The idea of a preventive approach to problem-solving can be illustrated by reference to preventive health care. Curative medicine attempts to correct imbalances and diseases in the organism through surgery or through drugs. Preventive medicine seeks to prevent illness itself by promoting health in the patient, and increasing his or her natural resistance to disease. But prevention has to act upstream, as it were, in advance of the onset of disease. Once the illness has set in, the organism is already out of balance. Curative medicine can of course still 'prevent' a sick patient from dying, and often aids recovery. But it is generally more expensive and often more difficult than ensuring that the patient stays healthy to start with.
Preventive environmental management also requires that we act upstream, before there are environmental impacts. In fact, the further upstream we act, the more likely we are to be successful in preventing environmental pollution, as we shall see. Clean-up strategies can sometimes 'prevent' environmental emissions from impacting on human health. But they do not address the cause of those emissions. End-of-pipe strategies can 'prevent' the emission of specific pollutants into a particular environmental medium. But they do not address the generation of polluting emissions at the source.
In a sense, we could say that prevention is a directional strategy. It looks as far as possible upstream in a network of causes and effects. It tries to identify those elements within a causal network which lead to a particular problem and then takes action at the source to avoid the problem. First of all therefore, preventive environmental management requires us to identify the root causes of environmental emissions within the industrial economy. Next, it requires us to address those causative elements in ways which will reduce the environmental outputs. This chapter is devoted to a discussion of what these two critical tasks mean in practice.
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