Rachel's Precaution Reporter #7
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

From: ECO-Action .........................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 8, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Now anyone can gain in-depth training on the precautionary principle via the web -- useful for grass-roots activists, and for public health professionals and students.]

Carol Williams, the executive director of ECO-Action in Atlanta, has developed a web-based instructional package about the precautionary principle. It works best with a high-speed internet connection. You can start by reading the online User's Guide.

Carol's web-based instructional package is aimed at people working in, or studying, public health, particularly environmental health, chemical hazards assessment and community health education. But we think others will find it useful as well. The package incorporates some "flash," "audio," "powerpoint presentions" and graphics. Lessons are best viewed with high speed internet, an updated browser, and with display screen area set at 1024 X 768 (Screen areas can be adjusted on Windows programs at Control Panel > Display > Settings). While in the instruction, turn internet pop-up blockers off (i.e., allow pop-ups) for ease of navigation. You may also want to bookmark the site in your "favorites," so you can easily return to it.

ECO-Action is encouraging local communities, governments and schools to adopt the precautionary principle. A Model Precautionary Principle Ordinance has been developed with the River Basin Center at University of Georgia. The model ordinance is a Microsoft Word document that you can download and adapt to your own county. Also take a look at the Precautionary Principle Background Paper prepared by the River Basin Center.

Precautionary Principle: Awareness, Training & Advocacy

The precautionary principle argues that protection of the environment and human health should take precedence over other interests (i.e., private profit-making) when considering whether or not to use or release potentially harmful chemicals. The Precautionary Principle is a decision-making tool that underscores prevention and precautionary action. How?

** Ask the right questions -- instead of what level of harm can we tolerate? Ask how can we prevent harm?

** Take action to prevent harm even if conclusive cause & effect relationships are not fully established scientifically

** Place the burden of proof on the creators of toxic chemicals and harmful processes, instead of the people on the receiving end

** Assess alternative ways to do things, such as clean technologies that eliminate toxics and waste

** Build openness into the process and let people participate in the decisions affecting human health and the environment.

Copyright 2004 John Klossner, www.jklossner.com


From: MIT Press ...........................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 10, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "Finally--a book that exposes the precautionary principle for what it really is: a rational, practical, fair-minded, powerful, science-based approach for making the world a safer, more livable place.... Bravo!" -- Sandra Steingraber, Ithaca College]

The precautionary principle calls for taking action against threatened harm to people and ecosystems even in the absence of full scientific certainty. The rationale is that modern technologies and human activities can inflict long-term, global-scale environmental damage and that conclusive scientific evidence of such damage may be available too late to avert it. The precautionary principle asks whether harm can be prevented instead of assessing degrees of "acceptable" risk.

This book provides a toolkit for applying precautionary concepts to reshape environmental policies at all levels. Its compendium of regulatory options, detailed examples, wide- ranging case studies, and theoretical background provides both citizens and policymakers with the basis for acting on any issue in any situation -- whether it's pesticide use at local schools or a new international regulatory system for chemicals.

Precautionary Tools for Reshaping Environmental Policy describes the analytical and ethical bases of the precautionary principle as well as practical options for implementing it. It provides a "precautionary checklist" that can serve as a springboard for discussion and decisions. And it offers a variety of case studies that show the precautionary principle in action -- from elk and cattle farming to marine fisheries, from the protection of indigenous cultures against bioprospecting to the restoration of the federal court system as a safety net for people harmed by products and chemicals. A hands-on interdisciplinary guide, the book demonstrates the advantages of a precautionary approach and addresses criticisms that have been leveled against it.

For updates and more information on the precautionary principle at work, visit the Science and Environmental Health Network web site.

Nancy J. Myers is Communications Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Carolyn Raffensperger is an environmental lawyer and the founding director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.


"Finally--a book that exposes the precautionary principle for what it really is: a rational, practical, fair-minded, powerful, science-based approach for making the world a safer, more livable place. From playgrounds in Texas to courtrooms in Wisconsin, from elk farms and marine fisheries to hospitals and architectural firms, here are portraits of precaution in action. All together, they serve as a template for environmental transformation. Bravo!" --Sandra Steingraber, Ithaca College, author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment

"A unique and comprehensive synthesis and compendium of heretofore disparate writings on and critiques of the precautionary principle, incorporating both European and American legal, political, and cultural traditions and perspectives. Theoretically sound and practically oriented, this book will be a must-read for policy analysts and policymakers, environmentalists, enlightened industrialists, citizens and activists, and students of government and regulation." --Nicholas A. Ashford, Professor of Technology and Policy, MIT, and coauthor of Environmental Law, Policy, and Economics: Reclaiming the Environmental Agenda

The MIT Press November 2005 ISBN 0-262-63323-X 6 x 9, 400 pgs., 1 illus. $25.00 (PAPER)


From: Environmental Commons ..............................[This story printer-friendly]
October 1, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Supervisors of this northern California county will spend 90 days studying how the precautionary principle might affect local decision-making and governance.]

