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Environmental Issues: The Precautionary Principle, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1565

Research Paper

The purpose of this research is to highlight the importance of dealing with issues that negatively affect the environment under the lens of the Precautionary Principle. This principle is a specific approach to mitigating and managing risks to the environment by incorporating precautionary initiatives into environmental and public health policies. The principle assessess whether public and environmental policies or actions raise threats to human health or the environment. Additionally, the purpose of the principle is to ensure that specific and protective precautionary measures are taken even if no scientific evidence has yet been established regarding a possible threat. However, the parties responsible for taking the action must also be the ones to prove that an action or policy is not a threat to the environment or to human life (SEHN, 2015).

Literature Review

The Science & Environmental Health Network (SEHN) notes that the precautionary principle was recognized as one of the best ideas implemented by SEHN in 2001 by New York Times magazine. Additionally, it is stated that in 2003, the first U.S. governmental body to implement the precautionary principle into an environmental policy was the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco (SEHN, 2015).

It is important to note that science plays a definite role in regulating environmental issues as it relates to potential hazards to the environment and human health. As equally important is the determination of whether an action or substance is labeled properly, for example, a specific agent could be labeled toxic by one entity but could be used without prejudice by another entity. This has much to do with the process of regulatory review. A case example is the agent, bisphenol A (BPA), is a organic compound used as an ingredient in polymers, such as the protective coating in food cans and plastics for beverage containers such as baby bottles. This substance has been banned for use in baby bottles by North America and Europe due to their potential toxic effects. However, reports by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) state that the substance is significantly below what is considered tolerable daily intake (TDI) without causing harm or adverse effects. The differences will be shown to be based on value and political preferences of specific regions and countries (Environews, 2009).

The possible toxic effects of an agent, ingredient, or substance is regularly considered by environmental agencies in an effort to protect public health and safety. Many common health issues have been argued as being caused by environmental pollutants such as chronic diseases and chronic conditions that affect over 100 million people in the United States each year, which equates to over one-third of the population. These diseases and conditions include asthma, cancer, Alzheimer’s, autisim, diabetes, infertility, birth defects, multiple scleorisis, and Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, developmental and learning disabilities among children are thought to be caused by envionrmental factors such as toxic chemicals polluting the air from industrial plants and factories (Myers, 2004).

According to SEHN, the precautionary principle does not propose what action to take to mitigate risks; however, specific actions could be taken such as setting goals, examining all reasonable avenues for achieving the goals, being especially diligent to adopt the way that is least harmful, assuming all projects or activities could be potentially harmful and seeking the least-harmful alternative, shifting the burden of proof of harm, giving the benefit of the doubt to public health or the environment, and expecting reasonable assurances of product safety. Additionally, those affected by decisions should be considered throughout the decision-making process. People should have an opportunity to give their input in decisions that may affect their environment. Results and outcomes should be monitored with the assumption that humans make mistakes, and this is a key component to ensuring environmental issues are prevented or remedied when they occur (Montague, 2008).

Scientific reasoning is a significant consideration for environmental scientists who are integral in societal responses to environmental issues; consequently, many studies conducted by environmental scientists are for the purpose of affecting environmental policy to protect the environment and the people who live in it. The precautionary principle has been adopted to give new guidelines to decision making regarding actions and policies that may affect the environment in negative ways. This principle is cromprised of four essential components: 1) preventive measures taking even when scientific evidence is uncertain, 2) allocating the burden of proof to the entities taking the actions, 3) exploring alternatives to possible harmful actions or policies, and 4) increasing public awareness and participation in decision making (Kriebel, et al., 2001).

