Monday, June 18, 2012

Precautionary principle

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“Precautionary principle”

Elaborated by Andreas Randicsek

Galway, 7th of August 00

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I. Introduction reasons for need of precautionary principle

Many pessimistic prognoses originated in the past (see for example Thomas Malthus and/or Albert Schweitzer) have foretold the depletion of natural resources, the extermination of nature and environments as a result of the blunt human activity. However pessimistic they were, the one thing they managed to reflect in a proper way � without maintaining the capacity to foresee and direct the actions accordingly, man will end up destroying the earth.

The problem of being wise before it is too late is not of an easy kind, especially when the environmental or health impacts may be far into the future and the real (or expected) costs of implementing them are large and should be taken immediately. In order to prevent disasters from happening, one has to react before there is strong proof of harm, particularly if the harm may be delayed and irreversible. Such an approach, including both scientific evidence and policy-making gave birth to the so-called precautionary principle. Precautionary prevention has often been used in medicine and public health, where the benefit of doubt about a diagnosis is usually given to the patient (“better safe than sorry”).

A shift towards prevention and implementation of the precautionary principle in everyday decision-making has became one of the most important new goals of environmental and technology policies in the last decade. This shift implies an acceptance of all limitations the anticipatory knowledge on which decisions about environmental discharges are based brings about. It is often a case that someone is capable of finding out that there is a definite threat to environment only when it is too late, or at the very least, very expensive, to clean up.

The precautionary principle and its application to environmental hazards and their uncertainties only began to emerge as such within environmental science in the 170s, when German scientists and policy-makers were trying to deal with “death of forests” (Waldsterben) and its possible causes (including air pollution, for instance). Although the issue of the precautionary principle is very broad, in the following several pages I will attempt to analyze its history, development, nature and issues it brings to public and social life. I will also focus on the implementation of the precautionary principle within the legislation of the European Union and the recent steps to build it in the national legislation process.

II. From the history of implementation of the precautionary principle

The main element of the precautionary principle, developed, as noted above, in Germany in the 170s, was a general rule of public policy action to be used in situations of potentially serious threats to health or the environment, a situation where there is a need of acting in order to reduce potential hazards before there is strong proof of harm, taking into account the likely costs and benefits of action and non-action. A precautionary approach, however, requires much more than establishing the level of proof needed to justify action to reduce hazards (the “trigger” for action). The Vorsorgeprinzip (“foresight” or “precautionary principle), in the German Clean Air Act of 174, as elaborated in the 185 report on the Clean Air Act also included elements such as

- research and monitoring for the early detection of hazards;

- a general reduction of environmental burdens;

- the promotion of ‘clean production’ and innovation;

- the proportionality principle, where the costs of actions to prevent hazards should

not be disproportionate to the likely benefits;

- a cooperative approach between stakeholders to solving common problems via

- integrated policy measures that aim to improve the environment, competitiveness

and employment;

- action to reduce risks before full ‘proof’ of harm is available if impacts could be

serious or irreversible .

The definition of “precautionary principle” includes two key points

1) Precautionary principle adopted by the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (1) that in order to protect the environment, meaning that a precautionary approach should be widely applied, whenever there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to the environment, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

) Precautionary principle permits a lower level of proof of harm to be used in policy-making whenever the consequences of waiting for higher levels of proof may be very costly and/or irreversible.

Since the 170s, the precautionary principle has found its way into the political agenda, and was incorporated in many international agreements, particularly in the marine environment, where ecological data on pollution yielded little understanding but much concern “huge amounts of data are available, but despite these data... we have reached a sort of plateau in our understanding of what that information is for... This is what led to the precautionary principle” . More generally, Principle 15 of the UN Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1 (see Table 1) extended the idea to the whole environment.

Table 1 The “precautionary principle” in selected international treaties and agreements

Source European Environmental Agency, 00 (

The use of different terms in these treaties and agreements such as “precautionary principle”, “precautionary approach” and “precautionary measures” can cause difficulties for communication and dialogue on how best to deal with scientific uncertainties and potential hazards, however, it is hard, if not impossible to agree on a single terminology. In this essay I will thus focus on a “precautionary” principle as explicitly defined and accepted by the Commission of the European Communities.

In Europe, the most significant support for the precautionary principle has come from the European Commission’s Communication on the Precautionary Principle (European Commission, 000) and the Council of Ministers Nice Decision (000). They have made significant contributions to the practical implementation of the precautionary principle, especially concerning stakeholder involvement and the avoidance of trade disputes.