By Britt Bailey

At its Sept. 27 Board Meeting, the Mendocino County [Calif.] Board of Supervisors approved a request by the Mendocino County Public Health Advisory Board to "conduct a ninety-day study of the precautionary principle." Proponents say the precautionary principle would provide a guiding framework for policy planning and decision-making at the departmental level.

The Sept. 27th decision reversed the Board's 3-2 vote a week earlier opposing study of the precautionary principle.

According to Sara O'Donnell, a member of the newly-formed "Mendocino Partnership for the Precautionary Principle" and Director of the Cancer Resource Center, "The Board's action [Sept. 27] is an important first step in the development of a way we as a county make decisions. The precautionary principle provides a guiding framework that will allow us to take into account more fully the ways in which local government impacts our resources, health, and well-being of future generations."

Supervisor Hal Wagenet placed the item on the agenda Sept. 27, reversing his Sept. 20 vote against the precautionary principle. Wagenet said, "You all may be wondering why I am bringing this back? We have tough times ahead and we will need all of the tools in our toolbox to guide us in the right direction. I realized that I am not interested in winning the race as I am surviving the race."

Fifth District Supervisor David Colfax says that over the next three months the standing General Government Committee of the Board of Supervisors will be reviewing ways in which the precautionary principle can be integrated into County government planning and policy processes.

According to Colfax, "One of the key elements of the precautionary principle is that decision-making be transparent and community- friendly, and to that end I expect that the monthly meetings of our committee will be well-attended, informative, and productive."

Colfax says that he hopes that a "guiding and formalizing" county ordinance could be put forward early in 2006.

Supervisors who voted "no" Sept. 20 said they did so because they viewed precaution as a "job killer." One supervisor was offended by the principle's emphasis on democratic decision-making: "I take offense at the precautionary principle and its references to 'participatory democracy'," he said.

The Mendocino Partnership for the Precautionary Principle has scheduled two public forums where residents can learn more about the Principle and its implications. The first will be held on October 13th in Fort Bragg, and the second on October 14th in Willits.

The featured speaker at both forums is Dr. Mary O'Brien, author of Making Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk Assessment (ISBN 0-262-65053-3).

For more information, see www.mendoprecaution.org or contact the Environmental Commons at (707) 884-5002.

See FAQs for further details on the precautionary principle.

Environmental Commons PO Box 1135 Gualala, CA 95445 (707) 884-5002 http://www.environmentalcommons.org

Other contacts:

J. David Colfax Supervisor-Fifth District Mendocino County (707) 895-3241

Sara O'Donnell, Executive Director Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino County (707) 467-3828

Carol Mordhorst, Director of Public Health Mendocino County Public Health Department (707) 472-2777


From: Quechua-Aymara Association (Peru) ..................[This story printer-friendly]
October 6, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "Indigenous peoples from Peru are asking the international community to 'stay strong' in the face of huge pressure from corporations that now promote terminator technology for... monopoly control over the global food system... Action is needed by world governments to fully apply the precautionary principle..."]

LIMA, Peru and London -- Indigenous farmers in Peru, the birthplace of the potato, have slammed a move to overturn a UN moratorium on using genetically modified "Terminator" technology in agricultural production.

Genetic Use Restriction Technology, commonly known as Terminator, means that food plants could be genetically modified so that their seeds are rendered sterile, thus preventing farmers from reusing harvested seed.

However, according to a new report from indigenous leaders, Peruvian farmers and small farmers worldwide "are dependant on seeds obtained from the harvest as a principal source of seed to be used in subsequent agricultural cycles."

More than 70 indigenous leaders representing 26 Andean and Amazon communities have agreed that Terminator represents a dangerous technology that could undermine traditional livelihoods and damage the environment. Meeting in the mountain village of Choquecancha in southern Peru late last month, they produced a report detailing their concerns to be presented to UN and government officials.

A defacto moratorium has existed on Terminator under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, applying the "precautionary principle" to potentially dangerous GM technology.

The fear is that Terminator would transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and wider plant life, as well as increasing the reliance of farmers on big agribusiness which is already patenting seeds traditionally owned by indigenous people. Industrialised "mono-culture" farming would benefit at the expense of tried and tested local agricultural knowledge, threatening livelihoods, cultures and biodiversity.

The indigenous leaders warn that, in Peru alone, 2,000 varieties of potato could be put at risk by Terminator technology.

Felipe Gonzalez of the indigenous Pinchimoro community said: "Terminator seeds do not have life; they only work once. Like a plague they will come infecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing."

Recently, the Swiss-based company Syngenta won the patent on Terminator potatoes, but the UN moratorium blocks the commercialisation of the product.

Some governments led by Canada have challenged the UN's safety regulation, leading Convention on Biological Diversity officials to consult widely on whether the moratorium on Terminator should be relaxed.

The issue is expected to come to a head in March 2006, when Brazil will host the next international meeting on biodiversity (8th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, COP8). Peruvian indigenous leaders are urging the UN to expose the dangers of Terminator technology and uphold the moratorium. They also demand that indigenous people have a say in the process equal to the influence of the agribusiness lobby.

The indigenous leaders meeting in Choquecancha was co-organised by the Association of Communities in the Potato Park in Pisaq near Cusco. The recently-established "Potato Park" is a ground-breaking initiative that puts indigenous people back in charge of managing biological resources.

