Invoking the precautionary principle.
The article on the precautionary principle, risk perception, and assessment by Wiedemann and Schutz (2005) deserves praise and careful consideration because of the growing awareness that certain human activities could potentially seriously harm human and environmental health.
The precautionary principle (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or Earth Summit, an 11-day meeting held in June, 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to discuss the global conflict between economic development and environmental protection. 1992) holds forth that a point can presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. be reached when human well-being and environmental health are put at risk by a large-scale human activity or man-made system over which humans have control. At such a point the problem could be identified, a course charted, and precautionary actions taken to ameliorate or prevent a potential threat to human and environmental health on behalf of current and future generations.
Despite the incontrovertible in·con·tro·vert·i·ble
Impossible to dispute; unquestionable: incontrovertible proof of the defendant's innocence.
in·con element of uncertainty and other limitations of scientific methods, it is implicitly assumed that science plays the vital role of providing humanity with the best knowledge of how the world works and of the placement of humankind in the natural order of living things. To the extent scientific methods are incorporated and used to inform both the proclamation of a problem and the implementation of its remedy, the precautionary principle affords humanity a mechanism to focus attention and to examine data on potential impacts of human activities and systems upon the natural world. With such attentiveness and knowledge, humans become able to make choices and to engage in the regulation of behaviors that are advantageous rather than detrimental to human and environmental health. As a mechanism of science, the precautionary principle becomes a useful tool in raising awareness and determining aspects of human culture that are and are not sustainable.
Absolute global human population numbers (Hopfenberg 2003; Hopfenberg and Pimentel 2001), increasing human consumption worldwide (Imhoff et al. 2004), and the seemingly limitless expansion of the world's predominant human economy (Czech and Daly 2004; Meritt 2001) point to the existence of a rapidly spreading culture that could be characterized by its proclivity pro·cliv·i·ty
n. pl. pro·cliv·i·ties
A natural propensity or inclination; predisposition. See Synonyms at predilection.
[Latin pr for unlimited growth--growth that increasingly outruns humanity's capabilities to anticipate and address the potential for devastating dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. consequences of growth. Given the current scale and rate of this growth relative to the small, finite, noticeably fragile planet we inhabit, it could be that this cultural predisposition for increasing growth is patently unsustainable and, moreover, could give rise to the potential for recognizable, worst-case scenarios. Global warming; diminishing nonrenewable energy resources; destruction of the ozone layer; biodiversity loss; acid rain; deforestation deforestation
Process of clearing forests. Rates of deforestation are particularly high in the tropics, where the poor quality of the soil has led to the practice of routine clear-cutting to make new soil available for agricultural use. ; solid waste disposal; pollution of the air, water, and land; and desertification desertification
Spread of a desert environment into arid or semiarid regions, caused by climatic changes, human influence, or both. Climatic factors include periods of temporary but severe drought and long-term climatic changes toward dryness. are regularly referenced in this context.
Not unexpectedly, the evolution of science gives rise to new approaches for examining large-scale human activities such as human propagation and human consumption and man-made constructions such as the prevailing economic system. Although relatively new, "top-down" research focuses on data acquisition and analysis regarding certain human behaviors and global human systems. This development complements the "bottom-up" research with which scientists are so familiar (Cairns Cairns, city (1991 pop. 64,463), Queensland, NE Australia, on Trinity Bay. It is a principal sugar port of Australia; lumber and other agricultural products are also exported. The city's proximity to the Great Barrier Reef has made it a tourist center. 2003). As the adage goes, scientists have had difficulty "seeing the forest for the trees Forest for the Trees was the brainchild of Carl Stephenson, an eclectic producer known for his work with Beck. Difficult to classify, Forest for the Trees is probably best described as experimental psychedelic trip-hop. " because traditional scientific methods focus primarily on parts of a large system, not on the large system itself.
Another dimension of this change in focus is the development of "joining edge" research, in which leading ideas and best practices from multiple disciplines are brought together in a collaborative effort to examine large, complex systems. This approach complements the more familiar pursuit of progressively narrowing "cutting-edge" research of components of a whole system (Cairns 2003; Kriebel et al. 2001).
Perhaps, scientific data to advance human understanding about why global-scale human activities and systems are sustainable or unsustainable could be vital to protecting humanity from endangerment, biodiversity from extinction, and Earth from irreversible degradation, even in these early years of the 21st century.
The author declares he has no competing financial interests.
Steven Earl Salmony
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Czech B, Daly HE. 2004. In my opinion: the steady state economy-what it is, entails and connotes. Wildl Soc Bull 32(2):598-605. Available: http://steadystate.org/files/ SSE (1) An earlier full-screen editor in OS/2.
(2) (Streaming SIMD Extensions) A series of additional instructions built into Pentium CPU chips for improved multimedia performance by performing mathematical operations on multiple sets of data at the .pdf [accessed 29 June 2005].
Hopfenberg R. 2003. Human carrying capacity carrying capacity
the number of animal units that a farm or area will carry on a year round basis, including that needed for conservation of winter feed. Usually stated as dry cows or dry sheep equivalents per hectare. is determined by food availability. Popul Environ 25(2):109-177.
Hopfenberg R, Pimentel D. 2001. Human population numbers as a function of food supply. Environ Dev Sustain 3:1-15.
Imhoff M, Laheuari B, Ricketts T, Loucks C, Harriss R, Lawrence WT. 2004. Global patterns in human consumption of net primary production [Letter]. Nature 429: 870-873,
Kriebel D, Tickner J, Epstein P, Lemons J, Levins R, Loechler EL, et al. 2001. The precautionary principle in environmental science. Environ Health Perspect 109:871-876. Available: http://ehp.niehs.gov/members/2001/109p871-87kriebel/ kriebel-full.html [accessed 31 January 2005]
Meritt MS. 2001. The unsustainability and origins of socioeconomic increase [Master's thesis]. New York: The City University of New York The City University of New York (CUNY; acronym: IPA pronunciation: [kjuni]), is the public university system of New York City. . Available: http://www.potluck. corn/offerings/increase.pdf [accessed 11 February 2005].
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. 1992. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, often shortened to Rio Declaration, was a short document produced at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit. . Available: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/ aconf15126-1annex1.htm [accessed 14 February 2005].
Wiedemann PM, Schutz H, 2005. The precautionary principle and risk perception: experimental studies in the EMF emf: see electromotive force.
(1) (ElectroMagnetic Field) See electromagnetic radiation.
(2) (Enhanced MetaFile) See Windows metafile. area. Environ Health Perspect 113:402-405; doi:10.1289/ehp.7538 [Online 10 January 2005].