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The precautionary principle ought to guide environmental regulations: Isabel Patkowski

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Template:Infobox Hunter Debate These cases were written at the IDEA Internatoinal Debate and Citizen Journalism Workshop, 2007, in Duino, Italy. Go to Main Topic Page

Affirmative Case

Introduction

Case

“We sometimes emphasize the danger in a crisis without focusing on the opportunities that are there. We should feel a great sense of urgency because [global warming] is the most dangerous crisis we have ever faced, by far. But it also provides us with opportunities to do a lot of things we ought to be doing for other reasons anyway. And to solve this crisis we can develop a shared sense of moral purpose.” The words of former vice president Al Gore have compelled an affirmation of today’s resolution: “The precautionary principle ought to guide environmental regulations.”

Comments

Solid opening quote. Though opening quotes rarely become material debated in the round, you should still have a citation available for this source.

Since this speech is already quite long you may want to cut down on this quote or use a shorter one.

Definitions

Precautionary Principle

Case

David Kriebel et al clarify in their article, “The Precautionary Principle in Environmental Science” that:

[T]he precautionary principle states that when an activity raises threats to the environment or human health, preventative action should be taken even if cause and effect relationships have not been fully established.

They explain further:

[T]he precautionary principle is composed of four central components:
  1. taking preventative action in the face of uncertainty;
  2. shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of the activity;
  3. exploring a wide range of alternatives; and,
  4. increasing public participation in decision making.

Comments

The first part of the definition is very good. It's from a credible source and seems fair to both sides.

I wonder, though, if the four "central components" really are part of the definition so much as they are really claims of what would result from invoking the principles. I don't see, for instance, why the principle necessarily implies increasing public participation in decision making. In fact, I could see this as being in tension with the principle. Suppose, for example, that the public, after thinking on the matter, decides it would prefer to exchange short term gains rather than the long term protection of the envrironment. Similarly, by preventing action that might harm the environment, does it necesssarily allow for the exploration of a lot of different options? These "components," which are all noticably biased towards the affirmative, seem to me to be more argumentative than necessarily part of a definition of the precautionary principle.

Ought and To Guide

Case

“Ought” implies a moral obligation, and “to guide” means to direct, so if the precautionary principle were to guide an environmental regulation it would influence the course of action.

Comments

I think you might need to explain "how" the precautionary principle would guide environmental regulation. This should become an important issue in the round.

Environmental Regulations

Case

Without question, having the precautionary principle guide environmental regulations means that there would be a significant shift from the status quo and an increase in the number of regulations. This, however, should not be taken to mean that the precautionary principle must be invoked in every single piece of regulation and that the affirmative must prohibit any action that could remotely harm the environment. Sunsten is good for showing that the precationary principle goes too far. insert a source.

Comments

I agree that this is something that needs to be in the case, though I'm not entirely sure how. You might do better to offer a simple definition of "environmental regulations" and then a short observation explaining what you perceive to be the burdens of both side in this topic. Admitting that there will undoubtedly be a cost associated with affirming the topic is important, but so is showing what might happen if we fail to affirm.

Values

Case

The resolution examines whether the precautionary principle ought to be used when guiding environmental regulations. Because ought implies a moral obligation, the value for the round is morality, defined as a system of principles and judgments based on cultural, religious, and philosophical concepts and beliefs, by which humans determine whether given actions are right or wrong. The value criterion is maximizing respect for human worth. Because morality is a human code, it is impossible to achieve it without acknowledging the inherent worth of each individual. since the most fundamentally wrong action is one that violates human worth? Or something to that effect.

Comments

I'd go for a simpler value structure here. I would also avoid the moral relativists' approach to defining morality with this topic. Morality is a contested term, but I don't know that it's a good idea to define it as varying from culture to culture. The topic doesn't limit us to one particular cultural context, so I think you're better of with a more objectivist or univeralist view of morality. (Wikipedia is weak on this subject but see its entrie on "moral absolutism" and "universal values".

