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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #90

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2007..............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Table of Contents...

Global Warming -- a Burning Issue for the Churches
  "The Precautionary Principle and the Preferential Option for the
  Poor are enshrined in Catholic Social Teaching as important moral
  values, which are relevant for the climate change issue where the
  impacts are falling disproportionately on the world's poorest people
  and countries."
Breast Cancer, Common Chemicals and Cause: Better Safe Than Sorry
  "When clear evidence of animal harm exists, and the risk of
  removing a chemical from human products is minimal -- has a PBDE ban
  sent Sweden up in flames? -- then the precautionary principle ought to
  win. Except where they're absolutely necessary, get these chemicals
  out of our lives."
In New Zealand, the Maori Clash with Government Over Precaution
  In New Zealand, the Maori fisheries trust (Te Ohu Kaimoana) says
  the precautionary principle is being used to limit Maori fishing
  rights.
Court Adopts Precaution to Stop Tuna Farm in Costa Rica
  A court in Costa Rica has accepted precautionary arguments and has
  required a temporary halt to construction of a fish farm, pending a
  study of the impacts of fish wastes on local waters.
Nurses Say Ontario Must Act on Dangerous Toxins and Chemicals
  The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, Canada, is urging
  government to seek guidance from the European Union, "which is leading
  the way with a precautionary principle when it comes to industrial
  substances and their impact on the environment and people's health."
Against the Grain
  When writers attack the precautionary principle, they follow a
  consistent pattern: they distort the principle, then they attack their
  own distortion. This writer is no different. He says, the
  precautionary principle "requires that a scientific advance can only
  occur if there is certainty that there will be no negative
  consequences." Precaution does not require "certainty" about anything
  in the future because nothing that lies in the future can be known
  with certainty.

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From: ICN -- Independent Catholic News (London, UK), May 11, 2007
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GLOBAL WARMING -- A BURNING ISSUE FOR THE CHURCHES

[The following is taken from a presentation Ellen Teague gave to Our
Lady Help of Christians parish in Kentish town, North London, last
night (10 May 2007). She is a Catholic journalist and a member of the
Columban Faith and Justice Team.]

When my husband and I worked in Kaduna, a city Northern Nigeria, in
1981, as lay missionaries, one of our best friends was Baba Kofi. This
elderly man used to tell us that when he first moved to the small
settlement of Kaduna in the 1930s it was surrounded by jungle. By day,
the community took food and fuel in abundance from the forest. By
night, they would listen to hyenas howling and burn fires from wood
gathered just a few feet away. We could hardly believe it. We looked
around us at a semi-desert landscape with few trees, and shanty towns
springing up everywhere blighted by scarce water. How the environment
around Kaduna had changed in one lifetime! The long-time missionaries
in the area confirmed that the Sahara desert was encroaching into
Nigeria at a rate of around two miles a year.

Listening to Baba Kofi was my first exposure to the links between
environment and development. Then, for much of the 1980s, I worked for
CAFOD, particularly on its education campaign, Renewing the Earth.
There were clearly links between the 1984 famine in Ethiopia and the
loss of its forest cover over the previous six decades. A barren,
dusty landscape combined with drought, conflict, unfair trade terms,
unpayable debt meant that millions of people were reduced to
dependency on handouts. In Latin America and Asia too, it was clear
that poverty was worsening amidst a model of development that was
largely unsustainable. Yet, while the churches were addressing
poverty, the destruction of the natural world, upon which ALL human
society depends, was almost completely ignored. That is except for the
foundation of the ecumenical Christian Ecology Link 25 years ago this
year.

Weather warning

Yet, in the 1990s many were suddenly sensitized when the number of so-
called natural disasters increased dramatically. From Hurricane Mitch,
which devastated Central America in 1998, to the massive flooding
which overwhelmed Mozambique in 2000, it was clear that the benefit of
years of development programmes could be wiped out overnight by severe
weather. Climate Change was identified as a key reason by the first
report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change in 1997. For
the first time, scientists were in broad agreement that it was indeed
happening -- the stability of the world's climate couldn't be presumed
anymore. Average global temperature had risen by at least 0.7 degrees
and the increase was linked to human activity -- specifically, the
massive increases in carbon dioxide being churned out into the
delicate atmospheric mantle that covers the planet.

Why is global warming so disastrous for poor countries? The impacts on
them are worse because many of them are already more flood and drought
prone, and a large share of the economy is in climate sensitive
sectors such as agriculture. They have a lower capacity to adapt
because of a lack of financial, institutional and technological
capacity and access to knowledge. Then, climate change is likely to
impact disproportionately upon the poorest people within countries,
exacerbating inequities in health status and access to adequate food,
clean water and other resources. Just imagine the impact the loss of
glaciers worldwide due to global warming. Lima is among those cities
of the south -- packed with shantytowns -- which relies on glacial
melt for its water supply.

