The precautionary principle is a guiding framework for the decision making that anticipates the way people's actions will affect the environment and the health of present and future generations. This principle accentuates public participation and collaboration of all stakeholders in the long-term environmental health and ecological programs and policies. This principle states that if an action or policy has an anticipated risk of causing harm to the public or detrimental to the environment, whenever scientific consensus does not exist and the action is harmful, the burden of proof that is not detrimental falls squarely on those taking the said action.
This principle allows policy makers to formulate decisions discretely I situations where there is possibility of harm from taking a particular course when serious scientific knowledge on the issue is lacking. The implication of the precautionary principle is that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm whenever scientific investigations have found significant risk in a given action. In the case of uncertainty, caution is practice because no one knows what might result, this is very important because in the case of precautionary principle, human farewell and that of the environment is given paramount priority. One of the basic foundations of this principle was formulated in the Rio Conference in 1992 where countries recognized the need to protect the environment within their own states according to their own capabilities. In the case where serious threat emerged, lack of adequate scientific certainty should not be used for putting off measures necessary to prevent further degradation of the environment.
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Elements of Precautionary Principle
Precautionary principle presents a paradigm shift in decision making in the world as far as environmental management is concerned. There are key elements that if applied, will prevent irreparable damage to people and the environment.
New technologies have brought with it great benefits for mankind though there is also risk for causing harm. The society is therefore obliged to be very careful when introducing innovations that people are unfamiliar with. Those inventions that might be detrimental to human health and environment. In America, risk analysis model has guided the society on new technologies by trying to calculate the mathematical probability of it harming the public and environment. The European idea of precautionary principle appeared in America and soon became the most preferred. In fields like health, new technologies brought about a lot of improvements. Immunizations, pest control, energy provision, water treatment systems have all benefitted human beings.
Based on the German environmental concept first developed in the early 1970s, this principle has been widely applied in Europe to show policy makers the way in decisions that they make that involve health and environment. This principle also doubles as the basis for the European Union environmental policy. The concept of precautionary principle though can be found in the occupational safety and health act and environmental protection agency regulations, the United States of America still lags behind in its commitment to this principle since many projects can still be seen rolling out without considering precaution, especially the risky ones. The direction the world has taken now is frightening indeed especially in relation to the environment because impacts are already very visible and can be felt by the rich and the poor with equal measure. Precautionary principle may be just what the world needs to arrest the situation before it gets worse.
Everyone living in this world is a stakeholder of the environment but this is only as true as the statement because when it comes to the ground, the policy makers make the decisions without considering the detriments they may have on the general public. The public though in support of precautionary measures may support farms that have this principle in place thus reducing pollution via sustainable practices. It is a duty for every citizen not to put their health at risk and that is what environment is all about because when environment is degraded, it is the human health that faces the entire wrath. Many rich countries form the biggest part of world problems yet they feel the impacts the least, leaving the poor countries especially in Africa and Asia to experience the effects because they don't have or rather cannot afford mitigation measures. This leaves the future of environmental in jeopardy since the war against quality environment cannot be won if some countries still have inadequate resources to deal with the impacts. With precautionary principle, the world is able to sit back and rethink its dealing with the environment evaluating carefully the risks involved and making informed decisions so that in the end the consequences are minimised. It may sound as a little farfetched but it as a basis for achieving the much needed environmental quality.
Critics argue that precautionary principle is not based on sound science, a notion that is wrong. Since sound science accentuates risk assessment and cost benefit analysis, we have to know that these are value-laden approaches that need many assumptions on how the risks occur, the exposure people have to them and how the society is willing to deal with the hazard. Precautionary principle realizes these approaches and goes for the shift in decision making. It is based on the principle that human beings should not be exposed to environmental hazards unless it is very necessary. It is thorough than risk assessment since it brings to the fore the uncertainties and realizes the flaws of science. With this fact, it is a sounder science that what the critics think and as we face the future with all the problems, starting now with this principle might as well save humanity from the grave impacts that await them in future if nothing is done.
