If your group is interested in working with us to put on a
precautionary principle training in your community during
2007, please send an email to sherri@sehn.org.


Rachel's Precaution Reporter #65

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006.........Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Table of Contents...

San Francisco's Right To Protect Its Children Is Challenged Again
  Chemical corporations have sued San Francisco again -- this time in
  federal court -- claiming the city had no right to pass a law
  protecting children from poisonous chemicals in toys.
'Precautionary Assessment' -- a New Tool for Making Decisions
  Seattle toxicologist Steve Gilbert has developed a new way to make
  decisions about toxic chemicals, incorporating the precautionary
Catholic Bishops Urge a Precautionary Approach To Global Warming
  Five years ago the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a
  precautionary stance toward global warming: "While some uncertainty
  remains, most experts agree that something significant is happening to
  the atmosphere.... Although debate continues about the extent and
  impact of this [global] warming, it could be quite serious.
  Consequently, it seems prudent not only to continue to research and
  monitor this phenomenon, but to take steps now to mitigate possible
  negative effects in the future."
Education and Sufficiency
  "Sustainability presupposes the simultaneous application of three
  fundamental principles: the precautionary principle, adopting a
  preventive rather than remedial approach; the principle of solidarity
  between all peoples of the world and between the present generations
  and those to come; and the principle of people participation in


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #65, Nov. 22, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) -- formerly known as the Chemical
Manufacturers Association -- on November 16 filed a second lawsuit
against the City of San Francisco, aiming to prevent the City from
protecting children from toxic chemicals in toys.

San Francisco passed a law in June prohibiting the sale of toys
containing six toxic chemicals called phthalates (tha-lates) and
another toxicant called bisphenol-A. In October, the ACC and other
corporations sued the city in California state court, claiming that
state law preempted the city's right to protect children by
controlling toxics in toys.

The second lawsuit was filed in federal court and it claims that
federal law preempts the city's right to protect its children from
toxic chemicals in toys. Specifically, the ACC's complaint says the
Federal Hazardous Substances Act, plus decisions by the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, make it illegal for municipalities to pass
laws to regulate toxic materials in toys.

This is a definite trend -- corporations trying to prevent local
governments from passing laws to protect citizens against hazards and
dangers created by corporations. In many instances the federal
Congress is passing laws that prevent local governments from passing
laws to curb corporate abuses. It's called "federal preemption."

We can draw three conclusions from this second lawsuit:

1. This is a major attack on the precautionary principle. The American
Chemistry Council has hired a fancy-pants law firm to pursue this
case. Clearly the ACC is putting a lot of money behind its effort to
stop San Francisco from taking a precautionary approach to protecting

2. This lawsuit is a sign of just how powerful and bold corporations
have become that they would sue San Francisco, asserting that
corporations have the right to expose children to known poisons and
there's nothing local governments or individual citizens can do about
it. They are thumbing their noses at the Moms of the world and at
everyone else who may try to protect children from chemical trespass.

3. There is one benefit from a lawsuit like this: It allows us to see
clearly that the system we call "regulation" was set up not to protect
citizens from harm, but to protect corporations from citizens who try
to curb corporate power. The regulatory system doesn't regulate
polluters -- it regulates citizens, by strictly limiting how they are
allowed to respond to corporate abuse.

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From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #65, Nov. 22, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


Steve Gilbert is one of those rare, gifted scientists who can talk
about complicated subjects in a way that everyone can understand. His
book, A Small Dose of Toxicology; The Health Effects of Common
Chemicals is a masterpiece of good science writing, and his web
site is a treasure trove of understandable information about
chemicals and health.

Steve was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Seattle
Working Group on the Precautionary Principle, which has convinced the
city to add precautionary language to the City Plan and introduced a
precaution resolution that was adopted by the Washington State
Public Health Association.

In his work as a toxicologist, Steve has observed the shortcomings of
numerical risk assessment as a decision-making tool, and recently he
has developed a new tool for making decisions about toxic materials.
He calls it "precautionary assessment." Steve's full explanation of
precautionary assessment is available here, accompanied by an Excel
spreadsheet, found here.

Steve says, "The goal of precautionary assessment (PA) is to move
beyond risk assessment and allow communities and individuals to
incorporate their knowledge, values and ethics into a more
comprehensive evaluation of a hazardous condition.

"Precautionary assessment contains three basic elements:

"a) community and social issues,

"b) exposure issues, and

"c) hazard and toxicity issues.

"Each element is broken down into a series of questions that are
scored numerically and summed to produce a summary score for each
element. A lack of knowledge usually is indicated by applying the
highest score.

"The PA is designed to help place the knowledge available within the
context of the community. In contrast to the traditional risk
assessment, the PA is a more comprehensive approach to evaluating the
human and environmental health risks. Overall, the PA, by building
upon the foundation of the precautionary principle, is a more
reasonable, rational, and responsible approach to evaluating
environmental and human health risks of chemicals."

