THE BLOG
09/18/2010 11:42 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Precautionary Principle

Every Republican running for the U.S. Senate in November believes either that human activity is not the driving force behind global warming or that the planet isn't even heating up, according to a recent survey.

Their skepticism abounds despite a study by the respected public interest group known as the Natural Resources Defense Council that found night time temperatures in 37 states to be the highest on record this summer. So what, you say? Well, what about the most devastating floods in memory in Pakistan, and the record breaking unbearable summer heat in such diverse locations as New York City and Moscow?

Climatologists are quick to point out that none of these events by themselves are conclusive proof of global warming. There have been serious weather-related disturbances in the past.

It should be noted, however, that these events are occurring in juxtaposition and contribute to a growing body of evidence that the accelerated warming of the planet is occurring. The weight of evidence suggests that the earth's temperature is rising at an abnormally rapid rate due to a major infusion of carbon emissions from human fossil fuel burning activity, and that we ought to try to do something to slow the trend.

That having been said, here is a recommendation for the Republican senatorial candidates. Embrace the Precautionary Principle, the philosophical core of environmental protection activism. It is a "better safe than sorry" approach. When appropriately applied, the risk/reward ratio is extremely attractive for any politician, regardless of party affiliation. In the case of the global warming threat, the main precautionary steps to be taken are winning propositions in their own right, regardless of whether scientists' worst fears materialize.

The remedies in question include reforestation to absorb the excessive amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere from our power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel burning sources. At the same time, the expansion of forests contributes to improved air quality, increased wildlife habitat and water purification capacity, and aesthetic enhancement.

Another strategy to combat global warming involves greater efficiency in fuel use which in turn results in a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs. The same emission reduction objective is achieved by integrating renewable sources of energy into the nation's fuel mix in a major way. Our reliance on Mideast oil would be reduced as well the level of air pollution in our cities. A further dividend is detailed in a recent World Resources Institute study which documents how wind power will generate far more jobs than the fossil fuel industry does.

So in regard to the Precautionary Principle, I submit to Republican senatorial hopefuls (and skeptics): what's not to like?

Edward Flattau is an environmental columnist residing in Washington, D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, Green Morality, now available for pre-order.