The Precautionary Principle – do something NOW!

Here is an excellent post about the Precautionary Principle, and its relevance to global warming issues, The Principle was developed as part of the United Nations Rio de Janeiro Declaration on the Environment of 1992;

In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

(We will get to something of procurement relevance by the end of this, I promise!)

Back to this piece:

" The rule of the no-regrets approach is very simple — do things that will provide real, immediate, low-cost, tangible benefits whether or not the threat is real. That way you won’t regret your actions.

Here are some examples of no-regrets responses to the predicted threats of CO2. In Peru, the slums up on the hillside above Lima are very dry, which is a problem that is supposed to get worse if the world warms. In response to the problem, people are installing “fog nets“. These nets capture water from the fog, providing fresh water to the villagers.

In India’s Ladakh region, they have the same problem, lack of water. So they have started building “artificial glaciers“.These are low-cost shallow ponds where they divert the water during the winter. The water freezes, and is slowly released as the “glacier” melts over the course of the following growing season.

These are the best type of response to a possible threat from CO2. They are inexpensive, they solve a real problem today rather than a half century from now, and they are aimed at the poor of the world.

These responses also reveal what I call the “dirty secret” of the “we’re all gonna die in fifty years from CO2″ crowd. The dirty secret of their forecasts of massive impending doom is that all of the threatened catastrophes they warn us about are here already.

All the different types of climate-related destruction that people are so worried will happen in fifty years are happening today. Droughts? We got ‘em. Floods? There’s plenty. Rising sea levels? Check. Insect borne diseases? Which ones would you like? Tornados and extreme storms? We get them all the time. People dying of starvation? How many do you want? All the Biblical Plagues of Egypt? Would you like flies with that?

Forget about what will happen in fifty years. Every possible climate catastrophe is happening now, and has been for centuries.

So if you are truly interested in those problems, do something about them today. Contribute to organizations developing salt resistant crops. Put money into teaching traditional drought resisting measures in Africa. Support the use of micro-hydroelectric plants for village energy. The possibilities are endless.

That way, whether or not the doomsayers are right about what will happen in fifty years, both then and now people will be better prepared and more able to confront the problems caused by the unpleasant vagaries of climate. Fighting to reduce CO2 is hugely expensive, has been totally unsuccessful to date, will be very damaging to the lives of the poorest people, and has no certainty of bringing the promised results. This is a very bad combination."

I am not a climate change denier; I do believe something is happening.  But as a scientist by training, I'm not clear we really understand what is happening or why at a level of scientific proof.  But doing things that make a difference NOW seems to be exactly right.

So in our sustainable procurement strategies, perhaps we should focus on real action suppliers can take today.  Reducing energy consumption now, cutting business travel, supporting relevant charities; rather than signing up to long term declarations or carbon reduction schemes?

Debate welcomed as always.

Peter Smith

PS I've  supported this charity, Practical Action, for some years. They do exactly the sort of thing discussed in the piece above.

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