The Precautionary Principle argues that if the consequences of a course of action are unknown but suspected to be serious, it is better to avoid that course of action even if the evidence lacks absolute certainty. If you avoid recreational parachuting out of aircraft lest the parachute not open, or avoid bungee jumping lest the chord break, you are living the precautionary principle. It can best be stated in the phrase "I'd rather be safe than sorry!"
Given a choice between drinking water from a lake that may but probably does not contain parasites, or from a bottle brought with them, most hikers and campers would drink from the bottle; they would rather be safe than sorry. In environmental protection, most of us would prefer to have public policy built on the Precautionary Principle - not on the blind cowboy optimism that "everything will be ok."
We have evidence to consider. Globally, glaciers and permafrost are melting at an unprecedented rate. In the past 50 years oceans have warmed one degree fahrenheit. The frequency of catastrophic hurricanes has doubled in the last 35 years. Major storms in the Atlantic and Pacific have increased 50% since the 1970s. Increased catastrophic weather events long have been predicted as the consequence of global climate change and ocean warming.
Would you rather apply the precautionary principle and reduce the production of those gases implicated in climate change, or would you continue business as usual, ignore the evidence, and risk the consequences? I prefer caution.
Department of Biology & Environmental Science Program
Southeast Missouri State University