Take a look, give it a try, and tell Steve what you think:

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From: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jun. 15, 2001
[Printer-friendly version]


A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good

A Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

[The text for Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence,
and the Common Good originated from the Domestic and International
Policy Committees and was prepared in consultation with the bishops'
Committee on Doctrine and the Committee on Science and Human Values.
The document was approved for publication by the full body of United
States Catholic bishops at their June 2001 General Meeting and has
been authorized by the undersigned. -- Msgr. William P. Fay, General
Secretary, USCCB]


As people of faith, we are convinced that "the earth is the Lord's and
all it holds" (Ps 24:1). Our Creator has given us the gift of
creation: the air we breathe, the water that sustains life, the fruits
of the land that nourish us, and the entire web of life without which
human life cannot flourish. All of this God created and found "very
good." We believe our response to global climate change should be a
sign of our respect for God's creation.

The continuing debate about how the United States is responding to
questions and challenges surrounding global climate change is a test
and an opportunity for our nation and the entire Catholic community.
As bishops, we are not scientists or public policymakers. We enter
this debate not to embrace a particular treaty, nor to urge particular
technical solutions, but to call for a different kind of national
discussion. Much of the debate on global climate change seems
polarized and partisan. Science is too often used as a weapon, not as
a source of wisdom. Various interests use the airwaves and political
process to minimize or exaggerate the challenges we face. The search
for the common good and the voices of poor people and poor countries
sometimes are neglected.

At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or
political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group
pressures. It is about the future of God's creation and the one human
family. It is about protecting both "the human environment" and the
natural environment.[1] It is about our human stewardship of God's
creation and our responsibility to those who come after us. With these
reflections, we seek to offer a word of caution and a plea for genuine
dialogue as the United States and other nations face decisions about
how best to respond to the challenges of global climate change.

The dialogue and our response to the challenge of climate change must
be rooted in the virtue of prudence. While some uncertainty remains,
most experts agree that something significant is happening to the
atmosphere. Human behavior and activity are, according to the most
recent findings of the international scientific bodies charged with
assessing climate change, contributing to a warming of the earth's
climate. Although debate continues about the extent and impact of this
warming, it could be quite serious (see the sidebar "The Science of
Global Climate Change"). Consequently, it seems prudent not only to
continue to research and monitor this phenomenon, but to take steps
now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.

As Catholic bishops, we seek to offer a distinctively religious and
moral perspective to what is necessarily a complicated scientific,
economic, and political discussion. Ethical questions lie at the heart
of the challenges facing us. John Paul II insists, "We face a
fundamental question which can be described as both ethical and
ecological. How can accelerated development be prevented from turning
against man? How can one prevent disasters that destroy the
environment and threaten all forms of life, and how can the negative
consequences that have already occurred be remedied?"[2]

Because of the blessings God has bestowed on our nation and the power
it possesses, the United States bears a special responsibility in its
stewardship of God's creation to shape responses that serve the entire
human family. As pastors, teachers, and citizens, we bishops seek to
contribute to our national dialogue by examining the ethical
implications of climate change. We offer some themes from Catholic
social teaching that could help to shape this dialogue, and we suggest
some directions for the debate and public policy decisions that face
us. We do so with great respect for the work of the scientists,
diplomats, business and union representatives, developers of new
technologies, environmental leaders, and policymakers who have been
struggling with the difficult questions of climate change for many

While our own growing awareness of this problem has come in part from
scientific research and the public debate about the human contribution
to climate change, we are also responding to the appeals of the Church
in other parts of the world. Along with Pope John Paul II, church
leaders in developing countries -- who fear that affluent nations will
mute their voices and ignore their needs -- have expressed their
concerns about how this global challenge will affect their people and
their environment. We also hear the call of Catholic youth and other
young people to protect the environment.

Therefore, we especially want to focus on the needs of the poor, the
weak, and the vulnerable in a debate often dominated by more powerful
interests. Inaction and inadequate or misguided responses to climate
change will likely place even greater burdens on already desperately
poor peoples. Action to mitigate global climate change must be built
upon a foundation of social and economic justice that does not put the
poor at greater risk or place disproportionate and unfair burdens on
developing nations.

Scientific Knowledge and the Virtue of Prudence

As Catholic bishops, we make no independent judgment on the
plausibility of "global warming." Rather, we accept the consensus
findings of so many scientists and the conclusions of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a basis for
continued research and prudent action (see the sidebar: The Science of
Global Climate Change). Scientists engaged in this research
consistently acknowledge the difficulties of accurate measurement and
forecasting. Models of measurement evolve and vary in reliability.
Researchers and advocates on all sides of the issue often have stakes
in policy outcomes, as do advocates of various courses of public
policy. News reports can oversimplify findings or focus on controversy
rather than areas of consensus. Accordingly, interpretation of
scientific data and conclusions in public discussion can be difficult
and contentious matters.

