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Science, pollution and wellbeing – three themes for Europe in 2015

At the start of December I gave a short presentation at the health session of the EEB’s 40th Anniversary conference. It was based around three themes:

  • the need to ensure pollution is part of discussions on the environment (rather than just climate, resource efficiency and biodiversity)
  • the need to focus on increasing wellbeing in the jobs, growth & sustainability debate
  • the need to acknowledge the real complexities of science when making decisions on how to control chemical use

What do these themes mean for Europe in 2015? 

  • Pollution is important, and everyone needs to think about it when they are looking at environmental, green economy or sustainability policies.
  • People want jobs & growth in wellbeing, not growth in GDP – and much of this needs to come from new, green, approaches, not protecting dirty vested interests.
  • Much of the science most relevant to policymaking, particularly when discussing chemicals, is uncertain and incomplete. Decision makers must therefore make decisions with available science.

I expand on each of these elements briefly below.

1) Pollution is important, and everyone needs to think about it when they are looking at environmental, green economy or sustainability policies.

2) People want jobs & growth in wellbeing, not growth in GDP – and much of this needs to come from new, green, approaches, not protecting dirty vested interests.

3) Much of the science most relevant to policymaking, particularly when discussing chemicals, is uncertain and incomplete. Decision makers must therefore make decisions with available data.

  • Science is vitally important in all areas of environmental policy (and beyond).
  • However, policymakers must be aware of the limitations of science and not expect unreasonable levels of evidence. For example, many experiments are hard – or unethical – to perform. For example the impacts of a chemical exposure on the development of the human foetus may only become clear decades later.
  • Scientists and policymakers must weigh up the evidence that is available, and remember that both the decision to act or not to act should be informed by the available evidence. A decision not to restrict a chemical is still a decision which should be justified. The Late Lessons reports from the EEA demonstrate the costs that have been incurred due to policymakers not acting soon enough on problems.
  • Policymakers must also be aware that parts of industry are very experienced in ‘creating doubt’ in order to prevent regulatory action. This approach has been used extensively by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, and by the chemical industry.
  • ttweed

    Policy makers, not to mention activists, should also be aware that the large majority of all chemical regulatory decisions are based on a deliberately insensitive study by the party with every interest in their agent being declared safe enough to market, I do not consent to call that science, nor should anyone.
    Especially as for 1 or 2 thousand chems, there are beacoup toxicity studies with sensitive-methods and higher quality science falsifying that claimed safe dose, illuminating the risks from agents we subtle-biochemistry creatures did not evolve with (those data gaps will be filled by a lot more such findings).