Rachel's Precaution Reporter #48
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

From: Checkbiotech.org ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 26, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: A writer in Zimbabwe offers many reasons why Africa should resist pressure from multinational corporations that flood the farming sector with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The push for genetically modified food is more about corporate control than anything else.]

By Sifelani Tsiko

It is worrying that the majority of people in Africa have become consumers of foods that they have no knowledge of how they were produced and manufactured.

A conference on food security and the challenge of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which was held last week at Silveira House, about 23km east of Harare raised stakes in the debate.

Participants at this conference which was organised by Environment Africa and the Catholic-run Silveira House, who were drawn from South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe raised pertinent questions on the need for African governments to set clear guidelines on GMOs when it comes to food aid as well as the general consumption of other GMO products.

Andrew Mushita, the director of Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT) said African governments should develop food aid policies so that they adopt specific measures to guard against the dumping of GMO food donations in their countries.

Delegates agreed that the adoption of GMO technology and food aid was not the panacea to hunger in Africa.

"So far there is no technology to decontaminate GM seed. Food security is fundamental for many people. Most of these technologies are not focused on increasing food security and production but maybe disease resistance," Mushita said.

There are huge risks to the smallholder rural African farmers if they adopt GM-crops.

Experience highlights the danger of dependency and monopoly control over GM seed by multinationals.

Large multinationals, Mushita said, have monopoly through their country agents, subsidiaries and joint-venture exercises on the price of the GM seed eroding the rights of the poor farmers to other alternatives.

Kevin Roussel, an anti-GMO campaigner of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said new genetically engineered seed known as "suicide" or "terminator" seeds which were engineered to be sterile forced poor farmers to repurchase seed each year from the multinationals who have patented these 'genetic use restriction technologies."

These GM seeds, he said, included "junkie plants" that were dependent on chemicals sold by multinationals to flower, seed or sprout.

He said all farmers using GM crops in South Africa had to sign contracts with Monsanto, a giant GMO corporation, where they agree not to share their seed, only use Monsanto chemicals, buy new seed the following year and agree to set aside 25 percent of their land as a "refuge" area to control diseases.

Participants felt that GM seed would increase the dependency and indebtedness of smallholder farmers to multinationals eroding the communal rights, which entitled them to traditional crop varieties, which they would share freely without added costs.

The multinational giants include Monsanto, Aventis, DuPont and Syngenta (a merger of Astra Zeneca and Novartis) which dominate the global agro-chemical business as well as genetic engineering technologies.

It is estimated that between them, they account for nearly two-thirds of the $31 billion global pesticide market, one quarter of the $30 billion commercial seed market and virtually the entire GM seed market.

To push for further global control, these "Gene Giants" are merging with the $300 billion pharmaceutical industry as plants are being used to produce penicillin and insulin amongst other chemical and bacterial agents.

The major actors in the GMO debate are the United States, which supports it, and the European Union, which has largely opposed the wholesale spread of the GMOs.

The US has tightened its law on GMOs but surprisingly still continues to encourage use of the technology throughout the world.

"Both these blocs have tried to dictate their positions on other countries in the absence of either side being able to convince the other," said Roussel.

Resource poor farmers will never be able to afford technology fees and the chemicals to grow the GM seeds.

Experts say about 1,4 billion people depend on saved seed for their survival.

Worldwide hectarage of GM crops grew from 1,7 million in 1996 to an estimated 60,7 million in 2002, showing the strength of the growing influence of transnational corporations.

Roussel and Mushita said genetic engineering in its present form and thrust cannot form part of the solution to the food crisis in Africa.

They said it merely worsens the problem and reduced smallholder farmers to beggars and highly indebted people. They said it took away the communal farmers' right to be able to save, sell and exchange seed freely.

Muyatwa Sitali of Zambia said there was need to mobilise mass campaigns to educate the poor rural farmers about the perceived dangers of GMOs to human health and the environment.