Responsible scientific research is always careful to recognize
uncertainty and is modest in its claims. Yet over the past few
decades, the evidence of global climate change and the emerging
scientific consensus about the human impact on this process have led
many governments to reach the conclusion that they need to invest
time, money, and political will to address the problem through
collective international action.

The virtue of prudence is paramount in addressing climate change. This
virtue is not only a necessary one for individuals in leading morally
good lives, but is also vital to the moral health of the larger
community. Prudence is intelligence applied to our actions. It allows
us to discern what constitutes the common good in a given situation.
Prudence requires a deliberate and reflective process that aids in the
shaping of the community's conscience. Prudence not only helps us
identify the principles at stake in a given issue, but also moves us
to adopt courses of action to protect the common good. Prudence is
not, as popularly thought, simply a cautious and safe approach to
decisions. Rather, it is a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis
for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.

In facing climate change, what we already know requires a response; it
cannot be easily dismissed. Significant levels of scientific consensus
-- even in a situation with less than full certainty, where the
consequences of not acting are serious -- justifies, indeed can
obligate, our taking action intended to avert potential dangers. In
other words, if enough evidence indicates that the present course of
action could jeopardize humankind's well-being, prudence dictates
taking mitigating or preventative action.

This responsibility weighs more heavily upon those with the power to
act because the threats are often greatest for those who lack similar
power, namely, vulnerable poor populations, as well as future
generations. According to reports of the IPCC, significant delays in
addressing climate change may compound the problem and make future
remedies more difficult, painful, and costly. On the other hand, the
impact of prudent actions today can potentially improve the situation
over time, avoiding more sweeping action in the future.

Climate Change and Catholic Social Teaching

God has endowed humanity with reason and ingenuity that distinguish us
from other creatures. Ingenuity and creativity have enabled us to make
remarkable advances and can help us address the problem of global
climate change; however, we have not always used these endowments
wisely. Past actions have produced both good works and harmful ones,
as well as unforseen or unintended consequences. Now we face two
central moral questions:

How are we to fulfill God's call to be stewards of creation in an age
when we may have the capacity to alter that creation significantly,
and perhaps irrevocably?

How can we as a "family of nations" exercise stewardship in a way that
respects and protects the integrity of God's creation and provides for
the common good, as well as for economic and social progress based on

Catholic social teaching provides several themes and values that can
help answer these questions.

The Universal Common Good

Global climate is by its very nature a part of the planetary commons.
The earth's atmosphere encompasses all people, creatures, and
habitats. The melting of ice sheets and glaciers, the destruction of
rain forests, and the pollution of water in one place can have
environmental impacts elsewhere. As Pope John Paul II has said, "We
cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due
attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas
and to the well being of future generations."[3] Responses to global
climate change should reflect our interdependence and common
responsibility for the future of our planet. Individual nations must
measure their own self-interest against the greater common good and
contribute equitably to global solutions.

Stewardship of God's Creation and the Right to Economic Initiative and
Private Property

Freedom and the capacity for moral decision making are central to what
it means to be human. Stewardship -- defined in this case as the
ability to exercise moral responsibility to care for the environment
-- requires freedom to act. Significant aspects of this stewardship
include the right to private initiative, the ownership of property,
and the exercise of responsible freedom in the economic sector.
Stewardship requires a careful protection of the environment and calls
us to use our intelligence "to discover the earth's productive
potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be

We believe economic freedom, initiative, and creativity are essential
to help our nation find effective ways to address climate change. The
United States' history of economic, technological innovation, and
entrepreneurship invites us to move beyond status quo responses to
this challenge. In addition, the right to private property is matched
by the responsibility to use what we own to serve the common good. Our
Catholic tradition speaks of a "social mortgage" on property and, in
this context, calls us to be good stewards of the earth.[5] It also
calls us to use the gifts we have been given to protect human life and
dignity, and to exercise our care for God's creation.

True stewardship requires changes in human actions -- both in moral
behavior and technical advancement. Our religious tradition has always
urged restraint and moderation in the use of material goods, so we
must not allow our desire to possess more material things to overtake
our concern for the basic needs of people and the environment. Pope
John Paul II has linked protecting the environment to "authentic human
ecology," which can overcome "structures of sin" and which promotes
both human dignity and respect for creation.[6] Technological
innovation and entrepreneurship can help make possible options that
can lead us to a more environmentally benign energy path. Changes in
lifestyle based on traditional moral virtues can ease the way to a
sustainable and equitable world economy in which sacrifice will no
longer be an unpopular concept. For many of us, a life less focused on
material gain may remind us that we are more than what we have.
Rejecting the false promises of excessive or conspicuous consumption
can even allow more time for family, friends, and civic
responsibilities. A renewed sense of sacrifice and restraint could
make an essential contribution to addressing global climate change.

