harm is acknowledged, the starting presumption is that economic growth provides more benefits than costs. Therefore, faced with uncertainty, ignorance or doubt, the law presumes that economic growth should continue–until an explicit cost-benefit analysis can show conclusively that the costs to society outweigh any benefits. Given the starting presumption, it is up to the public (or their government) to show that costs exceed benefits. If they fail to meet that burden, an economic activity can continue. As you can see, under these assumptions, scientific uncertainty, doubt and ignorance allow economic activity to continue, even when it is acknowledged to be causing substantial harm. This has led to the rise of an industry devoted to the creation of uncertainty and doubt. David Michaels has described this industry in his excellent book, Doubt is Their Product.

The precautionary principle shifts the starting assumption. Precaution assumes that, in the modern world, a product or project is likely to be harmful, just the way U.S. food and drug law assumes a new drug is harmful or useless or both.
Shifting this assumption is necessary because the world has been badly damaged by the cost-benefit approach in which all economic activities are assumed to produce more benefits than harms. The world is now burdened with a growing list of very substantial harms–global warming; ozone layer depletion; species going extinct at roughly 1,000 times the historical rate; male fish turning into female fish in essentially all fresh waters of the U.S.; a majority of marine fisheries depleted or badly overfished; many chronic diseases increasing (e.g., asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, attention deficits, autism spectrum disorder, etc.); girls reaching puberty earlier than in the past; several kinds of birth defects increasing. This list could be readily extended.
Given that the world is experiencing this perfect storm of environment and health problems, the precautionary principle shifts the burden of proof onto economic actors, asking them to show that they are (a) doing things in the least harmful way possible, and (b) the harms they are adding to the system will not degrade human health or the natural environment.

2. Cost-benefit analysis cannot be used, it relies on a false assumption; the Precautionary Principle is the only way to preempt irreversible harm
Peter Montague(Director, Environmental Research Foundation; Editor, Rachel’s Environment and Health News) “Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle” March-April 2009 Published in the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (Academic OneFile)

The assumption of cost-benefit analysis has always been that benefits and their associated, though lesser, costs can grow without limit. The law assumes that, to achieve some benefit, the Earth and the human species can absorb costs without limit. But we can see from the short and very incomplete catalog of problems mentioned previously, that we have exceeded the Earth’s capacity to absorb harm–we are degrading the capacity of the planet to support human life. It is worth pointing out that, so far as anyone knows, this planet is the only place in the universe that is hospitable to our species. Earth is our only home. So we are toying with the destruction of the place that sustains us, threatening the future of our species. As Joe Guth points out, the loss of the planet as a suitable habitat for humans would be an infinite loss for our species.
Under these circumstances, justifying more costs by claiming that the benefits are large is ultimately suicidal. If we have exceeded the planet’s capacity to sustain and regenerate itself from harm, we are therefore threatening our own existence–so further damage to the planet must be avoided regardless of any benefits promised. This means that cost-benefit analysis is no longer a useful approach to decisions and should be abandoned. In its place, we need to examine every decision that could impact the Earth and human health from a precautionary perspective, asking whether it is likely to degrade the planet further, or harm human health further–and we must now always ask whether a product or project is being approached in the least-harmful way possible.
Cost-benefit analysis asks, “Is this harm justified by related benefits?” If the answer is yes, or even if the answer is unknown, the harm is allowed to continue. The precautionary principal asks, “Is this harm avoidable?”
3. CBA frameworks in our regulatory system should be rejected
Peter Montague(Director, Environmental Research Foundation; Editor, Rachel’s Environment and Health News) “Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle” March-April 2009 Published in the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (Academic OneFile)
I would say not. As Joe Guth has pointed out, the precautionary approach is actually far more scientific than the current decision-making structure based on cost-benefit analysis. The presumptions built into our current legal decision-structure are profoundly unscientific. The basic assumption is that the planet has an infinite capacity to absorb harm from human economic activities, and that therefore human activities can continue to impose costs on the global ecosystem without limit. So long as benefits outweigh costs, the system assumes costs can continue to accumulate forever.

However, thousands of scientific studies have shown that the global ecosystem has already suffered substantial–and in some cases irreparable–harm and is being permanently degraded. The cumulative impact of millions of small costs–each of which could be justified by a cost-benefit analysis–has degraded the planet.
So we can see that our regulatory system is based on a premise that scientists know is no longer valid. Despite this, regulators and judges are not legally allowed to acknowledge this fatal flaw in the cost-benefit approach because of the presumptions built into our laws and regulations.

4. Cost-benefit analysis discards scientific uncertainty
Peter Montague(Director, Environmental Research Foundation; Editor, Rachel’s Environment and Health News) “Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle” March-April 2009 Published in the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (Academic OneFile)

In cost-benefit analysis, scientific uncertainty is usually not factored in. Missing data is assigned a value of zero and is usually not considered at all. On the other hand, the precautionary approach considers scientific uncertainty a reasonable basis for action–precautionary action to avoid harm. Here again, we see the precautionary approach using the full spectrum of scientific information while cost-benefit analysis ignores important scientific data.
In sum, it is the cost-benefit approach that is unscientific, not the precautionary approach.

