The Catastrophic Harm Precautionary Principle

31 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2014

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: 2007

Abstract

When catastrophic outcomes are possible, it makes sense to take precautions against the worst-case scenarios — the Catastrophic Harm Precautionary Principle. This principle is based on three foundations: an emphasis on people’s occasional failure to appreciate the expected value of truly catastrophic losses; a recognition that political actors may engage in unjustifiable delay when the costs of precautions would be incurred immediately and when the benefits would not be enjoyed until the distant future; and an understanding of the distinction between risk and uncertainty. The normative arguments are illustrated throughout with reference to the problem of climate change; other applications include avian flu, genetic modification of food, protection of endangered species, and terrorism.

Keywords: precautionary principle, catastrophe, availability heuristic

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., The Catastrophic Harm Precautionary Principle (2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2532598 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2532598

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
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