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The historical roots of precautionary thinking: The cultural ecological critique and 'The Limits to Growth'

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Although, at first glance, the precautionary principle looks perfectly sensible and self-evident, it is based on a way of thinking that has a history of its own, which goes back to the 1960s and early 1970s. Precautionary thinking should mainly be seen as a reaction: it is an answer to the self-confidence mainstream society had in the ‘progress' of post-war civilization. It is an antithesis, which materialized when especially Western civilization was stirred by stories and facts about pollution and the degradation of nature and part of the Western societal elite was disquieted by the reality of the sovereign nation-state which – in their view – was powerless to deal with the ‘world problematique'. In this article we argue – from a historical perspective – that the precautionary principle is part and parcel of the cultural ecological critique, which was brought centre-stage in the early 1970s by among others ‘The Limits to Growth', the first report to the Club of Rome. Here we want to elucidate these historical roots with a special attention to the Club of Rome, and want to discuss the present state of affairs concerning the precautionary principle.
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... Still, it embodied the belief in scientific certainty that was based on the possibility and probability of 'the negativity' of human existenceextinctionrather than the 'positive' accuracy and completeness. The systems approach heuristically used in the CoR report to identify 'event' and prevent 'crisis,' as visualized in Figure 4, enacted a 'precautionary principle' that is characterized by the acceleration of time, the tight stringency of ex ante regulation (Hanekamp, Vera-Navas, & Verstegen, 2005), and the constant assessment of the balance between the emerging threat and the costs of (in)action in the present (Anderson, 2010). As Hanekamp et al. (2005) argued, 'the precautionary principle impresses upon us a moral obligation to take care of the environment, of mankind, our children, and our children's children' (p. ...
... The systems approach heuristically used in the CoR report to identify 'event' and prevent 'crisis,' as visualized in Figure 4, enacted a 'precautionary principle' that is characterized by the acceleration of time, the tight stringency of ex ante regulation (Hanekamp, Vera-Navas, & Verstegen, 2005), and the constant assessment of the balance between the emerging threat and the costs of (in)action in the present (Anderson, 2010). As Hanekamp et al. (2005) argued, 'the precautionary principle impresses upon us a moral obligation to take care of the environment, of mankind, our children, and our children's children' (p. 297). ...
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