Be Very Cautious of the Precautionary Principle.

J. Richard Wakefield Jan 29, 2008 Those who adhere to the global warming theory are using the Precautionary Principle as a reason to act. Their claims are that even if the science is not guaranteed as to the cause and effect of our emissions of CO2 that the Precautionary Principle dictates that we act to reduce our emissions. Thus it’ a default fallback position. That is, if AGW theory has a s potential to be wrong, because we cannot have 100% certainty as to the effects of our emissions of CO2, then we must act anyway because the Precautionary Principle (PP) applies. However, the definition of the Precautionary Principle is required in order to see if this fall back default position is justified. Surprisingly there is no specific definition of PP. Wikipedia has this: “The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.” It also notes that there are other defintions, and even four sub-definitions aimed at specific realms of society:

1. Scientific uncertainty should not automatically preclude regulation of activities that pose a potential risk of significant harm (Non-Preclusion PP). 2. Regulatory controls should incorporate a margin of safety; activities should be limited below the level at which no adverse effect has been observed or predicted (Margin of Safety PP). 3. Activities that present an uncertain potential for significant harm should be subject to best technology available requirements to minimize the risk of harm unless the proponent of the activity shows that they present no appreciable risk of harm (BAT PP). 4. Activities that present an uncertain potential for significant harm should be prohibited unless the proponent of the activity shows that it presents no appreciable risk of harm (Prohibitory PP).

In layman’ terms it is often touted as “better safe than sorry”. s It is likely that the spirit of the PP, “better safe than sorry”, has been around since the dawn of civilization, but it seems to have been formally defined, according to Wiki, in

1930’ Germany. It is quite likely then that the PP was used in that period for the s atrocities that occurred under Nazi Germany’ rise to power. s Certainly this is not likely to have been the first abuse of the term, but the spirit of the PP certainly has been abused throughout history to justify just about anything authority in power needed to further their goals. Thus the use of the PP must be scrutinized. Above all, the PP itself requires that the PP be justified in its use. “In fact, prevention is only better than cure, if the probability of the particular problem you have in mind occurring is rather high, and if the proposed preventative measures are largely accurate or effective. But in the majority of debates about risk that we encounter today, neither of these cases are actually met. Probabilities, on the whole, are pretty low - otherwise, society would divert large amounts of resources and concern towards dealing with them. And there is little evidence that the precautionary measures taken actually work.” Thus, if the PP were a de facto principle of action for any threat to people or society, then, for example, people would not live along active tectonic or volcanic zones. But since people do live in places where there is a potential of harm and destruction of property, then those people are playing the odds. That is, the degree of threat is what is important, not the absoluteness of the PP. So this begs the question. What is the probability of the threat that will force one to invoke the PP? Obviously that is highly subjective. Those who are risk takers are often touted as throwing caution to the wind. Though many have succumbed to the consequences of their actions with such an approach, many have succeeded and over all benefited society. Taken to the extreme, people would not venture out of their homes on the possibility that something may happen to them. Thus the use of the PP often is tagged to the degree of paranoia of either the individual or group. The use of the PP most definitely can be tagged to the political agenda of those who advocate its use. There are critics of the PP, such as who states “There is no agreed definition of the precautionary principle. One of the more authoritative versions comes from the 1992 Rio 'Earth' Summit. It contains a rather cumbersome triple negative, to the effect that not having evidence is not a justification for not taking action. If we undo a couple of the knots, then as two negatives make a positive, we are left with 'action without evidence is justified'. That's it, in a nutshell. The precautionary principle is, above all else, an invitation to those without evidence, expertise or authority, to shape and influence political debates. It achieves that,

by introducing supposedly ethical elements into the process of scientific, corporate and governmental decision making.” As to the thrust of this paper, is the use of the PP as a reason for acting to change climate change justified? What are the motives of those who advocate invoking the PP as a reason to act? Thus one must scrutinize to see if the PP is justified in this case. The definition in Wiki has two important aspects of the PP. Morals and politics. Both of these are highly abused and twisted depending upon the political bent of the people wheedling the PP sword. This is most definitely the case of AGW as one only has to look at the political affiliation of those who side on action to stop climate change – generally far left “romantic” environmentalists. One only has to read their documents to see the ultimate goal of these groups – bring down democracy and/or capitalism and building a new world order in its place. Putting those individuals aside in their rightful place, on the whole does the PP require us to act to stop climate change? I would argue no. There are two simple reasons for this. First, does invoking action actually change the coarse of climate change? According to Wiki “burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.” Thus those who advocate taking action to curb climate change need to show us that taking action will actually achieve the desired goal. It’ not like some potential new drug coming to the s market where the company needs to show that it is safe. There is no action on the part of the advocates of caution there as they just prevent the drug from coming on to market. What the advocates of PP on climate change want is for positive actions to take place. This includes spending billions on things like the carbon trade system and billions more on carbon sequestering. Thus the burdon of proof then falls on them to show that these actions they propose will actually work, and not do more harm than good. But will the reduction in our emissions of CO2 actually happen if we have a carbon trading system and carbon sequestering? Evidence will show that the answer to this question is no, and a very large no at that. With non-signatories China and India dramatically increasing their economies and energy consumption with it (China building coal fired plants as fast as they can) then any reductions in CO2 from the “developed” world will be swamped (within 10 years China’ energy consumption will be greater than s the U.S.’ Thus CO2 emissions will continue to rise, and not even the rate of emissions s). can be curtailed. Thus, realistically speaking, there is no way, short of society collapse, that CO2 emissions will slow let alone be reduced. (I even had one person tell me that even if the current changes in climate are natural, we should take action to “fix” it anyway!) Second, what is the cost of the proposed actions? Does the cost of action out trump the “costs” of inaction? This is a comon sidestep by those who advocate action by saying the cost of inaction will be much more. Really? They can actually show evidence of that? The economy is so complex, so interdependant, that there is no way that such evidence

can be shown. They may resort to models, but economic models are notorious for being grossly wrong, worse than climate models. Besides, this only assumes the worst case scenarios of the alarmist positions on climate change. That in itself has not been shown to be a correct prediction of the future. Past warm periods, including the Medival Warm Period, was warmer than current predictions and was in fact not a catastrophy at all, but a boon to the biota. The two periods in the geological past that produced the vast majority of oil deposits were from times of much warmer climates. Thus to make the oil there must have been a much higher concentration of biota at those times. Thus, unless the alarmists can show why the current warm trend will be contrary to past warm events, then we can claim that such alarmism does not provide enough evidence to invoke the PP as a reason to act. In fact, the exact opposite. So not only are we to believe on faith that the worst case scenarios are those that will come to pass, but we are also to add to that the faith that action will be cheeper, and actually work! Already Europe is seeing major upheavals in their manufacturing sector due to the carbon trading system. Companies are already saying they are disadvantaged and having to close or move to places that don’ have a carbon trading system. Is sequestering of t carbon a better cure than the millions of unemployed people rioting in the streets for help? We are already seeing some of that happening around the world now. Thus, in concluding, we should forcefully challenge any claim that the PP be used as a reason to act against climate change. We must demand that they show that the use of the PP and their actions because of the PP can be justified. We must not fall back to a faith based system as a reason to take action to curb climate change. Science and evidence must give us a picture of what is actually going on, and then act accordingly. It is much harder, it is much safer, and it takes longer. If we don’ if we just let the PP rule our t, lives for any and all things, then there is one thing that blind actions invoked because of the PP will succum to it’ the Law of Unexpected Consequences. s