Precautionary Absurdity

PRINCETON – Many people who advocate draconian measures to counteract climate change base their argument on the so-called “precautionary principle,” which holds that when a possible future disaster would be unacceptably severe, action to prevent it is imperative. Cost-benefit analysis – balancing the cost of remedial action against the benefit of avoiding disaster – is no longer permissible. Action to counter the disaster must be taken, regardless of the cost.

This principle leads people to advocate enormously costly actions to prevent disasters that are even more enormous but whose likelihood highly uncertain. If a disaster is unacceptable, then, no matter how uncertain the likelihood of its occurrence, it must be prevented.