Although it never defines it, the EC Treaty does mention the precautionary principle in Article 10() of 17 Amsterdam Treaty (7/C 40/01) as well as in European Court Judgments of 18-05-05 (Ground 6 of Case C-157/6 & Ground of Case C-180/6). The Treaty prescribes the precautionary principle only with one regard � protection of the environment. However, in practice the scope is much wider, and whenever preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen for the Community, the principle is to be implemented.

The European Community has already made use of the precautionary principle on several occasions, especially in environmental policies, such as regarding climate change or the protection of the ozone layer.

III. Recent political dimensions on precautionary principle(on the example of the EU).

Policy orientations concerning the implementation of the precautionary principle in practice were set out by the EU Commission in the Green Paper on the General Principles of Food Safety and the Communication of 0 April 17 on Consumer Health and Food Safety, by Parliament in its Resolution of 10 March 18 concerning the Green Paper, by the Council in its Resolution of 1 April 1 and by the Joint Parliamentary Committee of the EEA (European Economic Area) in its Resolution of 16 March 1.

EU Commission considers that the precautionary principle should in particular be taken into consideration in the fields of environmental protection and human, animal and plant health. Although the precautionary principle is not explicitly mentioned in the EC Treaty except in the environmental field, its scope is far wider and covers those specific circumstances “where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and there are indications through preliminary objective scientific evaluation that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the chosen level of protection” .

Decision-makers (those including politicians) are constantly faced with the dilemma of balancing the freedoms and rights of individuals, industry and organizations with the need to reduce or eliminate the risk of adverse effects to the environment or to human health.

Finding the correct balance so that appropriate, non-discriminatory and transparent decisions can be made, requires a structured decision making process with detailed scientific and other objective information involved. This structure is provided by the three elements of risk analysis

- risk assessment,

- choice of risk management strategy and

- communication of the risk.

Any assessment of risk that is made should be based on the existing body of scientific and statistical data. According to the definition, risk (or weak uncertainty) is a situation, when a system behavior is basically known, while chances of different outcomes can be defined and quantified . Most decisions are taken where there is sufficient information available for appropriate preventive measures to be taken but in other circumstances, these data may be wanting in some respects.

The following diagram illustrates the scheme of analysis needed for the implementation of the precautionary principle. It is important to take into consideration three conditions when reviewing it a) the process must be transparent, b) clear statements on reliability must be made with the support of statistical data, and c) statements of uncertainty must imply calculations .

Table Scheme of actions for the implementation of the precautionary principle

Source EEA, 00

IV. Difficulties in implementing the precautionary principle

The precautionary principle is relevant only in case of potential risk, even in a case when this very risk cannot be fully demonstrated or quantified or determined, largely because of the insufficiency of the scientific data necessary for the final decision. However, it should be noted that the precautionary principle can under no circumstances be used to justify the adoption of arbitrary decisions.

There are several aspects portraying the most frequent difficulties in implementation of the precautionary principle. In this essay I will however focus on the following two a) scientific and b) political issues.

4.1. Scientific uncertainty.

In order to prevent the mistake, every scientific evaluation of the potential adverse effects should be undertaken based on the available data. An assessment of risk should be considered when deciding whether or not to implement the precautionary principle. This requires reliable scientific data and logical reasoning, which can bring the decision-makers to a conclusion expressing the possibility of a hazards impact on the environment, or health of a given population (with taking into account the extent of possible damage, persistency, reversibility as well as delayed effects). However it is not possible in all cases to complete an assessment of risk, although all effort should be made to evaluate the available scientific information. The scientists are confronted with the problem of strong uncertainty � they might know the basic parameters, however, the probability distributions are often unknown (ignorance).

In case of necessity for a precautionary approach, there is a strong need for conveying the scientific findings to the public and/or the decision-makers. A comprehensive report should be elaborated, indicating the assessment of the existing knowledge and the available information, providing the views of the scientists on the reliability of the assessment as well as on the remaining uncertainties. If necessary, it should also contain the identification of topics for further scientific research. Risk assessment consists of four components hazard identification, hazard characterization, appraisal of exposure and risk characterization. The limits of scientific knowledge may affect each of these components, influencing the overall level of attendant uncertainty and ultimately affecting the foundation for protective or preventive action. An attempt to complete these four steps should be performed before decision to act is taken.

