Marion Hourdequin

Doing, Allowing, and Precaution



2.      Doing-allowing distinction/difference (matters morally)

         a.      Worse to do harm than to allow harm to occur

3.      Examples

         a.      Surgeon who kills a patient versus one who finishes his cigarette while the patient dies

                   i.       A different/special case than others as doctor has a contractual duty to save the patient

         b.      Giving one’s unborn fetus a rare genetic disease and refusing to fix this rare disease in the fetus

4.      Env examples of doing allowing distinction

         a.      Worse to drive a species extinct than to fail to save a species

         b.      Worse to pollute air and cause asthma attacks than to fail to remove naturally occurring pollen/mold which causes asthma attacks

         c.      Worse to introduce a new env risk than to accept the risks associated with postponing such technologies

                   i.       Plant bug resistant trees (risking creating super bugs that destroy forests) or don’t (risk current bugs destroying forest)

                   ii.      Geoengineering climate


5.      Related principle: *There is something significant about human-caused env problems that makes them worse or deserving greater attention than problems that naturally arise

         a.      E.g., if climate change is human caused it deserves greater attention than if it is naturally caused.


6.      Precautionary principle (= PP)

         a.      Precautionary measures should be taken where human activities raise threats to human/env health, even when nature/degree of these threats are uncertain

         b.      Many policy statements include a PP (e.g., Rio declaration)

7.      PP seems to accept the doing-allowing distinction/difference    

         a.      Pays attention to wrongness of doing harm to human health/env but does not explicitly prohibit the allowing of harm

         b.      Does not require that individuals, corporations or governments take special precautions to protect people or env from naturally occurring risks

         c.      Examples

                   i.       Radon: PP might prohibit building a poorly ventilated school in high radon area but it does not require municipalities to protect people form natural hazards

                   ii.      DDT/malaria: PP recommend assessment of less toxic malaria control than DDT due to its risks to human health and env, but does not mandate any particular action to control malaria (assuming not human caused)

                            (1)    Objection: isn’t it just as bad to let children die of malaria w/o any preventative intervention as it is to harm people/env through use of DDT?



9.      Consequentialism denies moral relevance of doing vs allowing (and also the precautionary principle, I believe)

         a.      No difference doing/allowing if the consequences are the same


10.    Risk-tradeoff analysis (consequential approach to risk management)

         a.      Rejects doing/allowing difference and PP

                   i.       Wiener: “There is no such thing as noninterference; noninterference is interference of a different sort”

         b.      Goal to reduce (overall) risk, whatever its source or cause (human or nature, caused by me–doing or by someone else–allowing)

11.    Thinks it irrational to give greater weight to human caused harm to health and env than to naturally caused harm

         a.      Lung cancer argument/example:

                   i.       No worse to die lung cancer caused by second hand smoke than caused by naturally occurring radon

                   ii.      If best way to reduce lung cancer is to reduce natural sources of radon, then we should focus on that

                   iii.     Worry: If it would cost me $1000 to give up smoking and $1000 to reduce natural radon in our house, wouldn’t it be worse for me to refuse to give up smoking than to refuse to reduce natural radon?

12.    Why pay special attention to uncertain risks (as PP does) when benefits are relatively certain?

         a.      GE plants example: Why postpone introduction of genetically engineered plants with higher yields simply because there might be unintended side effects?

13.    Focusing on prospective risk of new technologies (as PP does) may leave us vulnerable to risks that these technologies could reduce

         a.      GE crops needed to avoid future starvation: Yes genetically engineer crops could cause env harm, but not producing them could put us at risk for agricultural shortfalls in world with radical climate change

         b.      Sulfur pollution good for global warming example: Particulate pollution may not be unmitigated env bad since sulfur pollution reflects solar radiation away from the earth mitigating warming of greenhouse gases

         c.      Smog protects from ozone thinning example: Low level ozone (urban smog ingredient) many have a benefit in shielding people from cancer causing UV radiation, despite damage to respiratory system, forests and ag production

         d.      Let’s say that health benefits of pollution (preventing skin cancer from the solar radiation) outweighed health costs of pollution (lung cancer). Would we be in favor of pollution?