Catholic response

Pope John Paul II gave a lead in alerting the Catholic Church to
environmental concerns with his World Peace Day message of 1 January
1990, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation. In it,
he said that Christians should "realise that their responsibility
within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an
essential part of their faith". Global warming is mentioned in the
Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. No. 470 of
the Compendium suggests that the relationship between human activity
and climate change must be constantly monitored for the sake of the
common good. "The climate is a good that must be protected" it says,
reminding consumers and those engaged in industrial activity to
develop a greater sense of responsibility for their behaviour. The
Precautionary Principle and the Preferential Option for the Poor are
enshrined in Catholic Social Teaching as important moral values, which
are relevant for the climate change issue where the impacts are
falling disproportionately on the world's poorest people and
countries.

The US Catholic Bishops' Conference issued a statement in 2001:
'Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common
Good' in which they stated that the level of scientific consensus on
global warming obligated taking action to avert potential dangers.
"Since our country's involvement is key to any resolution of these
concerns," it said, "we call on our people and government to recognise
the seriousness of the global warming threat and to develop effective
policies that will diminish the possible consequences of global
climate change". The Bush administration was urged to undertake
initiatives for energy conservation and the development of renewable
energy. US citizens were asked to reflect on their lifestyles as
"voracious consumers" and consider living more simply.

In September 2006, New Zealand's Catholics were urged to adopt simpler
lifestyles by the country's bishops who identified climate change as
"one of the most urgent threats" facing Pacific peoples. Rising
temperatures and sea levels, and the greater intensity of storms and
natural disasters, they said, are already affecting the food and water
supply for people on low-lying islands. They warned that the Pacific
region could have a million environmental refugees before the end of
this century. The bishops asked Catholics to use less energy, buy
locally produced goods which require less transportation, and reduce
their car use to bring down carbon emissions. In 2002, the Australian
Catholic bishops took a lead in the Catholic world and set up a new
agency to focus specifically on environmental issues. Named Catholic
Earthcare Australia, its two most recent conferences in Perth and
Melbourne during October 2006 focused on climate change.

Throughout Africa, emergencies distract bishops' conferences from
longer term issues such as climate change. This was summed by
Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo in 2005 when he reported in the
publication, Up in Smoke -- Africa, that people over 50 years of age
have noticed that there is much less rain in Matabeleland than there
was 30 years ago, but "we have so many immediate crises in our country
that the random chopping of trees for fuel and the diminishing
wildlife are not really being addressed".

The Bishops of the Philippines said back in the 1988 that "the assault
on creation is sinful and contrary to the teachings of our faith".
During 2001, the Catholic Bishops of Northern Mexico criticising
lumber companies for having "no vision of the future" and "placing
economic incentives before all else". In 2005 a Brazilian Catholic
bishop succeeded in stalling a huge irrigation project for Brazil's
impoverished North-east by staging a hunger strike. Bishop Luiz Flavio
Cappio felt the project would exacerbate problems the area is already
experiencing due to climate change.

Global warming features prominently in the Environmental Justice
section of Caritas Internationalis' 2005 Report. "Climate change will
impact food security -- through diminished agricultural productivity
and fishing -- and could hasten the spread of waterborne diseases and
accelerate desertification" it says. The report suggests that climate
change will increase the vulnerability of women to poverty. Caritas
Oceania was mandated to take the issue of environmental justice
forward, and it will be a major topic of study at the 2007 Caritas
Internationalis General Assembly.

Action in the UK

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is, through its membership of
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, signed up to the Operation
Noah, a campaign by Christian churches to curb human-induced climate
change. Participants are invited to sign a 'Climate Covenant'
promising to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraged to
put pressure on the UK government and world leaders to do the same.
Churches are urged to sign up to green electricity, deriving from
renewable energy sources.

This year, as Christian Ecology link celebrates its 25th birthday, it
is important to acknowledge the key role it has played in raising
awareness about these issues, especially through its excellent website
(www.christian-ecology.org.uk). It has promoted Eco-Congregation and
Eco-Schools which start groups of with environmental audits and offer
plenty of positive ideas. Its LOAF principles -- urging people to buy
food that is Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and
Fairly traded -- have been taken up by members of the National Justice
and Peace Network. CAFOD, along with Progressio and Columban Faith and
Justice, is now part of the Working Group on Climate Change and
Development which has signed up to the Up in Smoke series of reports,
available on the web. Key recommendations include rich countries
cutting their greenhouse gas emissions and more support for community-
based coping strategies and disaster risk reduction. CAFOD is now in
the process of developing a Climate Change campaign and this is to be
welcomed. This year's Live Simply initiative is already playing its
part in sensitising people to how they use the natural world.