First Contention

Case

The first contention is that the precautionary principle allows for more flexible approaches to environmental problems, and result in solutions that value human worth above whatever is easiest or most simple to do in the short term (i.e. dismissing and ignoring potential threats).

Comments

I don't see how a principle that insists on regulation provides for more flexibility. The precautionary principles seems to do just the opposite of providing for choice. It restricts our actions in the short term. I think you need to explain how regulation leads to innovation and will definitely need some proof of this claim.

Subpoint One

Case

The first subpoint is that by involving the public, the precautionary principle allows for regional or culturally specific approaches to problems. Not every environmental problem can be resolved, but looking to local populations for input maximizes options rather than imposing blanket actions. The writers of the San Francisco White Paper write: “A bill has been introduced to the Massachusetts legislature calling for substitutions for 10 toxic chemicals, where alternatives are available.” By making use of local strengths and presenting all the evidence to citizens of the area, the Precautionary Principle has created a regionally acceptable solution. By using a democratic process, the Precautionary Principle makes use of local resources and creates a solution that can be readily accepted by the local population. This maximizes respect for human worth by valuing the importance of individuals and the community and preventing the absence of definitive proof from inhibiting such sentiments.

Comments

I don't see how this is inherent to the precautionary principle. If anything, I would think that precautionary principle would call for more rather than less regulation and thus less variance from location to location. If Massachusetts discovers a good alternative to ten toxic chemicals, then wouldn't the precautionary principle mandate that the federal Environmental Protection Agency make it a national law to use these alternative chemicals nationwide. It would seem to me that increased regulation would mean fewer individual and local choices.

Subpoint Two

Case

The second subpoint is that the precautionary principle actually encourages local participation in politics. Widemann and Schutz explain in “The Precautionary Principle and Risk Perception: Experimental Studies in the EMF Area”: "[The results] strongly support... that precautionary measures will be considered a cue that a risk might be real and increase perceived risk." This increase in public concern manifests itself into public participation, such as grassroots movements and political action groups. For example, Precautionary Principle Proposition 65—Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 in California “requires a business to give a specifically worded warning for direct environmental and occupational exposures [and]… also prohibits the discharge of these chemicals to drinking water. The warning requirement gives consumers, workers, and others the chance to make a choice about their purchases and activities." Involving citizens in the decision making process brings science out of the laboratory and into the hands of the people and gives citizens a way to act on their concerns, rather than forcing them to rely on others not as vested in local environmental conditions. This is beneficial in the short term (providing a solution to a problem) and it lays the seeds for environmental awareness within a community, which can snowball into long term environmental gains. "Proposition 65 also has a citizen suit provision, which allows members of the public to take legal action” empowering individuals to continue being active citizens and further address their concerns. Scientists are still involved in determining the toxicity of chemicals, but decisions are made based on the impact they have to a community, not solely on the economic goals of far off investors. This maximizes respect for human worth by (a) positively benefiting a community both in the immediate time period and in the future and by (b) allowing effected individuals the dignity to have control over their own lives. LINK

Comments

This is a subtle and potentially important argument. It's strength is in showing how when policymakers invoke the principles it increases public awareness of environmental problems and activism. However, the precautionary principle requires regulation, would seem to require stricter regulation that the regulation specified in your action. While it's important to warn people of the risks of using a certain chemicals, but wouldn't the precautionary princple require us to ban or at least severely restrict the use of those chemicals in situaitons where they might do serious harm to the environment.

What I like about the argument is that it make a reasonable cause and effect claim: "Increased regulation will result in increased awareness." What's unclear is whether this will necessarily result in support for the regulation or increased enviromental protections. The negative can likely find examples where backlash against regulations have resulted in worse and not better protection of the environment. Still, that said, I think this argument has potential. It needs some work, though, since you need to show a stonger causal link between the precautionary princple and increase public particpation in the regulatory process and support for protection of the environmnt.

