The Precautionary Principle argues that uncertainty should be a trigger for caution when it comes to technological advances.
The most widely-accepted version of the principle comes from the Wingspread Statement (January 23-25, 1988, at Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin):
"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties." (http://www.biotech-info.net/rachels_586.html)
It's opposite is the Proactionary Principle.
Designing for the Precautionary Principle
Daniel Christian Wahl:
"One proposal for guiding wise action in the face of dynamic complexity and ‘not knowing’ is to apply the Precautionary Principle as a framework that aims to avoid, as far as possible, actions that will negatively impact on environmental and human health in the future. From the United Nation’s ‘World Charter for Nature’ in 1982, to the Montreal Protocol on Health in 1987, to the Rio Declaration in 1992, the Kyoto Protocol, and Rio+20 in 2012, we have committed to applying the Precautionary Principle over and over again.
The Wingspread Consensus Statement on the Precautionary Principle states: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically” (Wingspread Statement, 1998). The principle puts the burden of proof that a certain action is not harmful on those proposing and taking the action, yet general practice continues to allow all actions that have not (yet!) been proven to have potentially harmful effects to go ahead unscrutinized. In a nutshell, the Precautionary Principle can be summarized as follows: practice precaution in the face of uncertainty. This is not what we are doing.
While high-level UN groups and many national governments have repeatedly considered the Precautionary Principle as a wise way to guide actions, day-to-day practice shows that it is very hard to implement, as there will always be some degree of uncertainty. The Precautionary Principle could also potentially stop sustainable innovation and block potentially highly beneficial new technologies on the basis that it cannot be proven with certainty that these technologies will not result in unexpected future side-effects that could be detrimental to human or environmental health.
Why not challenge designers, technologists, policy-makers, and planning professionals to evaluate their proposed actions on their positive, life-sustaining, restorative and regenerative potential?
Why not limit the scale of implementation of any innovation to local and regional levels until proof of its positive impact is unequivocally demonstrated? Aiming to design for systemic health may not save us from unexpected side-effects and uncertainty, but it offers a trial and error path towards a regenerative culture. We urgently need a Hippocratic Oath for design, technology and planning: do no harm! To make this ethical imperative operational we need a salutogenic (health generating) intention behind all design, technology and planning: We need to design for human, ecosystems and planetary health. This way we can move more swiftly from the unsustainable ‘business as usual’ to restorative and regenerative innovations that will support the transition towards a regenerative culture." (https://designforsustainability.medium.com/sustainability-is-not-enough-we-need-regenerative-cultures-4abb3c78e68b)