The Future

A number of Catholic theologians -- particularly those with a
creation- centred mission -- have been addressing climate change for
some years. Thomas Berry, Ed Echlin, and Sean McDonagh are amongst
them. In his new book on Climate Change and the Churches, Fr Sean
McDonagh complains that almost all Catholic Social Teaching overlooks
the fact that life-giving human social relations are always embedded
in vibrant and sustainable ecosystems. Anything that negatively
impacts ecosystems or alters the equilibrium of the biosphere, such as
global warming, is a disruption of the common good in a most
fundamental way -- especially if it creates negative irreversible
changes. The work of these theologians should be better known and
promoted, especially in seminaries.

Prophetic clergy in the South include Fr Jose Andres Tamayo, a
Honduran priest who campaigns against deforestation which is
contributing to a warming in his region. "Although Honduras makes a
minimal contribution towards climate change, our poor communities are
being impoverished by it" he told a G8 Climate Change meeting in
Edinburgh in July 2005. Average temperatures in the Southern area of
Honduras have increased by between 1.5 and 2.00 degrees over recent
decades and areas which had a mild climate have now become
desertified, with streams drying up. Fr Tamayo is the pioneering
leader of the Environmental Movement of Olancho, a coalition of small-
scale farmers and community leaders calling for a ten-year moratorium
on logging. Twenty-five percent of the greenhouse has emissions from
Honduras are from the burning of rainforests. His crucial work has led
to tensions with local authorities -- both secular and Church -- but
his prophetic stance is recognised internationally.

The National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales and the
National Board of Catholic Women are amongst those groups within the
Church moving into new areas of work to address climate change. This
will mean taking on board the concept of inter-generational justice
and moving beyond anthropocentrism. It will also mean questioning what
true sustainable development really is, and valuing God's creation in
its totality. In addition, a willingness to comprehend a paradigm
shift in the way we live -- to live more simply. This generation
literally has Planet Earth in the palm of our hand. Let us take
measures now to nurture it and treat it gently, rather than throwing
it away.

Copyright Independent Catholic News 2007
f

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From: Wired Blog, May 14, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

BREAST CANCER, COMMON CHEMICALS AND CAUSE: BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

By Brandon Keim

Nearly 100 chemicals found in everyday products -- pesticides,
cosmetics, gasoline and pharmaceuticals -- cause breast cancer in
animals, report researchers in the journal Cancer. Cutting back on the
use of those chemicals, they said, would likely reduce human breast
cancer. The disease is the leading killer of middle-aged American
women.

Experts say that family history and genes are responsible for a small
percentage of breast cancer cases but that environmental or lifestyle
factors such as diet are probably involved in the vast majority.

"Overall, exposure to mammary gland carcinogens is widespread," the
researchers wrote in a special supplement to the journal Cancer.
"These compounds are widely detected in human tissues and in
environments, such as homes, where women spend time."

The researchers looked only at studies involving animals, and didn't
evaluate literature involving links between the chemicals and human
cancers. The results are a perfect reflection of the tension at the
center of chemical regulation:

Toxicologists say that other mammals, such as rats and mice, often
develop the same tumors as humans do, and that animal tests are
efficient means of testing the effects of chemicals. Environmental
regulators, however, often want conclusive human data before taking
action.

The latter sentence ought to say "environmental regulators and
chemical manufacturers," as it's industry pressure that most
desperately wants chemicals pulled only when they pose a blatant,
obvious danger. But the problem with that mentality is that the
dangers of chemicals can be very hard to evaluate.

There are three levels of evidence relevant to this sort of debate:
biological, animal and epidemiology. At the first level, scientists
might add the chemical to a dish of human cells and observe what
happens. At the second level, scientists look at the effects of the
chemical on animals. At the level of epidemiology, scientists look at
large populations of people exposed to these chemicals, crunch the
numbers and look for patterns.

Epidemiology is what drives public health, and it's also the most
important level of evidence for regulators -- and there are times,
such as when fighting disease, that epidemiology is vital. But it does
have limitations. Trying to tease out whether a single chemical causes
cancer in people can be very difficult to do in a scientifically
acceptable way.

Testing chemicals directly on people is, thankfully, not permitted
(though it's still done by some chemical manufacturers). Looking at
large populations is tricky because of all the confounding variables
-- and even if these can be controlled, tiny but important effects can
be easily. If users of a chemical have a .05% greater chance of
developing cancer than non-users, epidemiology won't likely link
cancer to the chemical -- but scale that effect up to hundreds of
millions of people, and the impact is profound. Multiply that by
perhaps dozens of similarly subtle carcinogens, and -- well -- you
might very well have a leading caause of death in women.

Does this mean that epidemiology should be thrown out the window? Of
course not. But it does mean that, when clear evidence of animal harm
exists, and the risk of removing a chemical from human products is
minimal -- has a PBDE ban sent Sweden up in flames? -- then the
precautionary principle ought to win. Except where they're absolutely
necessary, get these chemicals out of our lives.