Monitoring and taking action against possible toxic effects to humans and the environment is a major concern for advocates of the precautionary principle. This particularly relevant for food and water safety. Public health and consumer protection are the focus of ensuring stable and consistent regulatory compliance for protecting the environment, which includes protecting the food chain from hazards. This is to help prevent food-bourne illnesses and deaths (EP, 2014). For example, fisheries must use precautionary approaches to ensure safety of the food. Decisions related to how fiseries plan, manage, and conserve the product has potential negative consequences to the environment and to humans. The precautionary approach is often used to mitigate these risks in this industry. For example, this is evident as well through the efforts of Citizens for Healthy Growth, which is an organization in Denton, Texas who founded the organization out of conern bout the environment and the town’s future. The adopted the precautionary principle in this initiative in an effort to implement proactive policies for environmental protection (Myers, 2004).

Research Methodology

The research approach used for this paper is qualitative content analysis of relevant literature through the lens of the precautionary principle. Relevant data was analyzed for the purpose of highlighting the importance of dealing with issues that negatively affect the environment, as assessed by the precautionary principle. The literature review gives insight into the reasons why the precautionary principle is important and how it used to lessen risks to human life and the environment through negligent environmental policies or actions.

Results

The results of the research show that the precautionary principle is a viable tool for reducing the chances of negative affects on the environment and to human health, when applied accordingly to regulate actions and policies that affect the environment. The figure below illustrates the importance of applying the precautionary approach when considering threats, issues, problems, or uncertainty about possible adverse effects. The perception is that ruin is forever.

The premise illustrated here shows that ruin is never a renewable resource and should be prevented. The figure shows that “no matter how small the probability, in time, something bound to hit the ruin barrier is about guaranteed to hit it” (Taleb, Read, Dauady, Norman, & Bar-Yam, 2014). Additionally, risk aversion is the key to taking appropriate actions when necessary to ensure the survival of humans, particularly in the absence of scientific evidence of a threat.

Controlling technologies, regulatory compliance, and environmental development involve keeping a balance between innovation and hazards, particularly in situations of scientific uncertainty about potential risks to human life or the environment.

Additionally, research findings show, as illustrated in the table below, the importance of recognizing how the precautionary approach compares to simple risk management, which is why the precautionary approach is an important addition to any risk management strategy.

As shown, it is clear that the two different types of risk characteristics carries different weights, and should both be considered. The risk of possible ruin is not a sustainable concept.

Conclusion

This paper has served the purpose of highlighting the importance of addressing issues that negatively affect the environment and how the precautionary principle is used to allow for appropriate decisions to be made regarding environmental policy and actions. The concept revolves around understanding that any activity or policy that causes threats or harm to humans or the environment should result in precautionary measures to be taken. This is even in the absence of established scientific evidence as to the cause and effect of the threat. This process should be initiated whenever there is a reasonable suspicion of a threat. In this way, implementing the precautionary approach requires fully evaluating all available alternatives to prevent or minimize harm.

The idea of taking preventive action based on the precautionary principle means taking acceptable measures to prevent or mitigate damage to the environment, instead of waiting until something happens and the seriousness of foreseen threats of environmental damage are fully known. Care should be taken to consider that some margin for error does exist; however, prudence should apply until all consequences from decisions to implement development plans, projects or programs are also known. Additionally, potential mishaps or errors should be weighted in favor of environmental and human protection.

References

Environews. (2009, March). Understanding the Role of Science in Regulation. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(3), 105-110.

(2014). Food Safety: State-of-Pay, Current and Future Challenges. European Parliament. Kriebel, D., Tickner, J. e., Epstein, P., Lemons, J., Levins, R., Loechler, E. L., . . . Stoto, M. (2001, September). The precautionary principle in environmental science. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109(9), 871-876.

Montague, P. (2008, January 21). The Precautionary Principle in the Real World. Retrieved from Environmental Research Foundation: http://www.precaution.org/lib/pp_def.htm

Myers, N. (2004, September). The Rise of the Precautionary Principle. Multinational Monitor, 10-15.

SEHN. (2015, July 24). Precautionary Principle. Retrieved from Science & Envrionmental Health Network: http://www.sehn.org/precaution.html

Taleb, N. N., Read, r., Dauady, R., norman, J., & Bar-Yam, Y. (2014, October). The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modificaton of Organisms). Extreme Risk Initiative: NYU School of Engineering Working Paper Series, 1-17.

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