The philosophical basis for opposition and support of risk assessment by environmentalists is considered. Opponents' perspective is dominated by 'empathy' for indivudual victims, theoretical and identifiable, who suffer morbidity or mortality due to environmental pollution. Proponents' perceive optimization of aggregate public health as the ethical imperative. Taken to their extreme, these positions lead to angry rhetoric in their mutual efforts to discredit the opposing view, without considering whether it is possible to integrate the legitimated impulses that lie behind the two perspectives. This essay presents one such synthesis that both accepts the inevitability of risk assessment (and in many cases its importance) as a decision analytic tool but also integrates many of the noble convictions that lie behind the critique when victims are clearly identifiable. As ecological risk assessment becomes an increasingly developed tool for decision-making about managing ecosystem health, many of the same arguments are certain to be wielded. A balanced philosophical approach to this new discipline has the potential to expedite a more rational and ultimately protective public policy while conveying an important societal message about compassion and respect for the sanctity of life.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Science (all)
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law