See Marla Cone "Common chemicals are linked to breast cancer," Los
Angeles Times, May 14, 2007.

Wired Copyright 2007 CondeNet, Inc.

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From: Dominion Post (New Zealand), May 17, 2007
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MAORI FISHING TRUST ATTACKS MINISTRY

By Nick Churchouse

Maori fishery group Te Ohu Kaimoana has accused the Fisheries Ministry
of misleading the Government and damaging the industry and Maori
interests.

The Maori fisheries trust, responsible for allocating Maori fisheries
settlements and the owner of New Zealand's largest Maori fisheries
company, Aotearoa Fisheries, has demanded the Government withdraw the
Fisheries Amendment Bill, which it says will erode Maori fisheries
settlements.

Te Ohu Kaimoana director Ngahiwi Tomoana said papers released under
the Official Information Act showed ministry officials had covered up
bad advice by telling the Government to change the law so it would win
more court cases on fishery management decisions.

"It appears that instead of admitting to their minister that they got
it wrong, the ministry advised him that the Fisheries Act wasn't in
line with the internationally recognised precautionary principle, that
it was deficient and that it needed to be changed," he said.

The Fisheries Amendment Bill aims to redress the balance between
utilisation and sustainability when setting catch limits for fishermen
each year. Sustainability would be the leading concern when fish
population data was unclear.

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said the bill was a long-term plan.

"When the future of our valuable fisheries is at stake, for me, the
answer is simple. If we have uncertain information about a fish stock,
decision makers must act cautiously and make a decision that ensures
long-term sustainability," he said.

But Mr Tomoana said the new law was unnecessary, lacked consultation
and would generate more litigation.

The current legislation identified with the precautionary principle
but the new bill gave the minister power arbitrarily to restrict
fishing limits, he said.

That would marginalise the Maori allocation of New Zealand fisheries,
just as it would commercial interests, he said.

"Maori are continually dealing with ministry proposals that could
reduce the value of the Maori fisheries settlement -- supposedly all
in the name of sustainability," Mr Tomoana said.

Mr Anderton said that view was short-sighted.

Copyright Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2007

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From: Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Mar. 15, 2007
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COURT STOPS TUNA FARM IN COSTA RICA

Violation of Precautionary Principle

San Jose, Costa Rica -- On May 9th, the Constitutional Court ordered
the suspension of execution of the project to install tuna farms
(Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A.) in Costa Rica's South Pacific
region, until the Technical Secretariat of the Environment (SETENA, a
branch of the Ministry of Environment in charge of approving EIAs) can
previously guarantee, and with reasonable certainty, that the
metabolic wastes produced by the fattening of tunas will not
contaminate the environment, particularly the Golfo Dulce (voto
06315-07).

SETENA must perform the technical studies to determine the direction
and movement of the currents and the effect of the metabolic wastes on
the Golfo Dulce, due to the contradictions in the technical
information provided by the company itself. The main doubt is, do the
currents have a dispersing effect over the metabolic wastes because
they are swift and they move away from the Golfo Dulce, as claimed by
officers of the company under oath, or are the currents slow and do
they move towards the Golfo Dulce, dragging the metabolic wastes with
them, as affirmed by the company's Environmental Impact Assessment?

"We are satisfied, especially with the application of the
precautionary principle", expressed Peter Aspinal, of the Tiskita
Foundation. "Just as we have been warning, the risk posed by the
massive generation of metabolic wastes and other contaminants, product
of the industrial fattening of tunas, is too high to be taken lightly,
and the contradictions show that that is precisely what the
authorities did when they approved this project", explained Aspinal.

The order is the result of the Constitutional Lawsuit (06-008255-0007-
CO) filed by PRETOMA and the Association of Neighbors of Punta Banco,
against the Director of the Department of Waters of the Ministry of
Environment MINAE, the Executive President of INCOPESCA and the
SETENA, for approving the project without a previous popular
consultation and without considering the precautionary principle.

An amalgam of organizations of the civil society joined in opposition
to the project, including Foundation Vida Marina, Tiskita Foundation,
the Association of Guaymi Indigenous Representatives, the Association
of Fishermen of Pavones, the Association of Fishermen of Zancudo, the
Municipality of Golfito, and numerous neighbors of Pavones, Puerto
Jimenez and Golfito. The area's economy is based on low impact
ecotourism, and there is a generalized concern that the operation of
the tuna farms would not only threaten its scenic beauty, but its
ecological integrity as well.

