Environmentalists have a powerful weapon
against science. It is called the precautionary principle. The
precautionary principle is that "where there are threats of a serious or
irreversible environmental damage, lack of scientific certainty should
not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental
The principle is in fact almost an oxymoron. Even a stranger to science
will find it hard to think that scientists always search for scientific
certainty before acting. Most scientists will agree that where there is
a threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage, preventive
measures should not be postponed provided that:
(a) the threat is real or at
(b) preventive measures are
(c) the likely damage warrants the
cost of prevention.
The first premise of the
precautionary principle cannot be reached without dispassionate
scientific investigation. Hence the principle is practically useless as
a basis for rationally responding to environmental problems.
In practice, though, the principle allows subjective doomsday alarmism
to trump evidence. In the arena of public opinion, dispassionate and
reasoned argument is hardly a match for doomsday rhetoric.
The irony is that doomsday may be hastened more by blinkered green
fundamentalism than by objective and balanced scientific investigation
that takes account of the dynamic and evolving nature of the world, and
the limits of our capacities to design the physical and cultural aspects
of life as we wish.
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