"After analysing the issues at stake we realised that there was need to blow the whistle," he said. "Are we going to refuse forever? Are we not going to see any benefits coming with it? We have to educate rural farmers about the risks and challenges that GMOs pose."

Other experts say there is enough food for everyone but the main problem is the inequitable distribution process.

"Food aid comes as a result of the myth of hunger. Hunger in Africa is unevenly distributed and I must say that this is a result of inequitable economic systems which deny the poor access to food and land, not merely inadequate supplies of food," Raymond Bokor, an agro- ecologist wrote in a paper in 2003.

Most of the concerns which were raised by participants at Silveira House centred on the monopoly by multinationals, the need to buy GM seed for every new planting season to maintain high yield levels, dependency on new generation GM seeds, rising input costs and declining profits for smallholder farmers.

Of major concern was the possible loss of the existing robust crop varieties and technologies that may reduce diversity, flexibility and resilience in farming systems that could expose many to famine.

Additional concerns at the conference included the issue of the ongoing globalisation and liberalisation of markets changes in agricultural systems and how these were impacting on rural societies.

The US government, through the World Food Programme, has donated a lot of GMO food items to some food insecure African countries as food aid with no option for the recipients or governments to make any choices.

Mushita said the US must give such African countries other options like cash to buy alternative non-GM food the way the European Union was doing in some cases.

In 2000, Algeria banned the importation, distribution, commercialisation and cultivation of GM foods and raw materials. Egypt followed suit and banned the import of GM wheat and canned tuna packed in genetically modified soybean oil.

Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Angola have rejected GMO maize offered through the WFP as food aid, raising concern over the way hunger was being used to impose GM crops and food on developing countries.

The Zimbabwe Biosafety Board screens food aid before it comes in to safeguard the health of the people as well as protect the environment.

All GMO grain food aid is milled outside the country in periods of distress and the country has enacted laws to manage and control GMOs and biotechnological research.

Other countries in the region are in the process of enacting laws to govern and control GMOs.

South Africa has embraced genetic engineering and is now producing GM maize, milk, cotton, canola, wheat, apples, potatoes, sugar cane and soy products.

Critics say most South Africans are not aware that they are consuming GM foodstuffs due to lack of information, labelling and the monopolistic influences of the multinationals when it comes to media advertising, lobbying government and the funding of stooge NGOs which support the proliferation of GMOs for profit.

"Cross contamination in the region is also a possibility. With terminator seed technology this could be devastating for farmers," said Roussel. "The region could lose centuries of practice which will be a major loss of indigenous knowledge systems. We should be wary of making the same mistakes that formed in the Green Revolution."

Experts fear that genetic engineering in agriculture is likely to have adverse environmental impacts that may affect the ecological basis of food production. They say GM crops will stimulate the growth of "superweeds" and "superbugs" leading to the use of higher doses of chemicals making food supplies more vulnerable to pest damage.

Adoption of GM crops may lead to reduced genetic diversity resulting in fewer and fewer types of food crops. This, in turn, may increase the likelihood of pest and disease epidemics.

Mushita said there are great scientific uncertainties regarding the safety of GMOs and their potential risks to the environment, health, food and animal safety.

This, he said, calls for the precautionary principle in regulating international trade in living modified organisms.

The other ethical concern, he said, was that most developing countries had no biosafety regulations but were under pressure from GMO exporting countries to implement weak biosafety regulations and to accept GMOs through food aid.

"This calls for the region to develop collective regional policies on food aid that address the array of potential risks in all facets of the technology," Mushita said.

The food crisis in Africa is a result of droughts, floods, limited access to credit, poor infrastructure, unfavourable agricultural policies, trade policies that disadvantage poor farmers, lack of inputs, inappropriate technologies and lack of information and unsustainable farming practices.

There are 300 million people in Africa who are hungry and in many cases this is due to inequitable distribution of food.

Africa must be in the driving seat when it comes to introducing new technologies that aim to boost food security and reduce poverty.