According to Denise Echeverria, of the Foundation Vida Marina, the
decision of the Court sets an extremely important precedent in light
of the accelerated development currently occurring in Costa Rica's
South Pacific region. "There are other coastal development threats
that could have equally devastating effects, or worse", warned
Echeverria. "Due to the Golfo Dulce's condition as tropical fjord, its
delicate ecosystem and the marine biodiversity it hosts are extremely
susceptible to environmental alterations produced by coastal
infrastructure, such as tuna farms, piers, wave breakers, marinas,
hotels and condominiums, because of which they must be carefully
controlled under a precautionary regime".

Other that the impact on the coastal environment, the sea turtles and
the cetaceans, concerns exist stemming from the impact of the tuna
farms on wild populations of yellow fin tuna, currently depleted by
over fishing. "┐How is it that tuna farms are a solution to over
fishing, if the proposal is to catch wild individuals to fatten
them?", asked Randall Arauz, President of PRETOMA. "To restore the
valuable populations of yellow fin tuna in our Exclusive Economic
Zone, the State should promote the reduction of fishing effort by
international flag tuna vessels, and promote a national sustainable
tuna fishery", stressed Arauz.

Another Constitutional Lawsuit is still pending, filed by Vida Marina
Foundation and the lawyer Alvaro Sagot, against Granjas Atuneras de
Golfito S.a. and SETENA, for failure to provide a transparent process
during the process of community participatory consultation.

For more information:

Randall Arauz, PRETOMA. info@tortugamarina.org; rarauz@racsa.co.cr;
tel (506) 241 5227; Fax (506) 236 6017; www.tortugamarina.org

Denise Echeverria, Fundacion Vida Marina. denise@vidamarina.org; tel
(506) 282-9424; (506) 393-6554; www.vidamarina.org

Peter Aspinal, Fundacion Tiskita. tiskita@racsa.co.cr; tel (506) 296
8125

For more information, contact:

Randall Arauz
011 (506) 241 5227
011 (506) 236 6017
info@tortugamarina.org
http://www.tortugamarina.org

Copyright 1999-2004 Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

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From: CNW Group (Canada), Apr. 26, 2007
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NURSES SAY THE PROVINCE MUST ACT ON DANGEROUS TOXINS AND CHEMICALS

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) is appearing
before the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly today to
urge all parties to support Bill 164.

The bill entitled "Recognizing a Fundamental Right: The Community
Right to Know Act would strengthen the public's right to know about
potential hazards in consumer products and provide better access to
information about toxins and pollutants.

"RNs are engaged in health promotion, disease prevention, and illness
care. Our goal is to keep Ontarians healthy and care for them when
they are sick and that's why we are speaking out about the
environment," says RNAO President Mary Ferguson-Pare.

RNAO Executive Director Doris Grinspun will tell the committee that
the province must move quickly with a plan to get toxins out of the
environment to help Ontarians avoid environmental diseases. "The plan
should include regulation, technical assistance, and incentives
through subsidies and taxes," says Grinspun. "Bill 164 is a necessary
first step towards informing Ontarians and protecting their health but
more must be done.

RNAO is also urging government to seek guidance from jurisdictions
such as the European Union, which is leading the way with a
precautionary principle when it comes to industrial substances and
their impact on the environment and people's health. This includes
building large margins of safety to protect children who are
especially vulnerable to toxins.

"We know that the environment is a major determinant of health and
people flourish best when they live in clean, green environments,"
says Ferguson-Pare. Evidence linking the environment to health
outcomes is well known. In developed regions, environmental factors
accounted for 17 per cent of deaths. Research suggests that
occupational exposures alone account for 10 to 20 per cent of cancer
deaths. Equally alarming is the Canadian and international evidence
showing these negative impacts are experienced more frequently by
lower-income people. "Environmental protection is not only a matter of
health but also a matter of social justice," Ferguson-Pare adds.

Conditions such as asthma, cancer, developmental disabilities, and
birth defects have become the primary causes of illness and death in
children in industrialized countries. Chemicals in the environment are
partly responsible for these trends. Recently, tests have shown
Canadians (including politicians who volunteered to be tested) had
elevated levels of hazardous chemicals in their bodies, including
hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and others associated with
respiratory illnesses and reproductive disorders.

"The time for procrastination has passed. People are demanding action
from their legislators and governments. Nurses are speaking out on
this issue because we will not allow Ontarians and their children to
be sickened by environmental causes," adds Grinspun.

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the
professional association representing registered nurses wherever they
practise in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public
policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses'
contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced
decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.

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From: Fund Strategist, May 7, 2007
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AGAINST THE GRAIN

By Daniel Ben-Ami

Heard the one about well-meaning environmental measures in America and
"tortilla protests" involving tens of thousands of angry people in
Mexico City? The price of maize, from which the Mexican staple food is
made, has surged as a result of huge American government subsidies to
biofuel production. America's aim was to encourage biofuels as a way
of lessening the country's dependence on more conventional forms of
energy. Yet poor Mexicans have inadvertently suffered as a result of
the initiative.

