It’s not a real easy read, but anyone who thinks that the “precautionary principle” is a useful way of protecting the environment should checkout the well-informed debate between radical environmentalist Peter Montague and his friend Adam Finkel, formerly a whistle-blowing OSHA administrator, now a teacher of public health in New Jersey. I think Finkel got the better of it, and along the way he expertly trashes Cass Sunstein’s book Risk and Reason, which I used to think highly of.
Here’s the very short version.
The guts of the precautionary principle, according to Montague:
“1) If you have reasonable suspicion of harm
2) and you have scientific uncertainty
3) then you have a duty to take action to avert harm (though the kind
of action to take is not spelled out in the precautionary principle).”
Why it doesn’t help much, according to Finkel:
“Because I believe that either inaction or action can be
unacceptably harmful, depending on circumstances, I worry that a
principle that says ‘act upon suspicion of harm’ can be used to justify anything. This was my point about the Iraq war, which I agree is despicable, but not only because the suspicion of harm was concocted (at least, inflated) but because the consequences of the
remedy were so obviously glossed over.”
Read the whole thing here.