The second volume of the “Late Lessons from Early Warnings” was released last week. Following the great success of the first volume published in 2001 revealing the history of new technologies, the European Environment Agency (EEA) is now presenting 20 new case studies, which illustrate the implications of innovative technologies for policy, science and society.
The case studies cover a wide range of topics, including stories behind industrial mercury poisoning, influence of pesticide on fertility, chemicals in common plastics that cause hormonal disbalance, and pharmaceuticals that change ecosystems. In addition, the report discusses the effect of frequent use of mobile phones, genetically modified organisms and nanotechnology.
The report emphasizes on the fact that in these case studies, the warnings were ignored and consequently the damage to health and environment was expected. Often companies ignored the risk in order to make short-term profits, or scientists did not present the actual risk, pressurized by vested interests.
It is important that such instances are studied closely and serve as an example to avoid harm caused by future developments. The report draws attention to five particular cases, where the benefits of quickly responding to early warnings are evident.
Since the first volume of the report was released, technology developments have flooded the market and are being adopted around the world with incredible speed.
As a result, risks are expected to spread faster and further, as the report states, avoiding the fact that society does not understand, recognize or is able to respond to them in time.
The report lists some key recommendations, including the use of “precautionary principle” to reduce hazards. The report also indicates that scientific uncertainty cannot be used as an excuse for inaction.
In addition, the report urges science to acknowledge the complexity of biological and environmental systems and adopt a holistic view considering many different disciplines. Policy makers should respond to risk signs much faster, especially in the cases of large scale emerging technologies. Methods for risk assessment should be improved, and new forms of governance should be developed, where citizens are involved.
Last but not least, among the key recommendation, the report states that businesses, governments and citizens should increase interaction and produce innovations at less cost to health and the environment.