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Poisonous SkiesAcid Rain and the Globalization of Pollution$
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Rachel Emma Rothschild

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226634715

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226634852.001.0001

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Acid Rain and the Precautionary Principle

Acid Rain and the Precautionary Principle

(p.149) 7 Acid Rain and the Precautionary Principle
Poisonous Skies

Rachel Emma Rothschild

University of Chicago Press

In the face of concerted opposition to reducing fossil fuel emissions from industry, ideas about the importance of obtaining scientific evidence of environmental harm underwent a significant shift in the mid-1980s. Coal industry representatives continued to claim that expensive pollution controls should not be installed while the science of acid rain was still "uncertain." Yet the potentially serious environmental risks of doing nothing continued to grow, as West German scientists found evidence that their country might also be experiencing the effects of acid rain. Rather than continue to debate whether scientists had obtained sufficient proof of the dangers from fossil fuels, European regulators instead began developing the idea of a precautionary approach to pollution policies. The precautionary principle, as they redefined it, gave them a way to act with “uncertain” knowledge and undercut the ability of industry to further delay the imposition of regulations. Under pressure from the European Communities, Britain's coal industry tried to buy themselves more time before needing to implement expensive control technology through a scientific "bribe" to Scandinavian scientists. But despite their efforts, the British government ultimately acceded to demands from the European Communities to reduce air pollution from their coal industry.

Keywords:   precautionary principle, European Communities, House of Commons, Surface Water Acidification Program, Forest Death, West Germany, cost benefit analysis

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