EXAMPLES
1. Example: Fishery conservation of aquatic species
Pauline Barrieu(Doctoral Programme Director, Department of Statistics, London School of Economics; Member, Decision Support and Risk Group) and Bernard Sinclair-Desgagne(Professor, Department of International Business, HEC Montreal; Chair, International Economics and Governance; PhD, Operations Research, Yale University) “On Precautionary Policies” 2006 MANAGEMENT SCIENCE vol 52, iss 8 (Academic OneFile)
The earliest explicit applications of the Precautionary Principle were motivated by the conservation of aquatic species. The importance of fisheries for the economy of entire regions, together with the chaotic patterns of ocean dynamics (see, e.g., Rosser 2001), lead naturally to “err on the side of caution” if survival of a valuable marine variety (such as Atlantic cod, southern bluefin tuna, and Atlantic halibut) were at stake. In 1992, the International Conference on Responsible Fishing launched the “Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries,” which was endorsed three years later by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Article 7.5.1 of that document contains a standard (albeit weak) statement of the Precautionary Principle: “The absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take conservation and management measures.”
Examples of self-protecting actions that have been adopted so far in fisheries management include catch and effort limits, restrictions on the physical characteristics of gears (such as mesh or hook sizes), fishing schedules and seasons, and marine protected areas. These measures were set and are essentially being enforced by government bodies. The market, on the other hand, is rapidly developing, notably through aquaculture, the means for self-insurance. (21) An interesting question nowadays is whether the regulator should rely more on the latter, thereby lowering the administrative and often political costs of precaution. In the present framework, this matter can be taken up as follows.
2. Example: Nanotechnologies
Pauline Barrieu(Doctoral Programme Director, Department of Statistics, London School of Economics; Member, Decision Support and Risk Group) and Bernard Sinclair-Desgagne(Professor, Department of International Business, HEC Montreal; Chair, International Economics and Governance; PhD, Operations Research, Yale University) “On Precautionary Policies” 2006 MANAGEMENT SCIENCE vol 52, iss 8 (Academic OneFile)
By contrast, with the conservation of marine species, the regulation of the potential dangers linked to the production and use of nanotechnologies is perhaps the latest area for which a precautionary approach is called.
Nanotechnologies are the result of manipulations and designs performed at atomic, molecular, or macromolecular scales (that is, between one and one hundred billionth of a meter). The obtained substances and devices thereby present at least two valuable features. First, they have a relatively larger surface area compared with the same mass of unmodified materials, which makes them more chemically reactive, quicker to ignite or melt, absorbing much faster, and affects their strength and electrical properties. Second, quantum effects that can dominate the behavior of matter at this scale may give rise to remarkable optical, electrical, and magnetic properties. Promising applications are, therefore, numerous and range from new materials (e.g., coatings, cosmetics, and ceramics) to electronics (e.g., miniaturization, sensors, and data storage), to health care (e.g., imaging and monitoring, drug delivery, and imaging tissue engineering). (24)
These valuable features of nano substances and devices, on the other hand, are precisely what makes them potentially harmful. One can reasonably suspect, for instance, that high surface reactivity and the ability to cross cell membranes might have negative health and environmental impacts. Despite a few alarming findings (for example, brain damage in fish and respiratory problems in laboratory rats), however, no scientific consensus currently exists on this issue. (25) In a recent study that considers the regulator’s options in this context (Dowling et al. 2004), a group of experts commissioned by The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering of the United Kingdom thus recommended that moderate precautionary steps be taken, that is,
Until more is known about their environmental impact we are keen that
the release of nanoparticles and nanotubes to the environment is
avoided as far as possible. Specifically, we recommend as a
precautionary measure that factories and research laboratories treat
manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes as if they were hazardous and
reduce them from waste streams(…). Overall [however], given
appropriate regulation and research along the lines just indicated, we
see no case for the moratorium which some have advocated on the
laboratory or commercial production of manufactured nanomaterials.
(Chapter 10, p. 1)
3. Precautionary Principle areas of regulatory context
Marko Ahteensuu(PhD, Philosophy; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Institutions and Social Mechanisms Consortium, University of Turku; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, 2004-05; ) “Defending the Precautionary Principle Against Three Criticisms” December 2007 Published in TRAMES social sciences journal Vol. 11, Iss. 14 (Academic OneFile)
The PP has been invoked in various fields of academic risk and policy debates as well as in actual policymaking. It is included in a number of official documents–for example, in national laws (e.g. GTA 2004/847) and international agreements (CPB 2000)–within different regulatory contexts. Its relevance touches upon, for example, marine and fisheries protection, the conservation of our natural environment, climate change and global warming regulation and debate, the protection of the ozone layer, the nuclear power risk, the risks of radio frequency electromagnetic fields, the risk debate of nanotechnology, and the risk governance of modern biotechnology.
Matsui/Ridenour – SHINE, SC Page 1 of 3
Aff – Precautionary Principle