Protecting the Environment for Future Generations

The common good calls us to extend our concern to future generations.
Climate change poses the question "What does our generation owe to
generations yet unborn?" As Pope John Paul II has written, "there is
an order in the universe which must be respected, and... the human
person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave
responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future

Passing along the problem of global climate change to future
generations as a result of our delay, indecision, or self-interest
would be easy. But we simply cannot leave this problem for the
children of tomorrow. As stewards of their heritage, we have an
obligation to respect their dignity and to pass on their natural
inheritance, so that their lives are protected and, if possible, made
better than our own.

Population and Authentic Development

Population and climate change should be addressed from the broader
perspective of a concern for protecting human life, caring for the
environment, and respecting cultural norms and the religious faith and
moral values of peoples. Population is not simply about statistics.
Behind every demographic number is a precious and irreplaceable human
life whose human dignity must be respected.

The global climate change debate cannot become just another
opportunity for some groups -- usually affluent advocates from the
developed nations -- to blame the problem on population growth in poor
countries. Historically, the industrialized countries have emitted
more greenhouse gases that warm the climate than have the developing
countries. Affluent nations such as our own have to acknowledge the
impact of voracious consumerism instead of simply calling for
population and emissions controls from people in poorer nations.

A more responsible approach to population issues is the promotion of
"authentic development," which represents a balanced view of human
progress and includes respect for nature and social well-being.[8]
Development policies that seek to reduce poverty with an emphasis on
improved education and social conditions for women are far more
effective than usual population reduction programs and far more
respectful of women's dignity.[9]

We should promote a respect for nature that encourages policies
fostering natural family planning and the education of women and men
rather than coercive measures of population control or government
incentives for birth control that violate local cultural and religious

Caring for the Poor and Issues of Equity

Working for the common good requires us to promote the flourishing of
all human life and all of God's creation. In a special way, the common
good requires solidarity with the poor who are often without the
resources to face many problems, including the potential impacts of
climate change. Our obligations to the one human family stretch across
space and time. They tie us to the poor in our midst and across the
globe, as well as to future generations. The commandment to love our
neighbor invites us to consider the poor and marginalized of other
nations as true brothers and sisters who share with us the one table
of life intended by God for the enjoyment of all.

All nations share the responsibility to address the problem of global
climate change. But historically the industrial economies have been
responsible for the highest emissions of greenhouse gases that
scientists suggest are causing the warming trend. Also, significant
wealth, technological sophistication, and entrepreneurial creativity
give these nations a greater capacity to find useful responses to this
problem. To avoid greater impact, energy resource adjustments must be
made both in the policies of richer countries and in the development
paths of poorer ones.

Most people will agree that while the current use of fossil fuels has
fostered and continues to foster substantial economic growth,
development, and benefits for many, there is a legitimate concern that
as developing countries improve their economies and emit more
greenhouse gases, they will need technological help to mitigate
further atmospheric environmental harm. Many of the poor in these
countries live in degrading and desperate situations that often lead
them to adopt environmentally harmful agricultural and industrial
practices. In many cases, the heavy debt burdens, lack of trade
opportunities, and economic inequities in the global market add to the
environmental strains of the poorer countries. Developing countries
have a right to economic development that can help lift people out of
dire poverty. Wealthier industrialized nations have the resources,
know-how, and entrepreneurship to produce more efficient cars and
cleaner industries. These countries need to share these emerging
technologies with the less-developed countries and assume more of the
financial responsibility that would enable poorer countries to afford
them. This would help developing countries adopt energy-efficient
technologies more rapidly while still sustaining healthy economic
growth and development.[10] Industries from the developed countries
operating in developing nations should exercise a leadership role in
preserving the environment.

No strategy to confront global climate change will succeed without the
leadership and participation of the United States and other industrial
nations. But any successful strategy must also reflect the genuine
participation and concerns of those most affected and least able to
bear the burdens. Developing and poorer nations must have a genuine
place at the negotiating table. Genuine participation for those most
affected is a moral and political necessity for advancing the common

The Public Policy Debate and Future Directions

Catholic social teaching calls for bold and generous action on behalf
of the common good. "Interdependence," as Pope John Paul II has
written, "must be transformed into solidarity.... Surmounting every
type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony,
the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral
responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international
system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the
equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their
legitimate differences."[11]

The common good is built up or diminished by the quality of public
debate. With its scientific, technological, economic, political,
diplomatic, and religious dimensions, the challenge of global climate
change may be a basic test of our democratic processes and political
institutions. We respect the inquiry and dialogue which has been
carried forward by a wide variety of scientists, diplomats, policy
makers, and advocates, not only in the United States but around the
world. These efforts should not be demeaned or distorted by
disinformation or exaggeration. Serious dialogue should not be
jeopardized by public relations tactics that fan fears or pit nations
against one another. Leaders in every sector should seek to build a
scientifically based consensus for the common good; avoid merely
representing their own particular interests, industries, or movements;
and act responsibly to protect future generations and the weak.

