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The Precautionary Principle and the duty to share knowledge

COMEST proposed that scientists have a duty to share their expertise especially to the most vulnerable populations who usually do not have access to precise information regarding actual climatic conditions. The latter usually rely on experiential observations that can be improved by knowledge derived from more precise and powerful equipments.

At the same time, indigenous and local knowledge claims about the climatic conditions of the immediate environment such as the migration of animals, loss of biodiversity and the history of previous natural calamities can complement the scientific knowledge base.

Scientific and indigenous knowledge can therefore complement each other in order to achieve a more holistic understanding of the impact of climate change.

The problems of scientific uncertainty and systems complexity can then be overcome by sharing and integrating knowledge from various sources in order to arrive at more realistic decisions that concern the general population and the actual status of their environments.

An invaluable folk tale from the Oromo tribe of Ethiopia and Kenya illustrates the importance of this kind of cooperation between different parties when their common or interdependent conditions for existence are in danger:

The story tells of a disagreement among various parts of the body that refused to work together. The feet complained about the weight of the other parts of the body. The hands asked why they should wait on the others. The eyes complained about always looking out for their welfare. The ears bragged that the rest of the body would not be able to hear anything without them. The mouth and the stomach asked why they had to work harder than the others in digesting the nutrients that nourish the body. The feet then refused to walk, the hands refused to work, the eyes refused to look, the ears refused to hear, and the mouth and stomach refused to eat. They whole body then became very weak and ill. At the point of death, the stomach warned the other body parts that the whole body would wither and die if they did not cooperate with one another. They hence all agreed to again work together, and all became very happy.

Questions for discussion:

  • Are there indigenous or local knowledge claims that address environmental problems from your community that can be helpful to other indigenous or local communities?

  • Do you think indigenous or local knowledge claims about the environment should pass the norms of the natural sciences? Please explain your answer.

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This article is from the free online course:

Climate Justice: Lessons from the Global South

UNESCO