Alternative Frameworks

Instead of CBA, the following are possible rules of thumb. First, the burden of proof should be reversed from that employed in risk-benefit analysis. Before a potentially harmful addition is made to the environment, its safety should be demonstrated. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, for example, potentially carcinogenic pesticides can be used widely for ten to fifteen years before investigations are completed. Products are withdrawn then only if they are demonstrated to harm public health. The burden to demonstrate its safety should be on those who want to expose people to a new chemical.

Second, the people at greatest risk should be given the greatest voice in decisions about creating or using potentially hazardous substances (Shrader-Frechette). For example, corporate officials and owners interested in manufacturing processes that create toxic wastes would retain a significant voice in regulatory decisions if they could and would store the wastes near themselves and their families.

Third, through subsidies the government should encourage sustainable agriculture, integrated pest management, mass transit, energy conservation, and other practices and products that reduce the introduction of health hazards into the environment.

Fourth, when the indirect costs of a product can be calculated reliably, those costs should over time be added as a tax to the consumer price of that product. For example, the price of gasoline should reflect the costs associated with the deleterious health effects of smog. Only then will consumers be guided by accurate information about how much a product actually costs them. Such information generally improves the results of reliance on market mechanisms.

Fifth, agencies should discourage practices that hide the existence or severity of environmental health problems. Storage of nuclear wastes underground so that the continuing health hazard is not noticed and the war on cancer that lulls people into thinking a cure is near lead the public to underestimate its jeopardy. This should be avoided in part because an informed public is central to addressing problems of pollution. In the absence of an objective formula for balancing alleged benefits against alleged harms to determine the acceptability of pollution, an informed public must be the ultimate judge of government decisions related to environmental health.


SEE ALSO: Environmental Ethics; Environmental Policy and Law; Future Generations, Reproductive Technologies and Obligations to; Hazardous Wastes and Toxic Substances; Occupational Safety and Health; Public Health; Sustainable Development

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