Rachel's Precaution Reporter #90
"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"
Wednesday, May 16, 2007..............Printer-friendly version
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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. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: ICN -- Independent Catholic News (London, UK), May 11, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] 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 Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 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. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Dominion Post (New Zealand), May 17, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] 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 Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Mar. 15, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] 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. email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; tel (506) 241 5227; Fax (506) 236 6017; www.tortugamarina.org Denise Echeverria, Fundacion Vida Marina. email@example.com; tel (506) 282-9424; (506) 393-6554; www.vidamarina.org Peter Aspinal, Fundacion Tiskita. firstname.lastname@example.org; tel (506) 296 8125 For more information, contact: Randall Arauz 011 (506) 241 5227 011 (506) 236 6017 email@example.com http://www.tortugamarina.org Copyright 1999-2004 Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: CNW Group (Canada), Apr. 26, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] 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. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Fund Strategist, May 7, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] 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 Return to Table of Contents ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 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. 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