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Language watch: Uncertainty about the environment

"Why the Word 'Uncertainty' Has Gotten Us into Climate Change Trouble" Via Treehugger: This quote from the Copenhagen Climate Congress made by John Ashton of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

"Words mean different things: Uncertainty to a politician often means, 'Come back and tell me when you know whether this is a problem or not.'" Uncertainty to a scientist often means, 'Well, there's a signal, but there's an uncertainty in the amplitude of that signal; we don't know quite how big it is. It may be 4 or it may be 6.'"

Read more about uncertainty, the environment, and the precautionary principle, which had already begun to seep into international policy language with the UN World Charter for Nature in 1982, which contained the language:
“Activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination . . . and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.” Amazing that American discourse about the environment has taken so long to get from the "prove it--exhaustively--before I'll listen to you" stage. Industries that have something to gain from stalling are still sometimes able to put off changes by making science dance to their tune ("proof, more proof") rather than following the dictates of an already compelling body of scientific knowledge about climate change.

Tags: Certainty, Climate change, Language, Law, Policy, Probability, Treaty, Uncertainty

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