Much of the world’s attention, and thoughts and prayers, are focused on the people of Japan, who are suffering from the deadly effects of last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, and are now facing a nuclear emergency. The devastation to one of the world’s most industrialized countries is unbelievable, yet it is undeniable. It is clear that the death toll will be much higher than the current official one of 2,800. The survivors are struggling to deal with lack of food and clean water, and the loss of their shelter.
Many of us living in the industrialized world of the 21st century feel that we are we are separate from our environment. Many of us believe that “environmental” issues like water pollution, ocean acidification, and climate change are issues that we can choose to ignore without any consequence to ourselves or our families. We don’t realize that what we do to our surroundings, we also do to ourselves. We, in our hubris, have also come to feel that we are in control of nature, not the other way around. That is the only explanation for our unabated abuse of the gift of fossil fuels, and our ongoing pollution of our water and air. If we are going to have a future without ever-increasing pictures on our t.v. screens like what we saw from Japan this weekend, and Australia in January, and Bangladesh last August, we need to all agree that what we do to our environment, we do to ourselves, and to our children and their children. Because, of course, it will eventually be us and our communities who are featured in the news headlines.
Derrick Jensen offers a different way of approaching environmental accountability, in a recent article in Orion magazine entitled “Age of Ooops”, where he proposes that environmental risks should be considered through the lens of the precautionary principle:
The solution I dreamed up to this lack of accountability is a robustly enforced legislative version of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle suggests that if an action, or policy, has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that this action is not harmful falls on those proposing to take the action. They can’t act if they can’t prove no harm will come. So, for example, instead of presuming that deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is safe, and only suspending drilling when there is proof of harm, we should presume that this action is harmful until it has been proven otherwise. The same logic should apply to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, there are thousands of examples of harmful actions that would be stopped by any reasonable application of the precautionary principle.
Click here to read the full article. (thanks to Curtis for sending it my way).