In the past decade, a continuing process of international diplomacy
has led to agreements on principles and increasingly on procedures. In
1992, more than 160 nations, including the United States, ratified the
first international treaty on global climate change at Earth Summit in
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was known as the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 1997, parties to
the UNFCCC including the United States negotiated the Kyoto Protocol,
which established mandatory emission reduction targets, market-based
procedures for meeting those targets, and timetables for
industrialized nations.

Without endorsing the specifics of these agreements and processes, we
Catholic bishops acknowledge the development of these international
negotiations and hope they and other future efforts can lead to just
and effective progress. However, serious deliberations must continue
to bring about prudent and effective actions to ensure equity among

As an act of solidarity and in the interest of the common good, the
United States should lead the developed nations in contributing to the
sustainable economic development of poorer nations and to help build
their capacity to ease climate change. Since our country's involvement
is key to any resolution of these concerns, we call on our people and
government to recognize the seriousness of the global warming threat
and to develop effective policies that will diminish the possible
consequences of global climate change. We encourage citizens to become
informed participants in this important public debate. The measures we
take today may not greatly moderate climate change in the near future,
but they could make a significant difference for our descendants.

We also hope that the United States will continue to undertake
reasonable and effective initiatives for energy conservation and the
development of alternate renewable and clean-energy resources. New
technologies and innovations can help meet this challenge. While more
needs to be done to reduce air pollution, through the use of improved
technologies and environmental entrepreneurship, the United States has
made significant environmental gains over the last several decades.
Our hope is that these technologies along with other resources can be
shared with developing countries.

Within the United States, public policy should assist industrial
sectors and workers especially impacted by climate change policies,
and it should offer incentives to corporations to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions and assistance to workers affected by these policies.

We encourage all parties to adopt an attitude of candor, conciliation,
and prudence in response to serious, complex, and uncertain
challenges. We hope the continuing dialogue within and among the
diverse disciplines of science, economics, politics, and diplomacy
will be guided by fundamental moral values: the universal common good,
respect for God's creation, an option for the poor, and a sense of
intergenerational obligation. Since religious values can enrich public
discussion, this challenge offers opportunities for interfaith and
ecumenical conversation and cooperation.

Finally, we wish to emphasize the need for personal conversion and
responsibility. In our pastoral reflection Renewing the Earth, we
wrote the following:

Grateful for the gift of creation... we invite Catholics and men and
women of good will in every walk of life to consider with us the moral
issues raised by the environmental crisis.... These are matters of
powerful urgency and major consequence. They constitute an exceptional
call to conversion. As individuals, as institutions, as a people, we
need a change of heart to preserve and protect the planet for our
children and for generations yet unborn.[12]

Each of us should carefully consider our choices and lifestyles. We
live in a culture that prizes the consumption of material goods. While
the poor often have too little, many of us can be easily caught up in
a frenzy of wanting more and more -- a bigger home, a larger car, etc.
Even though energy resources literally fuel our economy and provide a
good quality of life, we need to ask about ways we can conserve
energy, prevent pollution, and live more simply.


Our national debate over solutions to global climate change needs to
move beyond the uses and abuses of science, sixty-second ads, and
exaggerated claims. Because this issue touches so many people, as well
as the planet itself, all parties need to strive for a civil and
constructive debate about U.S. decisions and leadership in this area.

As people of religious faith, we bishops believe that the atmosphere
that supports life on earth is a God-given gift, one we must respect
and protect. It unites us as one human family. If we harm the
atmosphere, we dishonor our Creator and the gift of creation. The
values of our faith call us to humility, sacrifice, and a respect for
life and the natural gifts God has provided. Pope John Paul II reminds
us in his statement The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility
that "respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends
also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising
God."[13] In that spirit of praise and thanksgiving to God for the
wonders of creation, we Catholic bishops call for a civil dialogue and
prudent and constructive action to protect God's precious gift of the
earth's atmosphere with a sense of genuine solidarity and justice for
all God's children.


Sidebar: The Science of Global Climate Change

The photographs from the Apollo missions show earth glowing in the
stillness of space like a blue-white opal on black velvet. Cool and
beautiful, it hurries along in the Sun's gravitational embrace. The
earth is our home, our whole wide world.

Our enfolding blanket of air, our atmosphere, is both the physical
condition for human community and its most compelling symbol. We all
breathe the same air. Guarding the integrity of the atmosphere --
without which complex life could not have evolved on this planet --
seems like common sense. Yet a broad consensus of modern science is
that human activity is beginning to alter the earth's atmospheric
characteristics in serious, perhaps profound ways. For the past
century, researchers have been gathering and verifying data that
reveal an increase in the global average temperature. Until recently,
scientists could not say with great confidence whether or not this
phenomenon was in any way the result of human activity or entirely the
result of natural changes over time.