All indicators from the Silveira House conference point to the need to strengthen the anti-GMO movements, regional and global network for information sharing to break the power of multinational firms and research institutions on the continent.

In light of the controversy and public concern over GMOs, Bokor concludes: "It is imperative that an immediate freeze on genetic engineering on food and farming is declared throughout Africa until we have assessed and understood all the implications for consumers, farmers and the environment."

Copyright 2006


From: BE SAFE ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 25, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The BE SAFE Campaign for Precaution has just put some valuable new resources and publications on its web site.]

By Anne Rabe

The BE SAFE web site now offers several new resources stemming from the First National Conference on the Precautionary Principle in Baltimore in June, which brought together over 300 people and affirmed that precaution is a powerful unifying force that is changing the way policy is made in the U.S.

Here are links to obtain: Conference Proceedings, NEW Resource Guide on Precaution, Platforms on Precaution, and a summary of ideas for future precautionary organizing.

Go to www.besafenet.com for the following resources.

1. Conference Proceedings -- Learn from over 50 great speakers about cutting-edge precautionary policies, programs, tactics and strategies! View their power point presentations, speeches and educational handouts, as well as summaries of strategy sessions.

2. Resource Guide on Precaution -- Download this valuable NEW guide which includes websites, bibliography (by issue) of key articles, reports and books on precaution plus media, organizing and fundraising resources.

3. Platforms & Statements on Precaution -- Download this nice summary which includes the 1998 Wingspread Statement, 2001 Icicle Creek Statement on Ecosystems, Lowell Statement on Science & Precaution, 2002 Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow Plan, 2003 BE SAFE Platform and 2005 Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals.

4. Pioneer of Precaution Awards -- View the list of wonderful leaders and groups that received awards at the conference.

5. Precautionary Organizing -- Get a Summary of Ideas from the conference's "Building a Precautionary World" sessions, on the following subjects: 1) Build a Bigger Tent; 2) Create a Common Vision; 3) Organize Day of Actions, Regional Meetings & More; 4) Take Political Action; and 5) Develop More Effective Communication & Messaging.

Contact me if you are interested in working on any of these initiatives at anne@besafenet.com or 518-732-4538.

The conference was the 1st national conversation across issue movements dedicated to precautionary action and it marks the beginning of an expanded network with opportunities for collaboration and information-sharing. If you have any questions or would like more information, please let me know. I look forward to working with you to build a precautionary world.

Anne Rabe, Coordinator BE SAFE Campaign for Precaution Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) annerabe@msn.com 518-732-4538 1265 Maple Hill Rd., Castleton, NY 12033


From: Japan Times .........................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 26, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In Japan, the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship resonates with people who want to protect the commons.]

By Stephen Hesse

These days we can be forgiven for wondering if Homo sapiens have gone completely mad. From just a glance at the headlines, it is easy to conclude that humans are hellbent on destroying themselves and their environment, with little concern for which goes first.

The missiles being heaved across national borders in northeast Asia and the Middle East are the most egregious examples. Less obvious, but every bit as destructive, is our steady degradation of the planet's atmosphere, fresh water and oceans, also known as "the commons."

The key challenge facing these commons, and inevitably all of us who depend on them, is whether humans can learn to see beyond immediate, personal gain and act to preserve the global environment for the sake of our children's children, and beyond. The alternative really isn't an alternative at all. It's simply survival -- or not.

As idealistic as such environmental altruism may sound, it is not totally alien to human societies. The Haudenosaunee people who inhabited North America hundreds of years ago, also known as the Iroquois, are famous for having embraced a philosophy that placed priority on future generations.

Their credo, known as the Seventh Generation Principle, states: "The first mandate... is to ensure that our decision-making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come."

Recently, this indigenous wisdom has been woven together with contemporary notions of environmental management, specifically the Precautionary Principle, in an indigenous people's declaration known as the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship. The statement was released on July 6 in Bemidji, Minnesota, at a conference convened by the Indigenous Environmental Network.

