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Environmental Values

The Precautionary Principle in Contemporary Environmental Politics

Timothy O'Riordan and Andrew Jordan

Environmental Values 4(1995): 191-212. doi: 10.3197/096327195776679475

In its restless metamorphosis, the environmental movement captures ideas and transforms them into principles, guidelines and points of leverage. Sustainability is one such idea, now being reinterpreted in the aftermath of the 1992 Rio Conference. So too is the precautionary principle. Like sustainability, the precautionary principle is neither a well defined principle nor a stable concept. It has become the repository for a jumble of adventurous beliefs that challenge the status quo of political power, ideology and civil rights. Neither concept has much coherence other than it is captured by the spirit that is challenging the authority of science, the hegemony of cost-benefit analysis, the powerlessness of victims of environmental abuse, and the unimplemented ethics of intrinsic natural rights and inter-generational equity. It is because the mood of the times needs an organising idea that the precautionary principle is getting a fair wind. However, unless its advocates sharpen up their understanding of the term, the precautionary principle may not establish the influence it deserves. Its future looks promising but it is not assured.


KEYWORDS: Precaution, precautionary principle, environmentalism, sustainability, environmental ethics

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

Sustainability, Human Welfare and Ecosystem Health. Bryan Norton

Sustainable Development: Needs, Values, Rights. Michael Redclift

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles:

Nature Conservation and the Precautionary Principle. John M. Francis

Nonuse Values and the Environment: Economic and Ethical Motivations. Tom Crowards

Democratising Nature?. The Political Morality of Wilderness Preservationists. Michael Mason

Emotion, Science and Rationality: The Case of the Brent Spar. Mark Huxham and David Sumner



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