The meeting was supported by the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) based in Cusco and the London- based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Dr Michel Pimbert, Director of the Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Livelihoods Programme at IIED, said: "Indigenous peoples from Peru are asking the international community to 'stay strong' in the face of huge pressure from corporations that now promote terminator technology for their private gain and monopoly control over the global food system. Decisive and coordinated action is needed by world governments to fully apply the precautionary principle in biosafety policies and reinforce the United Nations de facto moratorium on the release of terminator technology."

Alejandro Argumedo, Associate Director of ANDES, said: "The UN moratorium helps to protect millenarian indigenous agricultural knowledge and the agrobiodiversity and global food security it enables. The rush to exploit Terminator technology for corporate profit must not be allowed to sabotage vital international biosafety polices."

Tony Samphier on +44 208 671 2911 Liz Carlile on +44 207 388 2117 Alejandro Argumedo on +51 849721852

The Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development (ANDES) is governed by a general assembly which is largely composed of indigenous people from villages in the Andes. ANDES has three professional staff in their office in Cusco, in southern Peru, while another 15 technicians and university-trained professionals and 25 local villagers work in the field with local communities.

The International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) is a London-based think tank working for global policy solutions rooted in the reality of local people at the frontline of sustainable development.


From: Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald Online ............[This story printer-friendly] Morning Herald Online
[Printer-friendly version]
September 29, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "Secondary symptoms of Mother Earthism include... recourse to the intellectually vapid precautionary principle..."]

By Bob Carter

Many Australians are worried, rightly, by the possibility that avian flu might infect the nation. They should be just as concerned about the disease of Mother Earthism which has reached our shores, and is now approaching epidemic status.

One of its most virulent strains is called Hansenism, after James Hansen, the high-profile NASA scientist who started the global warming scare campaign running back in 1988.

These diseases attack persons who venture public opinions on matters of environmental concern. Its most recent manifestation is in two alarmist books on climate change by popular science writers Ian Lowe (Living in the Hothouse) and Tim Flannery (The Weather Makers).

Mother Earthism has complex symptoms. Foremost is a touching belief in the Garden of Eden, the halcyon state of the Earth in times before the wicked Industrial Revolution. This balmy, and barmy, garden existed in a state of existential ecological balance, within an unchanging, benign environment. The roots of its philosophical trees lie with Rousseau, and those who tend these trees deny the dynamic, ever- changing character of our planet, its biota, and its climate.

Secondary symptoms of Mother Earthism include: appeal to authority rather than explanation or discussion of the science; false claims of consensus among scientists; cherry-picking of research and opinions which support a desired world view; guilt-by-association smearing and vilification of those who hold alternative views; the erection of conspiracy theories about improper industry influence; endless repetition of inaccuracies, or facts out of context; a preference for computer model predictions over real world measurements; recourse to the intellectually vapid precautionary principle; the exploitation of guilt among ordinary citizens; and, above all, an unwavering alarmism that the world is going to hell in a handbasket -- and it's all our fault.

The biggest serpent in this Garden of Eden is alleged to be carbon dioxide, and we must give up our fix. Why? Because it's causing global warming, silly. And so it is.

The Earth's comfortable (for us) average temperature of about 15C is maintained that way by the atmosphere. The presence of small amounts of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide -- the "greenhouse gases" which absorb Earth's outgoing heat radiation and re-emit some of it downwards -- causes warming. Most of the total warming of 33 degrees is caused by water vapour (more than 30 degrees), carbon dioxide contributing only about 1.2 degrees worth. And of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, just 3per cent comes from human sources, which equates to a warming effect of about four- hundredths of a degree.

Against this, computer models suggest that a further human-caused increase in temperature of perhaps two-tenths of a degree might be averted.

To crucify the world's industrialised economies by spending trillions of dollars for a possible temperature drop of 0.20 defies comprehension. The hairshirt policy exemplified by the Kyoto accord is a classic non-solution to a non-problem.

As Flannery points out in a different context in his book, the individual members of the public can exert influence by witholding their memberships and donations from the organisations (including especially green groups) responsible for spreading the disease, and by not buying alarmist books.

The Government could do its bit by dis-establishing the professional greenhouse lobby groups that now dominate its own environmental and energy policy bureaucracies.

A goal to "stabilise world climate" is misplaced, not to mention unattainable. Climate is a dynamic system within which extreme events and dramatic changes will always occur, irrespective of human actions or preferences. Witness hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

As for other major natural disasters, the appropriate preparation for extreme climate events is to mitigate and manage the negative effects when they occur. Climate impacts are generally slower to appear than those of other "instantaneous" disasters like earthquakes, tsunami, storms, volcanic eruptions, landslides or bushfires. This difference is not one of kind, and neither should be our response plans.

Needed is more research, together with the preparation of response plans for climatic coolings and warmings. Not needed is more futile feelgoodery espoused by those infected with the Mother Earthism syndrome.

Bob Carter, a research professor at James Cook University, is an experienced environmental scientist.

Copyright 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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