Journal 13: Be precautionary

Scientific studies are crucial to understanding the relationship between us, our environment, and potential threats or toxins.  The rules of the scientific method, however, can be conservative and limiting.  For example, if a community has a high rate of cancer, the sample size may not be large enough or statistically significant to prove a correlation.  Therefore it is very difficult for small communities to provide proof of burden to the polluter due to lack of hard evidence.  The Null hypothesis states that there is no difference between the average and the tested, and either reject or accept it.  In the case of testing for cancer rates in a small community the null hypothesis could compare the local rates to national rates.  Therefore, with a small sample size, the statistical significance may be too small to prove that a community has an abnormal cancer rate. 

Since using the scientific method and statistical significance has failed many communities in the past on their quests to show proof of harm, other methods need to be utilized in the scientific and environmental justice communities.  The best method is instead of waiting for proof of harm and struggling to gain compensation, the practice of the precautionary principle should be utilized.  This principle prevents pollutants or toxins from being released before they are tested and proven to be safe.  The European Union has taken this stance on everything from pollutants to GMOs.  This “better safe than sorry” approach prevents unnecessary harm from being done to the people and the environment.   The US should take notes, because so far we have utilized the proof of burden principle instead.  Industries emit many untested pollutants that produce even more toxic secondary pollutants.  Pesticides freely seep into groundwater and waterways. GMOs are encouraged in industrial agriculture and are sold unlabeled in stores, even though they have only been lightly tested for human consumption.

The precautionary principle is an idea that can be manifested in many aspects of society.  New Orleans could have significantly benefitted from this principle before the storm hit.  The levees were not up to maintenance, and there was a large gap in emergency preparation.  This also relates to one of Bullard’s environmental social justice principles: prevention of harm.  If possible it always better to be over cautious than over lenient when it comes to innocent lives and the people’s health. 

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