To deal with the difficulty of making precise measurements and
arriving at definite conclusions, the World Meteorological
Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme established
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to seek a clear
explanation of the causes and possible impacts of this global climate
change.[14] Because of the large number of scientists involved in the
IPCC and its process of consultation, its reports are considered
widely as offering the most authoritative scientific perspectives on
the issue. IPCC's findings have met with general -- but because of
remaining uncertainties, not complete -- agreement within the wider
scientific community.

In 1996, the IPCC issued its Second Assessment Reports, which
summarized the current state of knowledge. The first of these reports
concluded that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a
discernible human influence on global climate."[15] The Third
Assessment Reports, approved in early 2001, found even stronger
evidence and concluded, "most of the observed warming over the last 50
years is likely to have been due to the [human-induced] increase in
greenhouse gas concentrations" (italics added).[16]

The IPCC offers convincing evidence that there exists if not a clear
and present danger then a clear and future one, and that coming
changes will affect all aspects of the environment and societal well-
being. Based on measurements taken over both land and sea, the global
average surface-air temperature has increased by about one degree
Fahrenheit since 1860, building up as the Industrial Revolution was
hitting full stride. While this is hardly a frightening increase for a
particular geographic location, the temperature change is global in
extent, so one must read it against the background of the earth's
average temperature during historic times. According to IPCC, the rate
and duration of warming in the twentieth century appears to be the
largest in the last one thousand years. The twentieth century also
experienced precipitation increases in mid- and high-northern
latitudes; drier conditions in the subtropics; decreases in snow
cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice; and a rise of four to
eight inches in mean sea level.[17]

The "greenhouse effect," though complex in detail, is simple enough in
outline. Not considering the internal heating due to radioactive decay
and volcanism, the earth draws its thermal energy from the Sun.
Atmospheric gases form a protective cover that makes our planet
hospitable to life, transmitting visible light, blocking out harmful
high-energy radiation like ultraviolet rays, and keeping temperatures
comfortable by moderating the escape of heat into space. However, the
precise mix of these gases is quite delicate, and changing that mix
alters the atmosphere's properties. An increase in the relative
abundance of the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane,
chlorofluorocarbons, tropospheric ozone, and nitrous oxide) causes the
earth to trap more of the Sun's heat, resulting in what is called
"global warming." Since the beginning of the industrial period, the
IPCC reports, the concentration of the principal greenhouse gas,
carbon dioxide, has increased by 30 percent and is now greater than at
any time in the past 20 million years.[18] The presence of methane
(150 percent increase) and nitrous oxide (16 percent increase) is also
growing. The result is the small but alarming temperature rise science
has detected.[19]

What causes greenhouse gases to accumulate in the atmosphere?
Emissions from cars and trucks, industry and electric plants, and
businesses and homes are the largest part of the answer, although
other factors such as deforestation contribute. The Industrial
Revolution was built on furnaces and engines burning fossil fuels
(coal, natural gas, oil, and such derived products as gasoline and
heating oil). These fossil fuels now power the U.S. and global
economy. Although some of the smoke particles and other pollutants
(such as sulfur dioxide) now streaming from chimneys and tailpipes can
actually cool the earth if they take an aerosol form, the great bulk
of our emissions are contributing a warming influence. Reflecting upon
studies completed since its last report in 1996, the IPCC says, "There
is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over
the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."[20]

Whatever the extent, severity, or geographical distribution of global
warming impacts, the problem is expected to disproportionately affect
the poor, the vulnerable, and generations yet unborn. Projected sea
level rises could impact low-lying coastal areas in densely populated
nations of the developing world. Storms are most likely to strain the
fragile housing infrastructure of the poorest nations. The migration
of diseases could further challenge the presently inadequate health
care systems of these same nations. Droughts or floods, it is feared,
will afflict regions already too often hit by famine, hunger, and
malnutrition. Because the number of days with high heat and humidity
are likely to increase, heat stress impacts will also increase,
especially among the elderly, the sick, children, and the poor.[21]

The scientific reports of the IPCC portray the long-term challenge
global climate change poses. Its findings, while not complete, are
widely accepted in the scientific community. In June 2001, the
National Academy of Sciences released a report, prepared at the
request of President Bush, summarizing a prestigious panel's
understanding of global climate change and an assessment of the work
of the International Panel on Climate Change. The panel said that
"greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a
result of human activities...." It also found that "we cannot rule out
that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of
natural variability.... Because there is considerable uncertainty in
current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and
reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current
estimates of the magnitude of future warming should be regarded as
tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or
downward)...." The report noted that while the full implications of
climate change remain unknown, the panel "generally agrees with the
assessment of human-caused change presented in the IPCC Working Group
I scientific report."[22]


[1] John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum
(Centesimus Annus) (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops, 1991), no. 38.

