The Uncautionary Principle

What ever happened to the precautionary principle? Did it go out the door with Locke, the enclosure of the commons, the birth of capitalism? Is caution the antithesis of making money? I sure as hell hope not, because then the planet and the people are really in a bind: If we want to keep living on the freedom of paychecks and global exchange, then the time we have to do it might be quite limited indeed.

Take, for example global warming. Some sort of systematic changes seem to be afoot, whether or not my lifestyle is the cause may still be questionable, but with the stakes as they are, who the hell wants to find out?

NASA imagery on the 'warmest decade on record' (2000-2009), click the image for more information.

Take another example; marine salmon farming. Growing as many fish in as little space as possible with as little investment as possible. What do you think would happen if tomorrow you set up a cage filled with dogs on the edge of a forest? They would poop, drop food, generally be the delight of poor vermin in the areas. Rats and fleas, wild parasites too would come out of the woodwork and enjoy the feast. What about a local fox, lynx, or any sizable mammal? They’d probably be attracted by the excess food and whatnot, and then fall prey to the vermin, parasites and diseases that would invariably become endemic.

Wait, that’s not salmon farming (what is wrong with salmon farming?), that’s dogs in a cage, what the hell is the comparison? When we look a the vast endless ocean, we don’t really think of it as something we could easily pollute, like pissing in the neighbors swimming pool. But it doesn’t matter how big the pool is, piss enough and the water will eventually get dirty. This is the problem we’re facing with salmon farming right now. Next time you go to your grocery store check out the seafood section (don’t even get me started on fruit and produce . . .). You’ll see two delicacies that one generation ago would have cost you an arm and a leg. How the hell did shrimp and salmon get so cheap? Why is it that I can buy them wherever I go? The answers simple and you well sharpened crayons have probably figured it out; farming. Salmon and shrimp have become favourites of global capital; they’re seen as delicacies and people have for a long time paid a premium for them. That means, when they see it at a reasonable price, they gobble it up.

Now back to our dog pen analogy. We don’t see the oceans the same way we see the forest, but the similarities are there. We’re still talking about evolutionary development, niches, parasites and hosts and pollution.

But we, right now, are interested primarily in sea lice (even Fox News has reported on it).

Mean looking mofo, n'est pas? (False colour SEM, check the link).

Louse infection of an adult salmon. (US Dept. of Commerce, check the link for useful background).

Alexandra Morton is nearly a household name in BC, and has long been crusading against salmon farming in that province. She’s an interesting character and largely the driving force behind the Raincoast Research Society. Currently I hear much bitching about Morton. I’m working on a research project funded by the BC government, at a BC University (enacted by legislation, completely funded and ‘micromanaged’ – so says the dean of arts – by the provincial government), basically with almost $100,000 dollars granted to a PhD who is expected to report back to the government on hos this debate  got so thick (over whether or not salmon farming and sea lice are threatening wild salmon with extinction, check out, over a million dollars has gone under the same program to study genetics and biology of sea lice). What bothers me here is that 1) most of the salmon farms are owned by multinational corporations that left Norway because they didn’t want their fjords and related ecosystems ruined by intense aquaculture, 2) there seems to be little to no research coming out of BC universities seriously questioning the risks of salmon farming and 3) by the precautionary principle we should think first, act second.

I’m spent, today’s rant is short. Take home messages are to question your eduction system and the news you get (especially who pays for them) and to trust your gut. Thanks for listening kids, see you next time. And luckily because my readership is probably in the dozens (I’m dreaming . . . ), I don’t have to worry about my griping getting back to my bosses 🙂

Update: Check out Global Earth’s brand new climate change layering here


One response to “The Uncautionary Principle

  1. Interesting post Sean. Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you there. This whole neoliberal capitalist exploitation of any and all ‘renewable’ resources is indeed pretty shocking/depressing/(insert swear word of choice here). It’s hard to imagine at the end of the day that these practices are so profitable and appealing to consumers (although, of course, far from sustainable). It boggles the mind and pains the heart. I gave a presentation yesterday on a book called ‘Surplus Life: Biotechnology & Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era’ by Melinda Cooper. I would simply recommend it, but I know you’re a busy man, so I will give you the two-second synopsis: this book demonstrates that the history of biotech is inseparable from economic neoliberalism as a political force (i.e., don’t even dream of the ‘precautionary principle’!). There is a fascinating (and dizzying) speculative logic at work here my friend. It’s all about the creation of surplus value from promissory biofutures which don’t yet exist, and may never (capitalizing upon the self-regenerating nature of living things as economic and rhetorical discourse – what do ‘extremophiles’ tell us about the boundless capabilities of life? To just keep pushing.) There is indeed a relation between the logics of the accumulation of national debt (which could/will never be paid) and the destruction of the earth – an eternal deferral. This is the point made in the book. Check it out. This week we’re reading ‘Animal Capital: Rendering Life in the Biopolitical Times’ by Nicole Shukin. I’ll let you know how that goes 😉

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