As Earth Day 2012 approaches I thought it important to revisit the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle. In January 1998 a group of 32 scientists, philosophers, lawyers and environmental activists gathered at Wingspread, headquarters of the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wisconsin. The Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle was convened by the Science and Environmental Health Network, an organization that links science with the public interest, and by the Johnson Foundation, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the C.S. Fund and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
The Wingspread Statement
The release and use of toxic substances, the exploitation of resources, and physical alterations of the environment have had substantial unintended consequences affecting human health and the environment. Some of these concerns are high rates of learning deficiencies, asthma, cancer, birth defects and species extinctions, along with global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and global worldwide contamination with toxic substances and nuclear material.
We believe existing environmental regulations and other decisions, particularly those based on risk assessment, have failed to adequately protect human health and the environment—the larger system of which humans are but a part.
We believe there is compelling evidence that damage to humans and the worldwide environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new principles for conducting human activities are necessary.
While we realize that human activities may involve hazards, people must proceed more carefully than has been the case in recent history. Corporations, government entities, organizations, communities, scientists, and other individuals must adopt a precautionary approach to all human endeavors.
Therefore, it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle: When an activity raises threat 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, democratic, and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.
“Precautionary Principle.” Science & Environmental Health Network. n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2012 http://www.sehn.org/wing.html