Marc Le Menestrel
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Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Why did industry not respond with precaution?

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by Marc Le Menestrel (19/04/2012)

On April 19th, 2012, the European Environmental Agency pre-launched the second volume of Late Lessons from Early Warnings.

This event follows the famous Environmental issue report No 22/2001 Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000 which gathered available scientific information about the hazards of human economic activities and its use in taking action to better protect both the environment and the health of the species and ecosystems that are dependent on it, and then living with the consequences.

Like the first report, the second report is based on case studies and brings together experts in their particular field of environmental, occupational and consumer hazards.

With Julian Rode, we contributed to an article about the specific role of business actors in failing to respond with precaution to Early Warning Signals.

Rather than taking a blaming perspective, or one that would deny the difficulty that business actors face to combine their economic incentives with their values for precautionary actions, we review and analyze relevant interdisciplinary literature and prominent case studies – in particular those documented in Late Lessons from Early Warnings (EEA, 2001) – with the objective to better understand business decisions in the face of early warnings.

We show that economic motives are often driving non-precautionary decisions, but that they also influenced by a complex mix of epistemological, regulatory, cultural, and psychological aspects. We provide a set of lessons and reflections.