Second Contention

Case

The second contention is that the precautionary principle promotes the use of sound science which leads to solutions that do not cause undue harm to humans.

Comments

"Sound science"? You might want to explain what you mean by that.

Subpoint One

Case

The first subpoint is that the Precautionary principle acknowledges the limited knowledge humans have of the environment. The White Paper (what White Paper?) continues: “serious, evident effects such as endocrine disruption, climate change, cancer, and the disappearance of species can seldom be linked decisively to a single cause. Scientific standards of certainty may be impossible to attain when causes and outcomes are multiple.” cite a place instead of the white paper again Very little can be definitively proved. In the pre-Copernican world, it was accepted and “proven” that the sun revolved around the earth. It is foolish to assume that any theory is definitive, or that any area of research has been exhausted. Rather than ignoring the problem of human ignorance, the Precautionary Principle works around it, by accepting lapses in knowledge, and acting accordingly. Unlike more traditional approaches, which enact precautionary measures only if definitive proof of a threat is present, the precautionary principle requires the proponents of the dangerous activity to prove the safety of their actions, and until this is ascertained, seeks to find better solutions. This maximizes respect for human worth by placing the safety and wellbeing of individuals over scientific uncertainity.

Comments

This is an interesting argument, but I worry that it can be easily turned. You go so far as to say that it "is foolish to assume that any theory is definitive, or that any area of research has been exhausted." This is true, but there are cases where the preponderance of the evidence would seem to point in a given way and where inaction in the face of uncertainty would seem foolhardy at best. It's worth noting that a lot of the recent discussion surrounding the precautionary princple originates from the Bush administration's insistence that global warming hadn't been proven definitely true. Scientists, recognizing the difficulties in proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that global warming was taking place, argued that the evidence was sufficient to suggest that increased environmental regulation was necessary and that it was foolhardy to refuse to act simply because there was some chance that global warming may not be taking place.

What you're arguing, however, is that absent 100% certainty that harm will not be done, we should impose regulation. This is a subtle but very important distinction. That is, it's one thing to say that we ought to regulate when we have good reason to believe a threat to the environment is real. It's something entirely different to say that we should regulate in any case where we are not absolutely certain that the enviroment is sufficiently protected.

Subpoint Two

Case

The second subpoint is that the Precautionary Principle necessarily includes the search for alternatives, thus encouraging the application of research and innovation and respecting human worth by striving to create solutions that do not cause undue harm to individuals. Shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of the activity, forces them to find environmentally friendly activties. Not only are better options discovered, but advances in science can be made. One example is global warming. Evidence that human related activities are responsible for worldwide climate change has existed since at least the 1950s, but it is only very recently that taking action to combat this problem has even been considered. Had (a) the evidence been brought outside of the laboratory and government offices into the public eye and had (b) alternative energy sources and preventative measures been explored, our generation would not have such a heavy weight to bear, as we deal with a planet that, by the end of the century, will have an average temperature of 2.5 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit higher than now. This maximizes respect for human worth in two ways. First, it allows humans a safer environmenet to live in (think of the catastrophic effects global warming has had on the environment, such as Hurricane Katrina), thus providing for the wellbeing of individuals and communitites. Second, it acknowledges the inherant worth of all people, including future generations, by making the burden of maintaining envrionmental stability easier for those to come. Searching for alternatives attainins to the highest possible standard, rather than being content with mediocrity. Respect for human worth cannot be achieved when subpar solutions are used without first striving to achieve something higher.

Comments

Global warming is probably the strongest example the affirmative has. However, it's not without its problems. Invoking the precautionary principle in response to the threat, not certainty, of global warming makes a lot of sense because of what's at stake. Even if we're not entirely certain that global warming is indeed occurring, there is little dispute that if it is that the consequences would be devastating. The problem here is that the need to avoid taking a risk is in most cases directly proportionate to what's at stake.