The emotions we as humans have when we see the effects of environmental damage is the basis for our survival, for instance, babies born with deformities and toxic substances will affect our emotions and make us what to do something for the environment. We care because we are concerned about the welfare of the future generations because we know it too well that they will suffer if nothing is done constructively. This is the kind of justice that precautionary principle stands for, justice for the future generations, those that we don't even know of. When an action on environment seems risky, it is only fair for the environment and for the sake of human health to take precaution so as to alleviate the potential dangers. Not taking precaution in the when a possibility of a negative effect appears is very irrational therefore the critics who think of this principle as irrational are clearly off the mark.
As much as it may be costly on the immediate, in the long run precautionary principle will increase prosperity and cleaner development through improved health of human beings and that of environment in addition to cleaner industrial processes and products. The spiraling costs of healthcare due to pollution, environmental damage, pollution control is rarely considered when undertaking the advocacy of precautionary action. When industries avoid hazards by learning, greener future is in the offing thus quality life for the future generation. Initially many companies had problems with the principle because they cited costs of implementation, nut with time they came to learn and now are reaping the benefits of cleaner production mechanisms. This not only benefits them but also the environment and as we know, the environment responds to how one treats it. The immediate adverse economic effect can't be avoided that is why in the implementation of this principle, there is need to plan ahead and be able to stem the impacts, this is done by smooth transition.
Rapid development witnessed in the world in the last century has been done with abandon, humans barely thinking about the detriments they have on the environment. Development as was understood by man was economic well-being, precautionary principle redefines development as not only economic well being but also ecological wellbeing. There is no point of development when all the benefits and resources brought about by this development are against all used in treating health problems the same development brought. Precaution simply means progressing but this time carefully and that is what the world needs because as we have come to experience, it is very hard to mitigate the impacts therefore it is important that we prevent than spend all the money and resources we have in curing.
With the current technological advancements in the world, there has to be a look out on the harmful innovations to protect the environment and health. Before any technology is put to use, its safety should be tested upfront and that is what precautionary principle brought along. Careful scrutiny should be always used whenever new alternative technologies are brought forward. It might be in good faith but replacing a bad technology with a worse one is just not right. More research should be directed towards the coming up with safer innovations, those that will better the existing ones so that in the end, a progress will have been made. Harmony with nature is paramount here therefore soft and harmonious science is what is needed to maintain this delicate balance.
Looming world problems such as climate change brought to the attention of the world the precaution that should have been taken long ago but now was gone. The longer it has taken to stop the detrimental science, the harder the effects have been to reverse thus giving us an important lesson that we should not let it slip again and subject future generations to what we have been subjected to us. Constant environmental conventions do not help at all since nothing is being done on the ground as more powerful entities are left to do what they please because they are powerful enough to do so and have enough resources to face the effects. The example of Kyoto protocol in 1997 was a very hard earned effort that was dragged into dirty national politics that blew everything away. The heaviest fossil fuel user which is the United States of America is notorious for politicizing the climate change talks thus rendering them useless since they are the most powerful nation in the world.
Considering the problems the world is facing now, it is clear that the existing environmental regulations and policies especially those that are based on risk assessment have failed miserably to protect the human health and environment. every single human activity in the world involve hazards therefore in all the undertakings and action we do concerning the environment, that which even includes us, we should tread with care than what has been done in the past because the past has surely led us to the present that is clearly ravaged and in need or urgent solution. Human existence dearly hangs on the quality of environment in future and if that is not secured now then it might as well be the end of human race. The development and innovations that are going on regardless of their effects to the environment will be of no use and since man will be trying to look further for new technologies, situation will be deepening and reversing will be an uphill task if not impossible.
What is interesting is how long it took for the world to realize that we need precaution to protect the environment. The notion that the environmental resources were infinite is partly responsible because not many people saw that environment also needed rejuvenation therefore using it up quicker than it could rejuvenate was surely killing it. There have been question of how much effects can the earth withstand without crushing and what are the alternatives to certain products that can lead to a desired goal. The answer is that desired goal or not, if the options are equally detrimental, there is no excuse of using them at all because it will turn back later on and spend all the resources in the bid of mitigation measures.