Implementing the Precautionary Principle
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Implementing the Precautionary Principle

Perspectives and Prospects

Edited by Elizabeth Fisher, Judith Jones and René von Schomberg

This challenging book takes a broad and thought-provoking look at the precautionary principle and its implementation, or potential implementation, in a number of fields. In particular, it explores the challenges faced by public decision-making processes when applying the precautionary principle, including its role in risk management and risk assessment. Frameworks for improved decision-making are considered, followed by a detailed analysis of prospective applications of the precautionary principle in a number of emerging fields including: nanotechnology, climate change, natural resource management and public health policy. The analysis is both coherent and interdisciplinary, employing perspectives from law, the social sciences and public policy with a view to improving both the legitimacy and effectiveness of public policy at national and international levels.
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Chapter 3: The Role of Science and Precaution in Environmental and Public Health Policy

Joel Tickner and David Kriebel


1 Joel Tickner and David Kriebel The precautionary principle has often been portrayed as contrary to the tenets of sound science and inconsistent with the norms of ‘science-based’ decision making (Morris, 2000; Holm and Harris, 1999). Others view it as simply a management principle applied only after ‘objective’ scientific inquiry (European Commission, 2000). We believe that these critiques are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of environmental science2 and its role in policy. Most pressing environmental crises share a fundamental characteristic: they appear to arise from disruptions of natural systems or cycles, the behaviour of which is only partially understood. Global warming, endocrine disruption, ecological and health risks from genetically modified organisms and environmental breast cancer risks, are hazards about which there remains a great deal of uncertainty. We draw two conclusions from this problem of uncertainty: first, more scientific research is greatly needed to fill the gaps in our knowledge. Second, while waiting for more complete understanding, we must find ways to make decisions that are based on the best available science, while acknowledging the uncertainties that remain. We believe, therefore, that there is no contradiction between good science and precautionary action. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the precautionary principle and its relationship to science, as well as the barriers to science playing a more protective role in characterizing risks and developing solutions. We examine this relationship from the perspective of United States (U.S.)based scientists and the U.S. political and legal system, though...

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