Precautionary principle


The Precautionary Principle is a strategy to cope with possible risks where scientific understanding about them is still incomplete. When applied in health, if a treatment might have side effects worse than the illness, prevention is much better than cure. When applied to the realm of energy and industry, if the environmental impact of any new solution is unforeseeable, given that climate change is a critical uncertainty, then the solution should be delayed or trialled with caution. Imagining future scenarios is one tactic used in Precautionary work.

In the book, ‘Culture and Climate Change: Narratives’ one of its authors, Renata Tyszczuk, recommends that we tell ‘Precautionary Tales’ about climate change. These are like Cautionary Tales (e.g. Albert and the Lion) but are more predictive as is science fiction whilst also being based on unfolding realities and their ethical demands.

Tyszczuk writes that “a precautionary approach…suggests an experimental and transformative attitude to history, one which involves being mindful of the risks we are taking now, in taking care of the future…Precautionary tales invite us to worry not so much about foresight or prognostics – there is no telling what the future holds or where it will end. Instead, these tales might work with an imagination of the future based on an ethics of care rather than solely on the technical management of the challenge of the predicted risks…”


One team member could read and summarise these two articles:

To Dwell on our Dreams by Bridget McKenzie, about precautionary tales, and giving more space to stories.  

The Precautionary Principle by Rupert Read, Nassim Taleb and others, about how our decision-making should be based on future-facing risk awareness and the needs of future generations.

Discuss as a team: If your organisation was to commission or develop a play, an event, a piece of music, exhibition or written work, how could you use this idea of ‘precautionary tales’?

What kind of story would it be? (You could tell or write some stories)

How would it work with audiences? What would your brief be?  Is it something worth doing? Would you do it?

What next?

You could pair this exercise with one that explores the Thirteen Risks