Pole-pole, Swahili speak for the precautionary principle - 12 March 2014

I’ve often thrown about the term ‘the precautionary principle’, usually in the context of nuclear energy, GMOs and even fracking. My understanding of the term is that one should always err on the side of caution - rather don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Truth be told, though, if someone had asked me to explain what it really means, I wouldn’t know where to start.

I finally track down Carin Bosman - she of the ‘safe sex’ analogy. Turns out, she’s a walking arsenal for anyone wanting a bit of clear-headed discussion on why a pole-pole (slowly does it) approach is best.

The precautionary principle, she tells me, amounts to this: reasonable suspicion of harm + scientific uncertainty = a duty to prevent harm from happening = slow down and think before you leap in.

When it comes to environmental protection, prevent harm, rather than try to mop up the mess.

I’m lifting this from one of the slides on the precautionary principle Carin uses in her talks on fracking:

The Precautionary Principle, according to Carin: ‘If there is reasonable suspicion of harm, accompanied by scientific uncertainty, then a duty to take action to prevent the harm is imposed.’ In the old days of risk assessment, uncertainty was seen as a green light to go ahead; these days it’s treated as an orange or red light.