Most people would agree that playing Russian roulette is foolhardy. The risks are monumental and it's questionable whether there's any reward other than an adreneline rush in playing. However, the same wouldn't be true of playing a game of bridge with your friends, even if you make a small wager on the side.

The definition of the precautionary principle that you've offered states only that when a human activity "raises threats to the environment or human health, preventative action should be taken even if cause and effect relationships have not been fully established." What's notably absent here is any assessment of the degree of risk involved. In the case of global warming two things were true:

  1. While there was not absolute certainty that global warming was taking place, there was a prepoderance of the evidence suggesting it was.
  2. While there wsa not asbolute certainty what effects global warming might have, there was a preponderance of the evidence that the damage to both the environment and human well being could be monumental.

Now, suppose the situation were different. Suppose that:

  1. While scientists could not speak with absolute certainty that an action would have little no effect on either the environment or human health, they had very little reason to believe that this action would harm either in any way.
  2. While scientists could not speak with absolute certainty, they did not believe that any harmful effect that an action would have would be particularly harmful to either the envrionment or human well being.

The precautionary principle would still seem to suggest that so long as there is a threat to the environment or human health that preventative action should still be taken. The flaw in the precautionary principle would seem to be that it just doesn't sufficiently take into account probabilty or the extent of the risk involved.

Negative Case

Introduction

Case

I stand to negate today’s resolution.

Comments

You may want to include some sort of introductory quote.

Definitions

Precautionary Principle

Case

(Optional Definition: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action." - Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998)

Comments

Ought and To Guide

Case

Comments

Environmental Regulations

Case

Comments

Values

Case

Because ought implies a moral obligation, my value for the round will be morality, defined as the system of principles and judgments that determine whether given actions are right or wrong. My value criterion will be maximizing respect for human worth. Human worth is the idea that each individual is fundamentally valuable. Because morality is inherantly a human code, it is necessary to consider the impact any given action has on humans.

Comments

First Contention

Case

My first contention is that the precautionary principle is too costly, thus wasting money that could be used towards maximizing respect for human worth. Cass Sunstein, author of “The Paralyzing Principle” explains: “In the “worst case” scenario, over 100 lives might be lost each year as a result of the 50 partperbillion standard (for arsenic in drinking water)… At the same time, the proposed 10 ppb standard would cost over $200 million each year, and it is possible that it would save as few as six lives annually.” Although it is tempting to focus on the 100 possible lives lost per year, consider the impact $200 million would have on this statistic. Rather than wasting the money on removing a substance that may not cause harm anyway, it could be used by the government to save many more lives through worthier causes. Use of the precautionary principle would minimize respect for human worth by taking money away from causes that could definitely save lives, towards a cause that may not do anything at all. This strain is particularly apparent in developing and third world countries that cannot afford to seek alternatives to life saving substances. Sunstein continues: “While a ban on DDT, supported by reference to the Precautionary Principle, is probably justified in wealthy nations, such a ban is likely to have bad effects in at least some poor countries where DDT is the cheapest and most effective way of combating serious diseases, most notably malaria.” If there is a clear humanitarian benefit to using DDT, and a clear economic loss to not using it, then obviously the economic strain ought not be put on anyone, particularly developing countries, to search for alternatives.

Comments

Subpoint One

Case

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Subpoint Two

Case

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Second Contention

Case

My second contention is that the precautionary principle prevents progress, thus minimzing respect for human worth. There is always risk involved in the unknown. However, imagine how much innovation might have been prevented had the precautionary principle been forced in the past. The effects of chlorine, for example, were not fully known when it began to be used as a water sanitizer, but since its implementation as a treatment for drinking water, typhoid deaths have gone down to 20 since the 1990s from 25,000 per year in the early 1900s (American Chemistry Divison). This maximizes respect for human worth by allowsing the for development of new technologies that haave the potential to drastically increase quality of life. Again, the impact is also particularly strong in third world countries, where modernization is dearly needed.

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Subpoint One

Case

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Subpoint Two

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