02 June 2011

Precautionary Principle, Primum Non Nocere, Paralysis

“The precautionary principle, for all its rhetorical appeal, is deeply incoherent. It is of course true that we should take precautions against some speculative dangers. But there are always risks on both sides of a decision; inaction can bring danger, but so can action. Precautions, in other words, themselves create risks—and hence the principle bans what it simultaneously requires. _C. Sunstein [as Quoted]

The "precautionary principle" appears to be the primary policy guide for the leftist Green environmental movement. It asserts that even in the absence of proven cause and effect, society must vigorously defend against hypothesised environmental harm. It is an open-ended prescription for a chaotic descent into an infinite regress of clashing prohibitions, denials, and punishments.

Here's more on the precautionary principle:
At this year's annual meeting of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim, California, in a symposium titled "The Precautionary Principle: A Revolution in Environmental Policymaking?", environmentalist advocates and academics insisted that a principle of ultimate precaution should trump all other considerations in future environmental and technological policy making....

...The heart of the Principle, of course, is the admonition that "precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." As one biomedical researcher in the audience objected, all scientific conclusions are subject to revision, and none is ever "fully established." Since that is the case, the researcher pointed out, the Precautionary Principle could logically apply to every conceivable activity, since their outcomes are always in some sense uncertain. Furthermore, David Murray, the director of the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington D.C., points out another possible--and disquieting--interpretation of the Principle. Anyone who merely raises "threats of harm" with no more evidence than their fearful imagination gets to invoke precautionary measures. Precautionists would not need to establish any empirical basis for their fears; they may simply posit that something might go wrong and thus stymie any proposed action. _Reason
This "principle" appears to be grounds for using mental phantasms as the basis for technological and environmental policy. That will work up until the point where the economy stagnates for lack of productive output, leading to a long-term population decline.

Eventually, of course, the more ambitious and intelligent people will rebel against the unimaginative drones of the environmental - governmental bureaucratic coalition who have eagerly put such suicidally paralytic "precautionary" policies into place. Basing one's policy upon such a negative principle leads inevitably to an unsustainable society -- unless your plan is to instigate a human dieoff.orgy and technological collapse. In that case, you will want to force humans back into a hunger - gatherer subsistence culture, with a global human population of no more than 100 million persons.

But believers in vague "precautionary principles" do not generally want to understand to figure:ground positive:negative nature of the world. They merely wish to have their own poorly-examined prejudices enforced upon everyone else.

Hippocrates stated the central principle most clearly: Primum Non Nocere, first do no harm . . . or something like that. One wishes not to act, if acting will only make things worse.

But often it is impossible to know or predict in advance the likelihood of a specific action leading to improving or worsening conditions. And in situations where large numbers of people are involved, there will always be those who object to action or inaction.

The question should be: What evidence of possible harm is sufficient to put an end to an action which could conceivably lead to a great good? There is no getting around the grappling in the mud and shite. Leftist Greens want to place themselves and their prejudices above the fray, to seize veto power over any action by commercial, industrial, governmental, or other entities.
Boston University law professor George Annas, a prominent bioethicist who favors the Precautionary Principle, clearly understands that it is not a value-neutral concept. He gleefully told me, "The truth of the matter is that whoever has the burden of proof loses."

The result: Anything new is guilty until proven innocent. It's like demanding that a newborn baby prove that it will never grow up to be a serial killer, or even just a schoolyard bully, before the baby is allowed to leave the hospital. Under this corollary, inventors, scientists, and manufacturers would have to prove that their creations wouldn't cause harm--ever--to the environment or human health before they would be allowed to offer them to the public. This is asking them to prove a negative. How can someone prove that a new plastic will never, ever interact with any metabolic pathway in any plant, animal, microbe, or person? There is simply no way to test for all possible effects given the millions of different species living on the earth. _Reason
Such a principle is a recipe for paralysis across the board of human action. And if modern humans know anything, they should know that they cannot afford to be paralysed -- not if they wish to avoid widespread poverty, starvation, disease, and bloodshed. The leftist Green fantasy of a great human dieoff.orgy is not merely hypothetical -- is sits firmly within the realm of possibility should technology be so tightly constrained as to essentially fail.