However averse we may be to learning from those cultures that we have ransacked in the past, there is much we can discover from their eons of living in dependence on, and harmony with, the earth.

Today we face what has been called "the tragedy of the commons" -- the conflict for natural resources that pits individuals' interests against those of the common good.

According to Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, this term originally comes from a book on population written by William Forster Lloyd in 1833. More recently, the term was popularized by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 Science magazine piece titled "The Tragedy of the Commons."

Various critics have challenged Hardin's claims and assumptions, and Hardin admits that he should have called his essay, "The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons." Nevertheless, Hardin's commons help illustrate why human societies continue to degrade their air, water and oceans despite the rising costs to health and human welfare that we all inevitably shoulder.

Hardin uses the hypothetical example of animal herders sharing a field. Each herder wants to maximize his own yield and, therefore, will naturally try to increase the size of his herd. With each new animal added to the pasture, there are both costs and benefits: On the positive side, the herder benefits from the proceeds of each extra animal, while on the negative side, each animal contributes to further degradation of the field.

The key here is that "the division of these components is unequal: the individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is shared between all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an individual herder weighing up these utilities, the rational course of action is to add an extra animal. And then add another, and another. However, since all herders reach the same conclusion, overgrazing and degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate," explains Wikipedia.

In today's world, Hardin's herder represents each of us, each farmer, fisher, politician and corporate CEO who seeks immediate gain at the expense of the greater community, whether it be through abuse of pesticides, overfishing, unnecessary pork-barrel projects or exploitation of workers and natural resources.

Some examples of the "potential and actual tragedies" of the modern commons include, according to Wikipedia, uncontrolled human population growth leading to overpopulation of the planet; pollution of the atmosphere; pollution and wasting of fresh water; soil contamination; logging of old-growth forests; overfishing of the oceans; and species extinction.

More novel examples are littering of public lands, traffic jams, and excessive advertising -- certainly each of us can identify with the time and energy we waste picking spam from between our e-mails. Not a tragedy, of course, but most definitely a waste of individual minutes that, when multiplied, costs society countless millions of hours each year.

No doubt the Iroquois would have some thoughts on how to conserve the time and energy we waste hunched over our computers. However, for the authors of the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship, conserving nature is the only priority.

"The Statement is written with the intent of being able to adopt it at all levels of our society. It is also written to change the way we think about our future.... It is intended for individuals or small groups of individuals to take guardianship responsibility for one piece of the web of life and protect or restore that one piece for this and future generations," reads an introduction to the statement provided by the Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network.

Some readers will find the statement too "green," even quaint, but where it touches on the principle of precaution, it is advocating an approach that is on the cutting edge of environmental policy being made today.

Calling for caution, the Bemidji Statement notes that "scientific uncertainty has been misused to carry out economic, cultural and political exploitation of the land and resources. Failure to recognize the complexity of these relationships will further impair the future health of our people and function of the environment."

Similarly, one definition of the Precautionary Principle -- as contained in the Wingspread Statement drafted in 1998 at a conference of scientists and policymakers in Wisconsin -- states, "We believe existing environmental regulations and other decisions, particularly those based on risk assessment, have failed to protect adequately human health and the environment -- the larger system of which humans are but a part.... Therefore, it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof."

Even more to the point are three distilled elements of the principle offered by Peter Montague, Editor of Rachel's Precaution Reporter, a U.S.-based Precautionary Principle advocacy organization: "When we have a reasonable suspicion of harm, and scientific uncertainty about cause and effect, then we have a duty to take action to prevent harm."

In short, as Earth's human population climbs past 6.4 billion, our degradation of the commons -- our air, water and oceans -- is increasing exponentially; local, regional and global environmental management based on the Precautionary Principle offers a simple and coherent paradigm for ensuring that our own seventh generation has its day in the sun.