[2] John Paul II, "International Solidarity Needed to Safeguard
Environment," Address by the Holy Father to the European Bureau for
the Environment, L'Osservatore Romano (June 26, 1996).

[3] John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility
(Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
1990), no. 6.

[4] John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum
(Centesimus Annus) (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops, 1991), no. 32.

[5] John Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis)
(Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
1988), no. 42.

[6] John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, no.

[7] John Paul II, "The Exploitation of the Environment Threatens the
Entire Human Race," address to the Vatican symposium on the
environment (1990), in Ecology and Faith: The Writings of Pope John
Paul II, ed. Sr. Ancilla Dent, OSB (Berkhamsted, England: Arthur
James, 1997), 12.

[8] John Paul II, On Social Concern, ch. four. This chapter of the
encyclical gives a more complete definition of the concept of
authentic development.

[9] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), nos. 50-51, in Austin Flannery, ed.,
Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, new
rev. ed., 1st vol. (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing, 1996).

[10] See also treatment of this topic in Stewardship: A Disciple's
Response (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, 1993), 27.

[11] Ibid., no. 39.

[12] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth:
An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of
Catholic Social Teaching (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops, 1992), 3. See also treatment of this theme in
Stewardship: A Disciple's Response, 46.

[13] John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis, no. 16.

[14] To date, the IPCC's work represents the most authoritative
estimates and prognosis of current and future climate change data.
This statement utilizes the following Second and Third Assessment
Reports by the IPCC:

1996a: Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change.
Contribution of Working Group I to the Second Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eds. J. T. Houghton, L. G.
Meira Filho, B. A. Callander, N. Harris, A. Kattenberg, and K. Maskell
(Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press).

1996b: Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of
Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses. Contribution of Working
Group II to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, eds. R. T. Watson, M. C. Zinyowera, and R. H.
Moss (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press).

1996c: Climate Change 1995: Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate
Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Second Assessment
Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eds. J. P.
Bruce, Hoesund Kee, and E. F. Haites (Cambridge and New York:
Cambridge University Press).

1996d: The IPCC Second Assessment Synthesis of Scientific-Technical
Information Relevant to Interpreting Article 2 of the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change (Geneva: World Meteorological
Organization/United Nations Environment Programme).

2001a: Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, eds. J. T. Houghton,
Y. Ding, D. J. Griggs, M. Noguer, P. van der Linden, X. Dai, K.
Maskell, and C. Johnson (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University

2001b: Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,
eds. J. McCarthy, O. Canziani, N. Leary, D. Dokken, and K. White
(Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press).

2001c: Climate Change 2001: Mitigation, eds. O. Davidson, B. Metz, R.
Swart, and J. Pan (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University

[15] IPCC, 1996a, 5.

[16] IPCC, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, 10.

[17] Ibid., ch. two.

[18] Ibid., 7.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 10.

[21] IPCC, Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and

[22] National Academy of Science, Climate Change Science: An Analysis
of Some Key Questions (Washington, D.C., June 7, 2001).

Office of Social Development & World Peace United States Conference of
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Washington, D.C. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted
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From: Bankok (Thailand) Post, Nov. 19, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Ioan Voicu

Sustainability is a hot and controversial topic. We are not living in
times of real sustainable development. More than one-fourth of
humankind suffers from chronic poverty. Hunger, military conflicts,
terrorism, human-rights abuses, environmental degradation and climate
change, natural disasters and pandemics all threaten human dignity and
the very survival of mankind.

The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002)
concluded by consensus that development is sustainable only if future
generations inherit a quality of environment at least equal to that
inherited by their predecessors. It presupposes the simultaneous
application of three fundamental principles: the precautionary
principle, adopting a preventive rather than remedial approach; the
principle of solidarity between all peoples of the world and between
the present generations and those to come; and the principle of people
participation in decision-making.

While still an ambiguous concept, sustainability is recognised as a
way of life that meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This
generous objective cannot be implemented without adequate education.

Therefore, the period from 2005-2014 was proclaimed by the United
Nations as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD),
for which Unesco is the lead agency. ESD is a vision of education that
seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for creating a
sustainable future. There are four major thrusts: improving basic
education; reorienting existing education to address sustainable
development; developing public understanding and awareness; and
providing training for all sectors of society, including business,
industry, and governments. There are different stakeholders in this
complex process: governments and intergovernmental bodies, mass media,
civil society and non-governmental organizations, the private sector
and formal education institutions. A primary objective of the UN
Decade of ESD is to facilitate the attainment of the Millennium
Development Goals.