And it is not only maize prices that are soaring. Beer prices too have
surged as a result of the drive to produce ethanol to use for biofuel.
Maize is being planted instead of the malting barley. As a result
barley prices have risen and beer drinkers are having to pay more to
enjoy their drink.

Many conclusions can be drawn from these experiences. The most
compelling is that measures designed to do good can have unintended
consequences. No doubt the last thing American officials had on their
mind when they designed such subsidies was any intention of harming
the livelihood of poor Mexicans. American government policy is
designed to help reduce carbon emissions and also lessen the country's
dependence on imported energy. Yet the impact on Mexico was as severe
as if it had been a deliberate measure.

What is true of biofuels and tortillas has wider implications.
Economic life is being reorganised around the environment and the idea
of "sustainability" more generally. Most of commentary assumes that
this can only be a healthy development. Few consider the problems
involved or whether the consequences of this shift could be harmful.
Fund management groups, in particular, are generally loath to discuss
any potential problems with the shift to green capitalism.

This article will provide a framework to help assess this transition.
It will start by examining what is meant by "sustainability". Although
the concept seems straightforward it is more complex than it first
appears. It will then consider whether the move to sustainability can
be profitable. Some people will make money from it but this is not the
whole story. Finally, it will consider whether the shift to green
capitalism could have damaging consequences for society as a whole.

It is a particularly opportune time to consider the meaning of
sustainability because it is the twentieth anniversary of the idea
becoming mainstream. Back in 1987 the World Commission on Environment
and Development, a body established by the United Nations, published
its landmark report called "Our Common Future". It is often known as
the Brundtland report after its chairman, Gro Harlem Brundtland, a
former Norwegian prime minister. Its highly influential definition of
sustainable development is worth quoting at length:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs. It contains two key concepts:" -- the concept of
'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to
which the overriding priority should be given; and;" -- the idea of
limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization
on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."

(Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, p43).

It is important to examine this definition in more detail to explore
exactly what it means. The concept of "sustainability" is too often
taken as self-evident. The low horizons embodied in this concept of
sustainable development are rarely questioned.

First, the focus in on basic needs. Rather than a more ambitious goal
of economic transformation and modernisation it settles for a
minimalist conception of what economic growth should be about.

Second, it accepts the idea that the environment places limits on
human activity. For the advocates of sustainability any attempt to
overcome such constraints puts the survival of future generations in
jeopardy. The emphasis is on survival rather than transforming society
for the better through economic growth.

It would be a big mistake to believe this conception of limits cannot
be challenged. On the contrary, there is a strong tradition of thought
starting with Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a scientist and Lord
Chancellor, which sees overcoming environmental limits as a central
element of progress. As humanity advances, according to this view, it
develops the capacity to transform the environment to better meet
human needs.

From such a perspective the development of science and technology --
from modern medicine to the aeroplane and beyond -- is desirable
because it enables humanity to transcend environmental limits. In
contrast, the acceptance of such limits means reconciliation with
poverty and disease. This viewpoint, which could be called the
Enlightenment perspective, was broadly in the ascendant until the
1970s when environmentalism came to the fore.

However, it would be wrong to conclude that things have stayed the
same since the 1970s or even since sustainability became a mainstream
concept in the 1980s. More recently the meaning of the term
"sustainability" has broadened considerably. It is taken to be not
just a statement about humanity's relationship to the natural world
but also about how people should relate to one another. What could be
called social sustainability has joined environmental sustainability
as a key concept. It is hard to think of any area of activity in
relation to society or the natural world that cannot be covered by the
ever expanding concept of sustainability.

This definition is apparent in the five principles on sustainable
development promoted by the government-appointed Sustainable
Development Commission. These include:

- Living within environmental limits. The original key idea of
sustainability.

- Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society. Including promoting
personal well-being and social cohesion.

- Achieving a sustainable economy. This includes the acceptance of the
"polluter pays" principle in which social and environmental costs fall
on those who impose them (see the comment in last week's Fund Strategy
on this topic).

- Using sound science responsibly. This includes acceptance of the
"precautionary principle" as well as public attitudes towards science.

- Promoting good governance. Encouraging systems of governance on all
levels of society.

Many people find some of these principles attractive. But it is
possible to raise objections to all of them. For example, the
precautionary principle arguably embodies an over-cautious attitude
towards science and innovation. It requires that a scientific advance
can only occur if there is certainty that there will be no negative
consequences. But it is impossible to foretell the future with such a
high degree of certainty. By its nature any scientific advance or
innovation involves a degree of uncertainty.

It is also possible to object to the idea of encouraging governance
"at all levels of society". To some this could sound like regulating
even the most intimate aspects of individual's personal lives. For
example, the government seems excessively keen on regulating how
individuals eat, drink and smoke. Much of the sustainability agenda
does seem to be aimed at encouraging "responsible" behaviour. Much of
the teaching of environmentalism in schools focuses on values and
behaviour.