As for readers who may think all this precautionary talk is just New Age babble, it is worth noting that abuse of the commons has been on the minds of great thinkers for centuries.

More than 2,300 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote: "For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual."

Words to ponder seriously, especially in light of what became of Ancient Greece, and so many other human societies.

For some more information on The Bemidji Statement, visit: www.ienearth.org

For more on the Precautionary Principle, see: www.precaution.org

Stephen Hesse welcomes readers' questions and comments at: stevehesse@hotmail.com

Copyright 2006 The Japan Times


From: Bioneers ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 18, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: A Bioneers interview with Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health Network.]

By Kim Ridley

Today, a growing number of communities, school districts, health care organizations, and other entities are applying the precautionary principle to protect the health of people and the environment. San Francisco passed a Precautionary Principle Ordinance in 2003, and many other cities and towns are incorporating precaution into their laws and policies. Schools are using the precautionary principle to find safer alternatives to toxic pesticides. Hospitals are using it to replace supplies containing PVC with healthier options.

It's an idea whose time has clearly come: The First National Conference on Precaution took place in June in Baltimore, Maryland. The applications of this tool are virtually limitless, says Raffensperger, co-editor of Precautionary Tools for Reshaping Environmental Policy and Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle. She spoke with Bioneers editor-at-large Kim Ridley about the evolution of this new- old paradigm, and its potential to catalyze life-sustaining change.

Kim Ridley: The precautionary principle is rooted in very old ideas. Can you talk about its re-emergence and its particular relevance for today?

Carolyn Raffensperger: It comes from a German word that means forecaring. It's the grandmother principle -- better safe than sorry, an ounce of prevention, a stitch in time. We also have archetypes and stories that are precautionary, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, which warns that our technology and arrogance can harm us. An ethical strand comes from the ancient Hippocratic Oath of "do no harm" to prevent suffering. It is out of this wellspring of archetypes and wisdom that the precautionary principle has taken root and bloomed.

As we define it today, the precautionary principle has three core elements: the threat of harm, uncertainty, and precautionary action. I think the big surprise of the precautionary principle is the paradox of action. Taking a precautionary approach doesn't mean stopping everything or not doing anything or blocking progress. It means looking for alternatives, using democracy, and reversing the burden of proof from those who have been harmed to those who pollute.

The precautionary principle is part of a larger set of ideas that aim to prevent problems in the first place. It encourages us to use our imaginations and all of our technological and intellectual power to create a lustrous and beautiful future for generations to come.

KR: Where are some of the places you're seeing the precautionary principle being used most effectively?

CR: Communities like Denton, Texas, are applying the precautionary principle to find safer alternatives to harmful pesticides in parks, which is a key way to reduce chemical exposure for children and pets. Many school districts are applying it in similar ways. They are switching to safer alternatives to pesticides and cleaners containing toxic materials. Schools around the country are looking for alternatives to sugary, fatty processed foods in vending machines and lunches. The school district in Emeryville, California, is applying the precautionary principle to all of its activities from the curriculum to school buildings to food to energy.

Some large businesses are also adopting the principle. Kaiser Permanente recognized the cognitive dissonance of causing illnesses through practices that were supposed to be healing. For instance, they are trying to find alternatives to toxic chemicals used in hospitals. Even more interesting is their application of precaution to food in hospitals. Hospitals routinely serve meat and eggs from animals that were raised using antibiotics. This increases the chance that the hospital will foster antibiotic-resistant diseases. By applying the precautionary principle and serving food that was raised without antibiotics, the health care system protects its medicines and decreases the chance of serious illness caused by the very food that should be healing and nourishing.

On an even larger scale, the city and county of San Francisco has consolidated all of its environmental ordinances under the large umbrella of the precautionary principle. One facet of the precautionary principle that has emerged through the experience of San Francisco and other jurisdictions is that the precautionary principle isn't what lawyers call "self-executing." A law that is self-executing tells you what should happen and how it should get carried out. So to express the ideals contained in the precautionary principle ordinance, San Francisco has passed a couple of other ordinances. The first law passed to carry out the principle was a purchasing policy ordinance that mandated that San Francisco would purchase the most environmentally sound alternatives.

