'Hope and Change' in a 'Precautionary Principle' Administration

If there is one lesson I learned from the debates over how to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the BP oil spill, it is how strongly committed the Obama administration is to the "Precautionary Principle."  They are definitely not alone in their devotion to this principle.  As the Wikipedia article notes, the European Union has codified it into law, and it is an outgrowth of Declaration #15 of the Rio Conference or "Earth Summit" of 1992.  While I will not go into all the arcane intricacies of the "strong precaution" versus "weak precaution" found in that article, suffice it to say the administration falls into the strong precaution camp.

Strong precaution holds that regulation is required whenever there is a possible risk to health, safety, or the environment, even if the supporting evidence is speculative and even if the economic costs of regulation are high.[9]:1295-96 In 1982, the United Nations World Charter for Nature gave the first international recognition to the strong version of the principle, suggesting that when "potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed." The widely publicized Wingspread Declaration, from a meeting of environmentalists in 1998, is another example of the strong version.[10] 'Strong precaution' can also be termed as a "no-regrets" principle, where costs are not considered in preventative action.

Conservatives and most Americans fall into the weak precaution camp.

Weak precaution holds that lack of scientific evidence does not preclude action if damage would otherwise be serious and irreversible.[11]:1039 Humans practice weak precaution every day, and often incur costs, to avoid hazards that are far from certain: we do not walk in moderately dangerous areas at night, we exercise, we buy smoke detectors, we buckle our seatbelts.[10]

In fact, most Obama supporters, or at least the "Hope and Change" voters, are in the weak precaution group.  They want "Change" and are willing to "Hope" for the best while planning for the worst.  I do not know if Europeans have a comparable expression, but in American English, the most common terminology for someone trying to deal with an unprecedented emergency using strong precaution is "caught like a deer in the headlights."  Perhaps that is why the Obama administration took so much flak from nominal allies such as Chris Matthews and James Carville when they bungled the job of "plugging the damn hole" while they were studying the problem to death.  Even liberals have absorbed enough of America's entrepreneurial spirit to accept a bit of risk for the reward of not ending up being run over by Obama's jet-black, Canadian-built campaign bus.

The debate du jour is Obama's rejection of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline (full disclosure: I have a longstanding equity investment in TransCanada Pipeline) against all common sense while he considers the environmental effects of the project.  How very European of him!  Dither, study, and contemplate while America needs the secure supply of Canadian oil and the thousands of high-wage construction jobs right now.  This administration is so committed to contemplation that Obama ended up leading the Europeans "from behind" in Libya against Gaddafi!  You are a real wimp when you make European leaders look bold and decisive by comparison.  Of course, the real leadership role in Libya was usurped by Hillary Clinton and the "Three Valkyries" while Obama trailed behind in his "leadership" position.

Obama and his Democrat allies love to wallow in the protective blanket of inaction.  After all, if you never do anything, you can't be blamed for the results, and avoidance of blame is the key to re-election.  This administration does not want to accept responsibility for the economy or the current lack of jobs -- that's all Bush's fault.  The Democrats have not produced a budget for years, even when the Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency.  They avoid dealing with the impending collapse of Social Security and spend trillions through "base line budgeting" because to do something means they could be blamed (or praised, if the Changes work as we Hope they will).  It is no wonder that the nation is in a foul mood; our "Hope and Change" president has turned out to be a wimpy Linus type who needs his security blanket.  And now we are all caught like "deer in the headlights" with him until we can vote in his replacement in November 2012.  November cannot come soon enough!

(For those with an interest in the specific example of Obama and the BP spill and a willingness to get technical, perhaps this post from the oil industry website The Oil Drum can provide some flavor of the effort needed to get the flow of oil stopped by weak precaution techniques against the natural strong precaution inclinations of the administration.)

They have absolutely nothing to lose by gradually raising the back pressure to see what happens as they are ultimately going to need a higher pressure on the wellhead to contain the mud from the relief well. The hydrostatic pressure on the casing will be less when filled with escaping oil than when it is filled with mud. So check it out and cross another worry off the government overseers' worry list. This whole process has been governed by the most timid regulator from the start. For example, instead of screwing around with Leak 3 at the end of the riser, they could have cut off the riser at Leak 2. The big kink was still there to limit the flow! But NO, the guiding principal of the day was "First, do no harm", but as was said above "you've got to squeeze some lemons to make lemonade".

That's the problem with putting a Nobel Prize winning physicist in charge and expecting to get Richard Feynmann. People tend to forget that Feynmann's thoughts were only included in the Challenger Commission Report as Appendix F http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission... after he threatened to resign from the commission and subsequent to his o-ring in ice demonstration. This whole administration is based on using appeals to authority, men & women in fancy uniforms (and Harvard degrees), exactly the kinds of guys Richard Feynmann's father, the uniform salesman, warned him about.