Scientific uncertainty results usually from five characteristics of the scientific method the variable chosen, the measurements made, the samples drawn, the models used and the causal relationship employed. Scientific uncertainty may also arise from a controversy on existing data or lack of some relevant data (“the magic number of 80” in the time-series analysis).

Risk managers should be fully aware of these uncertainty factors when they adopt measures based on the scientific opinion delivered by the evaluators.

However, in some situations the scientific data are not sufficient to allow one to apply these prudential aspects in practice, i.e. in cases in which extrapolations cannot be made because of the absence of parameter modeling and where cause-effect relationships are suspected but have not been demonstrated. It is in situations like these that decision-makers face the dilemma of having to act or not to act.

4.. Political issues.

The political issue is always the most controversial one. There are several aspects I want to raise here when judging the political impact of the implementation of the precautionary principle. As Funtowicz and Ravetz state in their paper “The worth of a songbird Ecological economics as a post-normal science” a naive interpretation of a precautionary principle would “…entail a halt to all innovation, even that intended to benefit the environment. For to require that every proposed innovation be proced harmless would amount to a uniform ban; the task is to articulate varieties of ‘burden of proof” that are each appropriate to the issue and the forum of discussion” .

The issue is clear � there is a strong need to make the politicians accurately assess each implementation of the precautionary principle, basing on all scientific data available as well as public discussions including representatives of every sphere of public life, interested in the issue.

There are two issues about politics and the precautionary principle I would like to highlight here

a) a spatial perspective on political competition

When former Alabama Governor George Corley Wallace run for president of the USA as a third-party candidate, he often complained that to his audience that there is no substantial difference between the Republican and the Democratic candidates . Although Wallace surely exaggerated the similarities, his assessment captures the essential truth about the American two-party political system, namely, that it tends to nominate presidential candidates whose positions on most major issues are remarkably similar.

This tendency is easily understood once we recognize the analogy between the political location problem and so-called Hotelling’s “hot dog vendor location problem” . The center point of Hotelling’s idea is that in case we have two hot dog vendors who are free to position themselves along the 1-mile, bounded beach, the will always end up in the middle (in this case neither vendor would be better off if he were to move unilaterally). The likeness with the political parties is clear voters of each party know that their nominee must stand for general election before the voters of both parties. So the most extreme members of each party have an incentive to set their own preferences aside in favor of a candidate located closer to the overall political spectrum. The similar thing happens in the political decision-making over the precautionary principle in spite of the fact that some politicians may be environmentally-oriented and concerned about the sustainable development and nature-protection issues, they still have to compete for re-election. When a “judgment day” of elections comes, the majority of the decision-makers will tend t express less radical views and incline to the centrist ideology. Thus the idea and the environmental-concerned approach are betrayed for the sake of re-election. The short-lasting nature of the political power and ability to make decisions, the cyclical way of changing the political forces at power creates a major threat for the precautionary principle implementation in the every-day life and reduces the concern about the environmental issues to mere political rhetoric.

b) the pressure of public opinion

Precaution involves uncertainties and risks. As Brian Wynne noted in his paper “Uncertainty and environmental learning” if we ban production which cannot meet the zero-discharge standards of strict precautionary principle advocates, what happens if we cannot feed people as a result? Long before that, it would seem, consumers would be marching for pollution . Here we are faced with the problem of political decision-making. Even though some hazard requires an immediate implementation of the precautionary principle, politicians may hesitate and postpone it in order to prevent any social clashes from happening. After all, they are interested only on a seizure of power for as long as possible and it is their interest to make every single voter happy.

In such a radical situation, as described above, politicians will choose to sweep aside the precautionary principle thinking in order to meet the needs of the public (and give the “green light” to pollution � in the most extreme case).

V. Conclusions

As we have seen, an increasing number of recent events has shown that public opinion is becoming more and more aware of the potential risks to which the population or their environment are potentially exposed.

Enormous advances in communications technology have positioned this sensitivity to the emergence of new risks, before scientific research has been able to fully illuminate the problems. Decision-makers have to take account of the fears generated by these perceptions and to take preventive measures to eliminate the risk or at least reduce it to the minimum acceptable level.

Whether or not to invoke the precautionary principle is a decision emerging in every case, where scientific information is insufficient, inconclusive, or uncertain and where there are indications that the possible effects on the environment, or human, animal or plant health may be potentially dangerous and inconsistent with the chosen level of protection.

