Part of the deception game around here is to use the word "risk" when actually talking about something else. It's called equivocation when a word undergoes a semantic shift such that its usage differs from its customary meaning. For example, do "women" have to worry about "man-eating" sharks? In that question, the phrase "man-eating" implies male members of the species Homo sapiens when customary usage of the phase "man-eating" implies the entire species Homo sapiens.
In the same way, "risk" is almost never used properly in the CAO debate. Most often, it has been used as a synonym for "uncertainty," "level of concern," or "error." None of those are "risk." Let me tell you about the customary scientific meaning of risk, and coming posts will delve into this some more.
Simply put, "risk" arises from the following situation:
- Receptors (e.g., salmon)
- Stressors (e.g., insecticide)
- A pathway between stressor and receptor (e.g., runoff)
- An effect/stress transmitted along the pathway (e.g., a concentration of insecticide in runoff that reaches the salmon in a sufficient dose to have a deleterious effect).
A key point is that "risk" concerns itself with linkages/pathways. It's not just about mapping receptors (e.g., mapping all near-shore salmon locations). It's not about just mapping stressors (e.g., types of chemicals or types of development). It's about conceptualizing linkages between stressors and receptors and then quantifying the effect, if any. If there is an effect, the challenge then becomes identifying safe levels of effects and instituting mitigations (protective measures) to ensure that stress never goes above safe levels. And by the way, "safe" doesn't mean "none." It's not necessary to ban activities to achieve "safe." Read the Ruckelshaus speech where he says,
I suppose that the ultimate goal of this effort is to get Americans to understand the difference between a safe world and a zero-risk world.During the CAO process, we've seen all sorts of maps. We've seen maps of habitat, wetlands, streams, and locations of fish. But we've seen no reasonable attempt to link receptors to potential stressors located here, and we've seen no reasonable effort to examine whether our activities add to or subtract from the baseline ecological risk that exists in the general environment.
That last point is also key, and I find it particularly relevant to frequent references to the endangered status of various species of salmon that visit our shores. When a species is listed as endangered, especially if it is a widespread migratory species like salmon, that suggests that there is high ecological baseline risk for the population viability of that species in the general environment (otherwise why is it endangered?). We have to ask ourselves whether we are net contributors to that high baseline ecological risk or net subtractors. Are we causing stress above baseline or are we mitigating the baseline risk? From all the evidence presented, the San Juan Islands appear to be mitigating the high baseline ecological risk for salmon. We are a refuge for them, not a stressor.
In that case, the development policies of our islands could reasonably be concluded to be "safe." However, if you listen to some people, they want the mere presence of salmon here to lead to greater development restrictions because they think salmon abundance makes the situation "risky" or "critical" here. No, they've got it backwards. When people say such things, even if they may use the word "risk," they are not thinking in risk-based terms. The salmon are here in relative abundance because our ecosystem situation is less risky for them.
More to come about risk ...