Bruce Thompson maintains a blog MachiasPrivateer.

If there is one lesson I learned from the debates over how to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the BP oil spill, it is how strongly committed the Obama administration is to the "Precautionary Principle."  They are definitely not alone in their devotion to this principle.  As the Wikipedia article notes, the European Union has codified it into law, and it is an outgrowth of Declaration #15 of the Rio Conference or "Earth Summit" of 1992.  While I will not go into all the arcane intricacies of the "strong precaution" versus "weak precaution" found in that article, suffice it to say the administration falls into the strong precaution camp.

Strong precaution holds that regulation is required whenever there is a possible risk to health, safety, or the environment, even if the supporting evidence is speculative and even if the economic costs of regulation are high.[9]:1295-96 In 1982, the United Nations World Charter for Nature gave the first international recognition to the strong version of the principle, suggesting that when "potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed." The widely publicized Wingspread Declaration, from a meeting of environmentalists in 1998, is another example of the strong version.[10] 'Strong precaution' can also be termed as a "no-regrets" principle, where costs are not considered in preventative action.

Conservatives and most Americans fall into the weak precaution camp.

Weak precaution holds that lack of scientific evidence does not preclude action if damage would otherwise be serious and irreversible.[11]:1039 Humans practice weak precaution every day, and often incur costs, to avoid hazards that are far from certain: we do not walk in moderately dangerous areas at night, we exercise, we buy smoke detectors, we buckle our seatbelts.[10]

In fact, most Obama supporters, or at least the "Hope and Change" voters, are in the weak precaution group.  They want "Change" and are willing to "Hope" for the best while planning for the worst.  I do not know if Europeans have a comparable expression, but in American English, the most common terminology for someone trying to deal with an unprecedented emergency using strong precaution is "caught like a deer in the headlights."  Perhaps that is why the Obama administration took so much flak from nominal allies such as Chris Matthews and James Carville when they bungled the job of "plugging the damn hole" while they were studying the problem to death.  Even liberals have absorbed enough of America's entrepreneurial spirit to accept a bit of risk for the reward of not ending up being run over by Obama's jet-black, Canadian-built campaign bus.

The debate du jour is Obama's rejection of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline (full disclosure: I have a longstanding equity investment in TransCanada Pipeline) against all common sense while he considers the environmental effects of the project.  How very European of him!  Dither, study, and contemplate while America needs the secure supply of Canadian oil and the thousands of high-wage construction jobs right now.  This administration is so committed to contemplation that Obama ended up leading the Europeans "from behind" in Libya against Gaddafi!  You are a real wimp when you make European leaders look bold and decisive by comparison.  Of course, the real leadership role in Libya was usurped by Hillary Clinton and the "Three Valkyries" while Obama trailed behind in his "leadership" position.

Obama and his Democrat allies love to wallow in the protective blanket of inaction.  After all, if you never do anything, you can't be blamed for the results, and avoidance of blame is the key to re-election.  This administration does not want to accept responsibility for the economy or the current lack of jobs -- that's all Bush's fault.  The Democrats have not produced a budget for years, even when the Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency.  They avoid dealing with the impending collapse of Social Security and spend trillions through "base line budgeting" because to do something means they could be blamed (or praised, if the Changes work as we Hope they will).  It is no wonder that the nation is in a foul mood; our "Hope and Change" president has turned out to be a wimpy Linus type who needs his security blanket.  And now we are all caught like "deer in the headlights" with him until we can vote in his replacement in November 2012.  November cannot come soon enough!

(For those with an interest in the specific example of Obama and the BP spill and a willingness to get technical, perhaps this post from the oil industry website The Oil Drum can provide some flavor of the effort needed to get the flow of oil stopped by weak precaution techniques against the natural strong precaution inclinations of the administration.)

They have absolutely nothing to lose by gradually raising the back pressure to see what happens as they are ultimately going to need a higher pressure on the wellhead to contain the mud from the relief well. The hydrostatic pressure on the casing will be less when filled with escaping oil than when it is filled with mud. So check it out and cross another worry off the government overseers' worry list. This whole process has been governed by the most timid regulator from the start. For example, instead of screwing around with Leak 3 at the end of the riser, they could have cut off the riser at Leak 2. The big kink was still there to limit the flow! But NO, the guiding principal of the day was "First, do no harm", but as was said above "you've got to squeeze some lemons to make lemonade".

That's the problem with putting a Nobel Prize winning physicist in charge and expecting to get Richard Feynmann. People tend to forget that Feynmann's thoughts were only included in the Challenger Commission Report as Appendix F http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission... after he threatened to resign from the commission and subsequent to his o-ring in ice demonstration. This whole administration is based on using appeals to authority, men & women in fancy uniforms (and Harvard degrees), exactly the kinds of guys Richard Feynmann's father, the uniform salesman, warned him about.

Bruce Thompson maintains a blog MachiasPrivateer.