KR: How does one initiate this idea in one's own back yard?

CR: Most people start with what they love -- or what they fear will happen to what they love. The next step is setting some community goals. For example, here in my state the Iowa Environmental Council set goals for everything from clean water to the number of raptors that would nest here. You can set goals for reducing the asthma rate or increasing the monarch butterflies or pollinators in your community, or whatever problem worries you. Then you can start looking for alternatives to the things that are barriers to achieving your goal.

KR: What role does imagination play in the search for safer alternatives?

CR: The precautionary principle is future-oriented, so we get to apply our imaginations to the kind of world we want to live in. If we can imagine a world where children are born free of toxic chemicals in their bodies -- that's real liberty, by the way -- or a world where we can prevent breast cancer, we can begin to move toward that goal. We can ask ourselves, what are the next three steps we need to take?Although the precautionary principle is defined by scientific uncertainty, the outcome doesn't have to be more decimal points. Sure, we can get more data, we can proceed with science and safer technologies, but just as important, we can choose the most beautiful solution. We've been given a biological radar for beauty, which is part of imagination.

KR: What other kinds of problems can the precautionary principle address?

CR: It can apply to everything from new technology to social issues. Right now, we're in dialogue with people working on poverty. We believe that ending poverty is actually an environmental issue. The work that led up to the 1992 Rio Declaration, which was the first clear international expression of the precautionary principle, said that poverty was both a cause and effect of environmental degradation. Excessive wealth amassed by rape and plunder of the earth also is a cause and effect of environmental degradation.

Another set of economic ideas growing out of the precautionary principle is redefining wealth to specify the common wealth and the common health. In this new definition, the commons is the essential basis of the economy, not just capital. In other words, if you can't breathe the air or drink the water, all of the money you've got in the bank doesn't matter one whit. When you make decisions based on the common wealth, the state or government becomes a trustee to manage resources -- the commons -- for this and future generations. And guess what, if government is to serve as a good and wise trustee of the commons for future generations, it has to use the precautionary principle.

KR: Is such a shift possible in the current political climate?

CR: What we've got now are institutions that are really designed to allow pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, is set up to permit pollution. I think that our next task is to begin designing how we want to live together and govern ourselves in a world where we have seen the consequences of our damage. What if we had governmental institutions that were designed to protect future generations?

A number of tribes have been working on something called the Seventh Generation Amendment, which my friend Tom Goldtooth says is the precautionary principle. What's really exciting is that we don't have one constitution in the U.S. we actually have fifty-one because every state has a constitution. In addition, we also have more than six hundred federally recognized tribes, most of whom have their own constitution. So what if all these states and tribes adopted essentially a Seventh Generation Amendment in their constitutions?

When you build in the Seventh Generation idea, you've defined the government's responsibility to serve as a trustee, and you have an absolute requirement for the precautionary principle. Imagine if a state like Minnesota said, "We're going to take that so seriously that we're going to have a guardian for the Seventh Generation make a decision about every piece of legislation."

KR: Are there any existing models?

CR: The Florida Constitution requires polluters to pay for damaging the Everglades, a common. Reversing the burden of proof is built into the Florida Constitution. Voters in Florida recognized that the sugar industry was polluting the Everglades, especially Lake Okeechobee. They decided that rather than have the taxpayers pay for clean up, the polluter should be responsible. Reversing the burden of proof means we stop giving the benefit of the doubt to the economy. We give it to public health and the environment. Requiring the polluter to pay for damage is a way of keeping the burden of proof and responsibility on the shoulders of the polluter.

The Hawaii Constitution says that the state is the trustee of the natural resources, and the Hawaiian Supreme Court says you have to use the precautionary principle to carry out that function. In a case where water was being used up by golf courses and big agriculture, the court followed this rule to protect water for and restore water to small farmers and indigenous people. Governments around the world are trying similar ideas. Israel, for example, has a commissioner for future generations.