Going into further detail on these principles is beyond the scope of
this article. However, even if they are problematic it does not
necessarily follow that money cannot be made from their
implementation. Sustainableinvestment could still be lucrative even if
it involves a transformation that some see as undesirable.

The problem is working out how to measure the extent of the transition
to green capitalism. There is a lot of talk about the need for
sustainability and the dangers of climate change (see the Fund
Strategy cover story on climate change in the December 11, 2006
issue). However, making a transition to a system in which consumption
and production are organised around the principles of sustainability
is a different matter.

The shift to green capitalism can be judged at several different
levels. On the level of words it is clear that a fundamental shift has
taken place: there is widespread acceptance that sustainability is
desirable. In relation to consumption there are significant, although
often symbolic, changes. But in relation to production the
transformation is, at least so far, of a much smaller magnitude.

There is widespread acceptance of the need for sustainability.
Children are taught environmental principles in schools, the media is
broadly favourable to the sustainability agenda and even the Financial
Times recently published a magazine asking "Can England's middle
classes save the planet?"

In relation to personal consumption it is easy to point to examples of
people following the sustainability agenda. Walk around any
supermarket and it is hard to avoid labels on products claiming to be
environmentally friendly, organic, locally produced, fair trade or
even dolphin friendly. Each of these are in some way meant to signal
the consumer's adherence to the environmental agenda. As consumers
increasingly absorb such ideas it is likely that more companies will
be in a position to profit from sustainability.

However, a closer examination shows that consumers tend to be more
contradictory in their behaviour. They may eschew, for example, Kenyan
flowers but at the same time fly Ryanair on holiday to Spain. Or they
may buy organic salmon in Waitrose and then enjoy a burger at
McDonald's. Consumers are far from consistent in their attitude
towards products. Typically they will want to signal that they are
responsible, perhaps by buying organic chocolate, while still enjoying
the benefits of modern mass production. To the chagrin of
environmentalists consumers do not tend to consistently follow
principles of sustainability.

One area where support for sustainability is clear is government and
into corporate regulatory frameworks. The British government is trying
to embody sustainability in all its key areas of work. Within the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) the mission
of the Sustainable Development Unit is "to embed, monitor and report
on sustainable development across Whitehall and the UK"
(www.sustainable-development.gov.uk). David Miliband, the environment
minister, is promoting "one planet living", a concept taken from the
World Wildlife Fund. Then there is the Sustainable Development
Commission, an independent watchdog on sustainable development
appointed by the government (www.sd-commission.org.uk).

Companies have endorsed a corporate social responsibility framework
which, in broad terms, commits them to the sustainability agenda.
Environmentalist organisations have often condemned such activity as
mere "greenwash" -- putting on a green face while continuing with
business as normal. But talking to business leaders it is hard to
escape the conclusion that they take the sustainability agenda
seriously. A recent article in Management Today showed how Tony
Juniper, the head of Friends of the Earth, "is suddenly the hottest
corporate date in town". In any case it is becoming a legal obligation
for businesses to consider the environmental consequences of their
actions. The Companies Act 2006 even gives the directors of companies
a legal duty to consider the impact of their business on the
environment.

However, the transformation in terms of deeds rather than intentions
is considerably less. Companies are finding it harder to shift to a
sustainable model than the rhetoric often suggests.

James Woudhuysen, professor of innovation and forecasting at De
Montfort University in Leicester, portrays the sustainable sector as
rapidly growing but still niche. For example, the European market for
hybrid electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, almost doubled in
2006. But at30,000 vehicle sales it still accounts for only 0.5% of
the market. Similarly there is much talk about renewable energy in
America, along with considerable government backing, but it still
accounts for a small proportion of energy use (see bar chart below).

He argues that the restructuring of the market around sustainability
is likely to be a long drawn-out process. Some areas, such as reducing
carbon emissions in the supply chain, could be done with little
effort. Such initiatives as road pricing and adding Radio Frequency
Identification tags to goods have already started. But transforming
the entire energy sector into something that can be recognised as
"green" is a long way off. The amount of investment in the energy
infrastructure is huge. "The installed base [of energy] is not wished
away in a hurry", he says.

A high profile example of the problem of inertia is the hydrogen
highway initiative announced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of
California, in 2004 (www.hydrogenhighway.ca.gov). Woudhuysen points
out it is not simply a matter of building a commercially viable
hydrogen powered car -- although that in itself is a challenge. It
will also be necessary to encourage an extensive network of petrol
stations to supply hydrogen to car users. In addition, safety concerns
about hydrogen cars will need to be allayed.

