Queensland

Feb 20, 2012

The precautionary principle v the fierce urgency of now

What is the precautionary principle? And how does it apply to the issues surrounding the development of coal seam gas? asks FAQ Research's Dr Robert Merkel.

In discussions of the coal seam gas issue, the precautionary principle is regularly invoked as a reason to abandon or delay the development of the industry.  But what is the precautionary principle? And how does it apply to the issues surrounding the development of coal seam gas?

2 comments

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2 thoughts on “The precautionary principle v the fierce urgency of now

  1. Brisbane James

    Not the easiest article to follow, but interesting.

    How the sound-bite “Precautionary Principle” is applied would seem to be most subject to its users’ perspective on a given issue.

    So an environmental group would suggest it implies we go slow until environmental impact is better understood, and a coal industry group would suggest it means we shouldn’t stop development unless we have good evidence its a bad thing.

    Curious as to how (using the Retrospect-O-Scope) the PP could have been better applied to lessen the impact of, just as an example, asbestos…….

  2. Robert Merkel

    Brisbane James – it’s a complex topic, and one of the things I was trying to get across is just how complicated it is. A few paragraphs which were intended to be quotes are not italicized, which doesn’t help!

    Your comment about “users’ perspective” is quite apt – a number of critiques of the precautionary principle argue that those advocating its application are rather selective about what it is to be applied to. One EU document I didn’t link to on guidelines for applying the precautionary principle strongly argues for the *consistent* application to the principle in *all* environmental decision making, including in the context of familiar technologies and activities.

    It’s interesting you raise the topic of asbestos. The UNESCO report I linked to mentions this example specifically.It argues that a sound application of the precautionary principle should have resulted in strong action decades before it actually happened. This would have avoided tens of thousands of premature deaths.

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