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Precautionary Principle Academy


The Center for Earth Jurisprudence Presents

The Precautionary Principle: Walking the Green Line

co-sponsored by MDC Earth Ethics Institute, MDC Law Center,
The City of Miami, Office of Sustainable Initiatives

Carolyn Raffensperger, M.A., J.D.      Ted Schettler, M.D. M.P.H.      Joseph Guth, J.D., Ph.D.

How careful should society be about introducing innovations that have the potential to affect human health and the environment? For the past several decades, American society has been guided by the "risk analysis" model which assesses new technologies by trying to calculate the mathematical likelihood that they will harm the public. If risks are difficult to quantify, technologies are allowed to go forward with the burden of proof placed on the public.

This day-long academy introduces and explores an alternative approach to  assessing new technologies, the precautionary principle.  Adopted in Germany and now an axiom in German environmental law as well as influencing European Union policy, the precautionary principle states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.

In December 2001, the New York Times Magazine listed the principle as one of the most influential ideas of the year, describing the intellectual, ethical, and policy framework developed around the principle.

The Precautionary Principle Academy: Walking the Green Line is designed to engage members of the teaching, legal, and environmental communities in discussions about the precautionary principle and to outline the practical implications of the precautionary principle as the basis for local and state laws. This participatory event will be led by three national experts from the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN.)  Topics for discussion will include scientific and legal uncertainty, case studies, and local applications of the principle.  In addition, a panel of local lawyers and decision-makers will address the intersection between the precautionary principle and local environmental concerns.  Participants will be asked to create a lesson plan incorporating exploration of the precautionary principle into their specific disciplines – due to director of the Earth Ethics Institute within 3 weeks of the Academy.

Academy Schedule

8:30 a.m.        Coffee and seating

9:00 a.m.        Overview: The Precautionary Principle – What is it? (Raffensperger)

9:45 a.m.        The Precautionary Principle in Action (Raffensperger)

Scientific Uncertainty (Schettler)

Legal Uncertainty, Standards of Proof, and the Burden of Proof (Guth)

10:30              Various Formulations of the Precautionary Principle: National and international; successful applications (case studies); businesses taking the lead: how and why? (Raffensperger, Schettler, Guth)

11:00 a.m.     Break

11:15 a.m.     “Mind Map” of Florida Issues: Generate, visualize, structure, and classify issues and ideas (Raffensperger)

11:45 a.m.     Lunch: An Introduction to Earth Jurisprudence (Sister Patricia Siemen)

1:00 p.m.        The State of the State: “How would the Precautionary Principle apply to your area of expertise?” A local panel of experts frames relevant issues. Participants are invited to explore issues related to climate change, development, water, offshore drilling, transportation, energy or others, as suggested.

Miami panel led by Murray Greenburg, former Dade County Attorney; Orlando panel led by Robert Guthrie, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Orange County

2:00 p.m.        Applying the Precautionary Principle to Florida: General brainstorming session (Raffensperger)

2:30 p.m.        Over to You: Small group discussion of local issues as identified in brainstorm and Mind Map; tie local issues to evolution of the Precautionary Principle; explore link to future generations (facilitated)  

3:30 p.m.        Lightning report-in session from breakout groups;

                        Synthesis and Conclusion: Raffensperger 


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Earth Ethics Institute • An Earth Literacy Resource Center Serving MDC Administrators, Faculty, Staff,  and Students, as well as the South Florida Community
Miami Dade College • 300 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Room 1201, Miami, FL 33132-2204 • t: 305-237-3796 • f: 305-237-7724