In Woudhuysen's view the wholesale shift to sustainable production, as
opposed to consumption or regulation, is likely to require a
generational change. "I think we're at the start of a 10-20 year
process," he says. When today's generation of twentysomethings are on
the boards of large companies the change could come close to
completion.

None of these factors mean it is impossible to make money out of
sustainability initiatives. There will always be niche areas that
provide lucrative returns. Over time the rise of ethical consumerism
should also bolster demand for green products. But in many cases the
profitability of green technology or initiatives will depend on state
subsidies or regulation.

This latter point is acknowledged in a recent paper by Patrick
Schotanus of Aegon on climate change ("Global climate change,
investments and the role of financial markets"). It argues that:

"We believe there will be continued and probably increased financial
incentives to reduce the use of currently expensive fossil fuels --
either to reduce the carbon output of the world, to defend economies
against high commodity prices or to increase domestic security. In
some cases the alternatives industries may be profitable under free
market conditions but in most, regulatory pricing and incentive
structures are being created to redistribute capital and encourage
investment. We do not need an industry to be efficient and fully
developed in order to invest. However, we are looking for regulatory
certainty -- clear regulation for a sufficient time horizon in order
to get a sufficient return on a capital investment."

The example of biofuel in America which started this article certainly
involves heavy state subsidies. According to an October 2006 study by
the Global Subsidies Initiative the subsidies in this area date back
to the Energy Tax Act of 1978 ("Biofuels -- At What Cost? Government
support for ethanol and biodiesel in the United States". Available at
www.globalsubsidies.org). It estimates that current biofuel subsidies
are between $5.5bn-$7.3bn (£2.7bn-£3.6bn) a year.

So it is certainly possible for sustainable initiatives to be
lucrative but in many cases they will depend on state intervention.
Green capitalism is not, for better or worse, synonymous with the free
market. The form of government intervention is likely to play a key
role in determining which initiatives are profitable or not. The more
astute fund managers in this area are likely to monitor the state of
regulation closely in addition to considering corporate fundamentals.

This brings us to the final question of whether or not the shift to
sustainability is desirable. It is hard to imagine anyone objecting in
principle to, for example, a shift to cleaner energy or a less
polluted environment. But it is also important to consider the costs
embodied in such a shift. If renewable energy remains significantly
more expensive than fossil fuels then changing energy sources could
hit economic activity. In some cases there can be a trade-off between
promoting prosperity and giving a high priority to the environment.

Ultimately sustainability means putting limits on the drive to achieve
greater affluence. As in the original Brundtland definition, it means
emphasising basic needs at the expense of more ambitious development.
For those who take a bleak view of human potential it makes sense to
stick with what we have already got or perhaps even turn the clock
back. In contrast, for those who believe there is a lot that could be
gained from further prosperity the sustainability agenda threatens to
put a brake on further development.

It comes down to a political choice. Not in the sense of the old left-
right distinction but between those who favour the advancement of
prosperity and those who believe affluence creates serious problems.
The debate within the financial community plays down this aspect of
the discussion. But hard choices will need to be made about whether or
not the shift to green capitalism is a desirable one.

Sustainable funds

There is a large number of funds investing in sustainable themes. A
few, such as products from CIS and Norwich Union, have "sustainable"
in their name but many more follow the principles of sustainability.
About £4.7bn is invested in ethical or ecological unit trusts or
Oeics according to Morningstar. However, this has to be set against a
total universe of this type of fund of about £422bn. In other
words, ethical funds make up just slightly over 1% of the total unit
trust / Oeic universe.

In continental Europe too there is significant interest in
sustainability. There is even a German-based website (www.sustainable-
investment.org). It provides investors with information on sustainable
funds, stocks and indices. The platform is run by the Sustainable
Business Institute at the European Business School and the platform
development was funded by Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and
Research. But although the platform lists about 140 funds this is also
a small proportion of the European fund universe.

On a more global scale, New Energy Finance, a London-based analyst,
estimates there was $8.6bn (£4.3bn) of venture capital or
private equity investment in clean energy worldwide in 2006. But
although this amount might sound like a lot in isolation it should be
set against the total size of the global fund industry. From this
perspective such specialist funds are still relatively small players
in what, potentially, could become a huge market.

However, over the longer term the trend is likely to be for more
mainstream funds to be influenced by the environmental agenda. This
seems to be the case in Britain with the National Association of
Pension Funds (NAPF) inviting Al Gore, the American vice president
turned environmental campaigner, to address its annual conference in
March. The NAPF was also an "official partner" for Red Nose Day 2007.

Internationally many big institutional investors have committed
themselves to the sustainability agenda. The Carbon Disclosure
Project, based in London, "provides a secretariat for the world's
largest institutional investor collaboration on the business
implications of climate change" (www.cdproject.net/).

Fund Strategy is a division of Centaur Media plc 2007

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
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