The European Union has adopted the principles of the precautionary principle and explicitly and implicitly built it up to its legislation and decision-making. Although extremely hard to pursue and implement, the precautionary principle finds its way into the modern political and social life, both in the EU and worldwide.

1) European Environmental Agency”Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century”, Environmental assessment report No. , 1

) Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. , 17

) Boehmer-Christiansen, “The precautionary principle in Germany Enabling government”, in O’Riordan, T. and Cameron, J. (eds) ”Interpreting the precautionary pinciple”, Cameron and May, London, 14

4) Commission of the European Communities “Communication from the Commission on the precautionary principle”, Brussels, ..000, COM (000) 1 final.

5) Sigrid Stagl “Values and Behavior”, IDARI PhD. Training, Galway 4.7.00

6) Robert H.Frank “Microeconomics and behavior”, Fourth edition, McGraw Hill, 11

7) Harold Hotelling “Stability in Competition”, The Economic Journal, , 1

8) Wynne Brian ”Uncertainty and environmental learning � reconceiving science and policy in the preventive paradigm”, Global Environmental Change (June), 1

) Funtowicz, S. and Ravetz J. “The worth of a songbird Ecological economics as a post-normal science”, Ecological Economics 10, 14

10) European Environmental Agency, 00 (

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Im Clone

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There was a point in time where kingdoms were the all powerful voice, kingdoms like the Roman Empire. Times changed and it became countries like Russia or the United States. Now times have changed once again although we still have laws and regulations that are enforced with countries businesses, companies and corporations have the international voice now. Especially here in the U.S. where even the sky is not a limit for a business to expand. It is because of this that people look up to corporations to see how they are doing and what they have to say. The problem is that people run businesses. People are not perfect, even if they are big CEO’s.

Martha Stewart is one of these CEO’s that in recent times has run into problems. She is the CEO of the company she created Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. worth as of June 00, $6. It consists of a multi-platform franchise, which includes a TV show, her magazine, a variety of retail endeavors such as bed sheets, garden tools, etc., website and books. “Martha Stewart is America’s domestic goddess, offering the last word on everything from serving a dinner for 80 to growing peas”. Stewart was viewed as “the housewife to die for”. Everyone wanted more of her and her products. She is a success story to many especially women. She can be compared and in some ways even surpass Opera. Her success has called the attention of more publishers, business partners and consumers.

Early in the year Stewart had a considerable amount of stock in a company called Imclone Systems Inc. A day before the company publicly announced that regulators had rejected its cancer drug; Erbitux Stewart sold her stock in that company. On June 1, 00 Martha Stewart was charged with illegal trading on inside information. Whether this is true or not is still being investigated. I cannot make a judgment on which no one has the full details. In this country it is innocent until proven guilty yet this allegation has created a great repercussion on Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. Stewart says that she started selling when she saw that the family of Imclone were selling. If she did commit this “crime” then she is fully responsible for her actions and the outcome of them. If she did not use inside information to trade then she might as well have because the result would have been the same either way.

Her company has suffered create loses. Her stock value has diminished as much as 5% percent in the first month of the investigation. People were scared of the scandal and quickly moving away to prevent there stock to become another penny stock company like Enron. This makes the stock value to lower more and more. Over the next few months Stewart found herself defending her image by all means including investing in advertising with a new commercial and making public appearances. Her image is the only thing that can save her company. Was once her strong hold is now her vulnerability.

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Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. although is not what it used to be does not seem to be going under. Maybe we can attribute this to the way the company dealing with the scandal. They carry on like there is no problem. No major partnerships have been broken. Maybe this is because if the other companies such as Kmart were to break away they would suffer even more loses. Kmart and other companies have become reliant on the sales they make off of Martha’s products.

It certainly seems like this CEO will beat these turbulent times and move on, even thought they have considered removing her from being the CEO. In my opinion there are going to be fewer and fewer companies that are based on one celebrity. What would happen if she got hurt or unable to carry on in regular business? We cannot rely on any one person because no one is perfect and we all make mistakes along the way.

Empire not much affected, yet, by cloud over Martha Stewart

The New York Times

June 5,00

Leslie Kaufman

Pushy, Nasty -- so very Martha

The Times (London)

June 6, 00

Christopher Byron

Martha Stewart’s insider trading continues


August 6, 00

Dan Abrams

Is this the bottom of the rose?

USA Today

September ,00

Maria Puente

Martha and Kmart hold fast, for now

The New York Times

October , 00

Constance L. Hays

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