KR: What are some of the biggest challenges to implementing the precautionary principle?

CR: The chief barrier is the assumption that we have to grow the economy, which means the earth is going to have to keep giving up out of her guts and lungs and kidneys to feed this monster of growth.

The challenge is knowing how to implement the precautionary principle when you're facing something like a factory hog farm in your community. This moves the precautionary principle out of the realm of "nice, abstract idea" into the realm of fierce and wise ideas. We've found that things like reversing the burden of proof from the local community to the factory hog farm owner helps protect the air and the water because if you don't, the factory hog farm is going to take every opportunity to make the earth and surrounding human community pay the costs of damage so it can make a profit. So you can say to the factory farm, "you have to put up an assurance bond that you won't pollute. If you release antibiotic- resistant bacteria downstream or foul the air beyond a certain limit, we're going to revoke your bond, you're going to lose it." You really have to give the precautionary principle some teeth. This is a ferocious defense system that lets you say to polluters "We're not just going to let you rape and pillage and all be nice about it. We're going to stand up for what we love."

KR: What about those who say it's already too late?

CR: We are on the brink of disaster. Kids often come to me and say, "There's not going to be anything left of the planet when I get old enough and educated enough to try and protect the rainforest or whales or tall grass prairie." What I tell them is, "We don't know if we're going to succeed, but it's worthy work."

As Camus wrote, we have to be "dazzling realists." Is it hard? Yes, it's impossible. Are we up to it? Maybe. We're what we've got. We need all of the imagination of the younger generation, and all of the ideas of my generation and my grandparents' generation.

KR: How does spirit inform the precautionary principle?

CR: Love is at the heart of so much of this work, and it's not a word used in politics very much. Van Jones calls the larger social justice movement a "reverence movement." Terry Tempest Williams has described the precautionary principle as "restraint in the name of reverence." The sense of sacredness and of this great responsibility to prevent suffering is really at the core of what we're doing.


Carolyn Raffensperger is an environmental lawyer and executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, the leading U.S. proponent of the precautionary principle as a new basis for environmental and public health policy. The principle states: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."

Copyright 2006 by Collective Heritage Institute


From: MercatorNet ........................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: It may sound loopy, but a group of people calling themselves 'transhumanists' seeks to replace humans with an artificial form of life. The group is aggressively opposing the precautionary principle, hoping to substitute their own 'proactionary principle.' We dismiss them at our peril.]

By Jerry Salyer

"Throw caution to the winds" is the motto of a technology-infatuated group which wants to improve the human race.

Transhumanism has changed considerably since the word was first coined by British scientist Julian Huxley in 1957. Huxley, an ardent humanitarian, described the concept as a methodology by which eugenics and social conditioning could improve the human race. His heirs today are considerably more ambitious.

In broad terms, transhumanism advocates replacing the human race with an artificial life form using artificial intelligence (AI), cybernetics, genetic engineering, advanced pharmaceuticals, and nanotechnology. It contends that man is destined for metamorphosis into a superior life form with an unlimited lifespan, better memory, faster computing power, and freedom from the bounds of traditional thought.

For over a decade the Extropy Institute has been one of the foundation stones of the transhumanism. ("Extropy" is the opposite of entropy, the thermodynamic principle of decay.) In keeping with transhumanism's commitment to endless flux, the Extropy Institute has now metamorphosed, and its members have signed on to a manifesto which they describe as the "proactionary principle".

The proactionary principle is intended as a replacement for the precautionary principle of bioethics. The precautionary principle advises restraint; the proactionary principle encourages the aggressive pursuit of technological change. The spiritual, psychological, and environmental dangers of ramping up the pace of change, according to transhumanists, are best met by moving faster.