                   i.       Not if accept doing-allowing difference: The costs of pollution involve causing harm to others whereas costs of not polluting let naturally occuring harm occur

                            (1)    But what if the skin cancer from solar radiation is also human caused due to CFC thinning of ozone layer?

                   ii.      But hard to avoid breathing polluted air; people can avoid exposing their skin to the sun



         a.      Fairness: Human caused harm/risk can result in unfairness, nonanthropogenic harms/risks cannot

         b.      Moral responsibility: More morally responsible for what we do than for what we merely allow

         c.      Two empirical generalizations about human caused versus natural harms/risks (only true generally, not universally)

                   i.       Anthropogenic risks are easier to predict and thus control

                   ii.      Anthropogenic risks are relatively benign

         d.      There is something (prima facie) valuable about the world as we find it


15.    Fairness

         a.      Example: Unfair if we disproportionally burden poor/minority communities with pollution and toxic waste

16.    Fairness is a special reason to focus on human-caused risks (rather than naturally caused ones)

17.    Introducing human caused risks raises questions of fairness as they are often distributed inequitably

         a.      Pesticide risk fall disproportionately on farm workers; lead paint use particularly harms the young

18.    Human caused risks can be a source of unfairness, where as natural caused risks cannot

19.    Nonhuman causes may distribute env risk unevenly, but don’t consider them unfair

         a.      That some children have genetic risk of diabetes is unfortunate, but not unfair

         b.      No one wronged the child; no one to blame that one child has it and sibling does not

         c.      Feel obliged to aid those who suffer unduly, don’t regard our help as demanded by to avoid unfairness

20.    Human activities may generate unfairness even if reduce overall risk

         a.      Summers idea that there are economic and health benefits by sending toxic waste to the third world

21.    Consequentialism can not handle moral concerns about unfairness


22.    Anthropogenic risks more predicable/controllable

         a.      Because new anthropogenic risks are more predictable and thus more controllable than new non-anthropogenic risks, we should focus on them (since we are more likely to be able to lower those risks)

                   i.       Could be that in general, nonanthro risks/harms are harder to control

23.    Anthropogenic env changes tend to be worse (more dangerous) than nonanthropogenic env changes

         a.      Not always true: sometimes natural env changes are catastrophic (dramatic climate shifts, meteorites)

         b.      Perhaps true in general as a rule of thumb

         c.      Human caused changes tend to be more rapid and so harder to adapt to (for nonhumans)

         d.      Human caused changes tend to be new and so more difficult for nonhumans to adapt too

                   i.       Non-human species have adapted to the type of changes env offers, but may not to the new types of changes humans present


24.    Problem due to increased humanization of nature

         a.      The more humans affect nature, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish human-caused risk/harm from non-human caused risk/harm

         b.      Once distinction gone, we are equally responsible for all harms/risks

         c.      Blurring of distinction between what we do and allow

         d.      Weed removal example: Is weed removal a doing or allowing? Is exotic weed removal a human caused disturbance subject to high standards of precaution or is it an allowing, that is a removal of past human influence that permits native plants to flourish and hence deserving of weaker scrutiny


25.    Hourdequin believes there is something valuable about the world as we find it

         a.      A justification for doing/allowing difference

         b.      Risk-tradeoff analysis fails to value the world as we find it and seems to reject that there is something valuable about nature unmanipulated by humans

26.    *Risk tradeoff analysis demands too much by making us responsible for every facet of the way the world is


27.    Risk-tradeoff analysis emphasizes not just risks of climate change to human health and environment but the benefits as well

         a.      Climate change likely to have beneficial effects on ag production in certain parts of world

         b.      “As for choice between warmer and cooler world, we should not frame the debate as wanting a stable climate, but we should manage our emissions toward “optimal anthropogenic contribution or optimal atmospheric composition

         c.      This rejects Hourdequin’s idea that there is something valuable about the world as we find it

28.    What if the world as we find it is significantly human caused? Still accept this idea