Three pillars

Sustainable development is an omnibus concept that attempts to bridge
the divide between economic growth and environmental protection, while
taking into account other issues traditionally associated with
development. Unfortunately, it is often misinterpreted as focusing
exclusively on environmental aspects. In reality, it encompasses three
areas: economic, environmental and social. The UN 2005 World Summit
Outcome Document refers to these areas as "interdependent and mutually
reinforcing pillars" of sustainable development. However, more
clarifications are needed.

A scientific conference will be convened in Germany in May 2007 to
deal with all areas which are important for sustainable development.
The catalogue of issues includes energy, water, soil, air,
biodiversity, natural and man-made resources, agriculture, forests,
health, climate and global change, production and consumption,
environmental technologies, transport, buildings, regional and urban
development, cultural heritage, employment, economic, social and
cultural changes and change agents, as well as indicators.

Promoting sustainability is building the future. The originality of
the process is that the foundations and the walls have to be
constructed at the same time. All states have to accept this
specificity and assimilate the truth that real change is the only
productive response to the global crisis of sustainability. Using the
tools of multilateral diplomacy, the Group of 77 (in fact, 131
countries , including Thailand) and China called again on developed
countries at the current 61st session of the UN General Assembly to
cooperate with countries of the South in research and development, in
order to facilitate the transfer of appropriate and advanced
technology, in particular environmentally sound technology. From this
perspective, the work programme must exhibit not only predictability,
but flexibility, to reflect the true nature of the relationships
between issues and relevant means of implementation. It should
highlight the various responsibilities of the different actors and
their levels of involvement in the implementation process. While the
primary focus remains at the national level, it must be recalled that
the Johannesburg Declaration and the Plan of Implementation adopted in
2002 by the World Summit on Sustainable Development emphasized clear
commitments to multilateralism and the need for strong support from
the entire international community.

For instance, the serious problems posed by natural disasters are of
crucial importance to all 192 UN Member States, and in particular to
developing countries. The adverse consequences on the affected
populations are long lasting. It is, therefore, important to examine
the measures that need to be taken to improve the capacity of affected
nations to respond to disasters and to increase the assistance
provided to them.

The Kyoto Protocol, which imposes in its first phase emissions
reduction targets on more than 30 industrialised countries, has in
fact not been ratified by all large developed nations. Countries of
the North have to step up their efforts to ensure its effective
implementation. A stronger commitment to the requirements of the
protocol is a major objective to be promoted by educators the world

A visionary approach

The current debates in Thailand about "sufficiency economy" are
topical, inspiring and instructive from the educational perspective.
The presentation of the United Nations Development Programmes
Inaugural Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to His Majesty
King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his
accession to the throne is indicative of the importance of His
Majesty's philosophy to the entire world.

In presenting the award, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "His
Majesty's sufficiency economy philosophy _ emphasising moderation,
responsible consumption, and resilience to external shocks _ is of
great relevance to communities everywhere during these times of rapid
globalisation. The philosophy's middle path approach strongly
reinforces the United Nations' own advocacy of a people-centred and
sustainable path towards human development. His Majesty's development
agenda and visionary thinking are an inspiration to his subjects, and
to people everywhere."

Kofi Annan also emphasised that His Majesty's visionary thinking has
helped shape the global development dialogue.

The opinions expressed in Thailand show that the application of
sufficiency economy is not fixed, but flexible, to allow it to respond
to globalisation. But whatever the application, knowledge and morality
must be present. Sufficiency means having enough, being reasonable and
having the capacity to withstand internal and external changes. The
sufficiency economy is not directed against the liberal market
economy. On the contrary, it is meant to help it to work more
effectively by ensuring that its mechanisms are not distorted, but are
honest and transparent. In its practical manifestations, sufficiency
economy has three components: moderation; wisdom or insight; and the
need for built-in resilience against potential internal and external

Education comes energetically into the picture, as the art of making
people ethical and to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and
responsible conduct. All members of society need to develop their
commitment to the importance of knowledge, integrity and honesty, and
to conduct their lives in conformity with the fundamental values of
perseverance, toleration and wisdom, so that the country has the
capacity to cope with the rapid and widespread transformations.

In Thai commentaries on the matter it is correctly emphasised that
sufficiency economy is an offshoot of Buddhist philosophy rather than
a new paradigm based on economic equations or theory. But it is also
cogently acknowledged that its application to market economy is
similar to the UN concept of building a sustainable economy, which
should give tangibility to the values of solidarity and respect for
nature. The main idea is to add quality to the whole development
process and include into it better risk management and good

The irreversible process of globalisation must be successfully faced
at the universal level. To that end, all parties, including developing
countries, should emerge stronger and be able to avoid marginalisation
and reach win-win situations in their collective struggle for
sustainable progress and prosperity. This is an imperative task which
no country can ignore today, during an era of planetary
vulnerabilities, discontinuities and perplexities.

Dr Ioan Voicu is Visiting Professor at Assumption University of
Thailand in Bangkok.

Copyright Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2006

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