The Extropy Institute supports its views with a potted history of human progress:

"Throughout history, the advancement of science has always been met with superstition and fear. For every improvement to the human condition, there have always been those who thought it would be better for things to remain in their former condition. This led to the long Dark Ages, where no progress occurred at all. The Renaissance and Enlightenment finally broke us free from that grim era."

But clouds, principally from the Christian right and other "conservative" interests around the world, threaten to block the sunshine shed by the Enlightenment:

"Transhumanists were born into an enlightened world where perpetual progress based on science and creativity seemed inevitable. However, recent years have seen a backlash against advancement toward extending health, enhancing intelligence, understanding emotions, and the ever- increasing control we now can take over our own destinies. We face now an unprecedented battle for the future of humanity."

In its discussion of human sexuality, the proactionary principle takes mainstream attitudes on the topic toward their logical conclusion:

"The new sexual landscapes will bring about different types of sexuality, different types of genders. In the future, we may still want to perform the traditional types of sex, or we may want to participate in the reconstituted and reconfigured gender roles and sexuality that will radically change us. We may do away with our bodily nerves, but keep some sensations, the ones for pleasure or perhaps some for pain to remind us not to do something. Yet, eventually we will begin to shuttle more and more parts of ourselves as we become post-biological."

Before one dismisses the proactionary principle as the invention of kooks who have seen too much Star Trek, it should be considered that many transhumanists are very prominent indeed. MIT artificial intelligence researcher Marvin Minsky is a leader of the movement, as is former USC philosophy professor Max More. Minsky has written many works of fiction and nonfiction which depict the supplanting of human beings by robots as both inevitable and desireable. More has spread the message via high-profile interviews and appearances on cable networks such as The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and CNN's Futurewatch.

Other are Bart Kosko, of the University of Southern California, Gregory Stock, of UCLA; Jose Cordeiro, a Venezuelan academic and columnist for the newspaper El Universal). Peter Thiel, former CEO of Paypal, offers business advice. Affiliates include groups such as the Friends of the United Nations, and UNICEF-Africa.

Another group, the World Transhumanist Association, is a close ally. Its executive director, James Hughes, is professor of Health Policy at Trinity College. Hughes is attracted to the political ramifications of changing human nature, as evinced by his recent book Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. In one unintentionally ironic essay, Hughes promises a fix for the political disasters that ensue from demagogues' exploitation of human hopes and fears: "The cure for demagoguery will be a spam filter on our cerebellum."

The proactionary principle is largely a response to heightened public awareness about the moral and spiritual dangers of technology; the transhumanists understand that their goals require a public relations campaign to counter the forces of darkness, whom they describe as the "neo-luddites". A new magazine, The New Atlantis, a journal of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC, is one of the leading organs for neo-luddite thinking and contains refreshing analyses of the origins of transhumanism. In a recent issue Dusquene University political science professor Charles Rubin cogently argues that transhumanism is basically a fantasy of egocentric libertarians:

"It starts with something that sounds so sensible: who would not want a longer, healthier, happier life? The modern world has long been committed to this goal. But then we're off to the enhancement races. If you don't want an implant that allows you to feel the feelings of your sexual partner, or that gives you a direct feed to your brain of whatever the Internet will become, or if you don't want to design children with a genetic leg up in the world, fine -- nobody is going to make you. But don't try to tell me that if I do want it, I can't have it... And...if you choose to remain a 'Natural,' don't expect much consideration from the ranks of the 'Enhanced.'"

The transhumanists' quest to "make a better man for a better tomorrow" may sound loopy. But it is a potent and exhilarating drug of the spirit for many intelligent but technology-infatuated people. You can expect to hear more from them in the future.

Jerry Salyer writes from Annapolis, Maryland.

Copyright 2006 MercatorNet


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


To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Precaution Reporter send a blank Email to one of these addresses:

Full HTML edition: join-rpr-html@gselist.org
Table of Contents edition: join-rpr-toc@gselist.org


Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160
New Brunswick, N.J. 08901