Laudato Si 186: Reversing Burden of Proof

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. An important principle is cited: that we do not need scientific certainty to put the brakes on development:

186. The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures”[Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development (14 June 1992), Principle 15] which prevent environmental degradation. This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Laudato Si 186: Reversing Burden of Proof

  1. Liam says:

    Here’s a good illustration of recent internet commentary that is trying to cast those who embrace the precautionary principle in a negative light:

    • Todd says:

      Interesting. The wrench I might throw into the discussion (not that I would object to a re-orientation and disengagement of the L/R battles): how much do the 1% have invested in the current divide, and would their resistance to up/down scuttle any natural movement to it? We know there’s a whole industry dedicated to keeping the abortion divide wide and bitter–otherwise, how would the cash keep flowing in and the bile out?

      • Liam says:

        Well, the so-called 1% is not united ideologically but effectively. The libertarian and techno-transhumanist inclined among them would likely embrace the up/down meme.

  2. Liam says:

    In utterly unrelated sainthood news, the Vatican has pronounced, among others, a decree of heroic virtue of Br. William Gagnon (Hospitaller of St John of God) who ministered to the sick during the Vietnam War. As a New Hampshire native, he may be New England’s first such entry into the sainthood lists:

  3. Atheist Max says:

    “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext….”

    The grammar is ridiculous.
    Obviously the determination a threat is ‘serious’ or ‘irreversible’ is itself the scientific conclusion.

  4. Todd says:

    Not necessarily.

    The grammar here is accurate, and addresses the frequent naysayer concern that environmental scientists are not always 100% sure of a premise. Even scientists are careful to frame their predictions or theories when there is not absolute certainty. Generally speaking, scientists are ethical people, and do not exaggerate claims or conclusions to fit their bias.

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