Here are some examples of the principle at work in US law:
American environmental law is filled with regulatory programs that authorize, or even compel, regulatory action in the absence of scientific certainty about the nature and extent of potential risks to the environment or public health. The Clean Air Act, for example, requires that the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopt measures to control various types of air pollution when, in the administrator’s “judgment,” the emission of certain pollutants “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”6 Absolute proof or scientific certainty is not required. Rather, a “reasonable” belief in the possibility of future harm is sufficient—indeed, such a belief may require action.7 Other portions of the Clean Air Act require the EPA to set air-quality standards at the level “requisite to protect the public health” with “an adequate margin of safety,” irrespective of the cost.8 Thus, the law requires the EPA to set the standard at a level more stringent than that known to threaten public health.
In a public policy context, ‘better safe than sorry’ is a fairly vacuous instruction. Taken literally, the precautionary principle is either wholly arbitrary or incoherent.

The Endangered Species Act also requires government action in the absence of scientific certainty. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service must list species as endangered or threatened on the basis of the “best scientific and commercial data available.”9 That the “best available” scientific evidence may be inconclusive or uncertain does not relieve the Fish and Wildlife Service of its obligation to list a species if the “best available” evidence suggests that it could be threatened with extinction.

Federal environmental law also includes requirements that federal agencies consider the “full range of alternatives” and their likely environmental effects before taking action. Consider the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the federal government to consider not only the likely environmental consequences of major federal actions but also various alternatives, including forgoing the proposed action altogether.10 This seems to line up nicely with the Wingspread Statement’s call for “an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” _American.com

If any imaginary harm at all could come about as a result of an action -- regardless of the harm from inaction or the good from the action -- under the modern leftist Green principles, the action should be prohibited.

Clearly it is one short step to an all-pervading government control over virtually any conceivable action, and then to the arbitrary exercise of this control to benefit political friends and to harm political enemies. Such corrupt abuse of government power is inevitable, and grows more inevitable and horrific the greater the power of ideological government over virtually any private action.

The end result is a corrupt, quasi-totalitarian Green dictatorship, ruling over an increasingly impoverished, polarised, and suffering human population.

It is difficult to see such misery by merely looking at the words and reading the language of the laws, regulations, and appropriated powers. Even those few individuals who actually do read the acts of Congress and the executive orders might find it hard to foresee the consequences accurately. But the chaotic and counter-productive consequences are unavoidable, once the laws and rules are put in place and strictly enforced.

The first remedy is to return to reasonable standards of evidence, causation, and proof -- in other words, to enforce the Hippocratic rule of "first do no harm" on Congress and the entire governmental structure. If all human governments were forced to abide by such time-tested wisdom first of all, as was intended by the US Constitutional Congress, the massively dysfunctional human world as we know it would not take its current form.

In a human world subject to evolutionary constraints, paralysis is not a workable principle. The self-righteous and vacuous promoters of the modern leftist Green precautionary principle are likely to drown in the tumult resulting from their own policies, unless they cynically plan ahead far enough to step outside the maelstrom. Imagine that -- lefty-Luddites going Galt to escape their own self-created apocalypse arising from playing it "too safe."

In the future we will need to explore the issue of determining levels of risk, and how to make decisions based upon different methods of determining risk.

Off topic desultory aside:

Pascal's Wager is a similar "better safe than sorry" general approach to policy-making -- specifically the personal policy of belief or non-belief in a superior being, god, or God. Pascal suggested that a person had nothing to lose from believing in God, and everything to gain.

But Pascal's principle suffers from a similar lack of "fleshing out" as the so-called precautionary principle. What if God is actually a devil, who only torments those who believe in him? In that case, it would be far better not to believe in God than to do so. And so on, down a million different alternative ways of looking at the human :: superior being contrast and juxtaposition. Pascal's unspoken assumptions are too parochial and constricting to apply to more than a miniscule fraction of the infinite possibilities.

Pascal is discussing the personal risk of "eternal fate." Fortunately, most modern governments have not yet overtly inserted themselves into that particular topic.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts