San Francisco affirms the precautionary principle
Here is some very good news. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently
adopted "the precautionary principle" as the basis for all of its environmental
management policies. While the principle exists in many forms, the basic idea
is that society takes precautionary action on matters involving risky technology before
there is scientific certainty of cause and effect.
The principle has been affirmed in the Rio Declaration (1992) and the World Charter
for Nature (1982). The step taken by the S.F. supervisors is important because it
seeks to realize the idea within the practical, every day policies employed by a major U.S.
The current issue of Rachel's Environment and Health News has the
"The long political road to the June 17 vote began when San Francisco mayor
Willie Brown hired Jared Blumenfeld to head the city's Department of the Environment.
Under Blumenfeld's guidance, San Francisco government spent more than 2 years
studying and debating how to integrate the precautionary principle into city- and county-wide policy.
It was Blumenfeld who corraled the political resources to put precaution on the agenda in San Francisco.
But the dream of a city guided by the precautionary principle originated with a breast cancer
activist -- Joan Reinhardt Reiss of the Breast Cancer Fund (San Francisco). At least three years
ago, she phoned Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health
Network (Ames, Iowa), the leading proponent of precautionary thinking in the U.S. Reiss also
contacted attorney Sanford Lewis (Waverly, Mass.), who drafted preliminary language for an
ordinance. Seeds were planted."
Here is part of the Board of Supervisors declaration.
"Sec. 101. THE SAN FRANCISCO PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.
The following shall constitute the City and County of San Francisco's Precautionary Principle policy.
All officers, boards, commissions, and departments of the City and County shall implement the
Precautionary Principle in conducting the City and County's affairs:
The Precautionary Principle requires a thorough exploration and a careful analysis of a wide range
of alternatives. Using the best available science, the Precautionary Principle requires the selection
of the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health and the City's natural
systems. Public participation and an open and transparent decision making process are critical
to finding and selecting alternatives.
Where threats of serious or irreversible damage to people or nature exist, lack of full scientific
certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the City to postpone
measures to prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of its citizens. Any
gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of alternatives will provide a guidepost for
future research, but will not prevent protective action being taken by the City. As new scientific
data become available, the City will review its decisions and make adjustments when warranted."