The Precautionary Principle

This section contains a collection of primary and supplementary reading around the Precautionary Principle: a non-naive way to avoid paranoia and paralysis when discussing ecological policy. The Precautionary Principle is also on Facebook and Twitter.

How should regulators deal with uncertainty? Insights from the Precautionary Principle

One September morning, the Lord Mayor of London was called to inspect a fire that had recently started in the City. Believing that it posed little threat, he refused to permit the demolition of nearby houses, probably due to the expense of compensating the owners. The fire spread and ultimately destroyed most of the city. The Great Fire of London had begun. Only when the fire became too extensive to be readily halted did the full extent of the danger become evident.

Are Some Risks Just Too Big To Take?

As human capability reaches the point where we think we can remould the fundamentals of nature itself, what's guiding us – and how can we avoid becoming the architects of our own extinction? Dr Rupert Read, Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, argues for the Precautionary Principle: an idea that some claim is limiting and anti-‘progressive’, while others consider it the only logical way to prevent global catastrophe.

This article was first published in UEA.

Precaution vs Promethean: The philosophical dividing line that will define 21st century politics

In the twentieth century, ideological dispute focussed on the battle between Left and Right, Labour and Capital. That struggle is still very relevant. But it’s become clear that it’s only one part of a much bigger picture. For, over the past couple of generations it’s become clear that the leading forces on both sides of that struggle share much common ground: they are both signed up to ‘growthism’, the belief that endless ‘economic growth’ is possible and desirable.

The Storm and the Butterfly

In the 19th and 20th centuries, standard economic models assumed that people would act in a rational and predictable manner. These models are flawed, of course, for if modern psychology has taught us anything it is that we are massively complex beings who are ultimately in important respects not predictable, often not rational, and certainly often rational in ways that are judged irrational by ‘experts’. We are moreover (and this is less widely understood) not predictable not only in practice but also in principle: i.e. this is not a limitation that can be overcome.

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