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The Precautionary Principle Strikes Back

How Do You Fix A Wild Bear?

State wildlife officials, however, are skeptical of the Neutersol approach [to sterilizing bears, an alternative to hunting pushed by animal rights activists]. They've pointed out that the drug has yet to be tested on bears, so the correct dosage is unknown, and no one even knows whether it can effectively shrink ursine testicles. "I fail to see how injecting an untested chemical, at speculative doses, into the testes of our majestic black bear population could possibly be considered humane," said Bradley M. Campbell, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in a September statement.

-- via Obsidian Wings

The role of the precautionary principle -- "'we're not sure what will happen' is not a good excuse" -- is rather muddled in environmentalism. It's quite popular when talking about global warming, as it counters the constant anti-global-warming* complaint that we just aren't certain enough of what will happen to go making the huge changes that pro-warming people call for. Yet environmentalists use the inverse precautionary principle when talking about technological innovations like new chemicals or GM crops -- they argue that we shouldn't use them unless we're absolutely certain they won't do any damage. Perhaps one could reconcile them by redefining pollution as a change or innovation (rather than the status quo) and demanding that industry prove that its emissions are benign before we let them emit them. In the story I quoted we see the inverse precautionary principle being used against a segment of the environmental movement's favored chemical.

I'm intrigued by the second chemical mentioned in the article, porcine zona pellucida. It's been used successfully in the past, and it can be shot into the bear from a distance. The drawback is that it only lasts for a year. I wonder, though, whether hunters could be successfully enlisted in the PZP program (perhaps offering them some sort of incentive in terms of being able to "shoot" more bears and having a reduced license fee). This could help foster hunting (which longtime readers will have noticed I'm rather favorably disposed toward for a lefty environmentalist). It could also exert selective pressure on bears. The ones most likely to be PZP'ed are the ones who are least afraid of humans, so the problem bears' genes would be weeded out. Of course, this would happen with regular hunting, too.

* Well, anti-doing-something-about-global-warming, or anti-belief-that-global-warming-is-happening. Some of these people are actually pro-global-warming in the sense that they think it might be good if the earth got warmer and we could farm in Siberia.


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