Rachel's Precaution Reporter #106

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007.........Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

In Connecticut, Artificial Turf Raises Concerns
  Susan Addiss, past commissioner of the state Health Department,
  advised the use of the "precautionary principle," which she associates
  with good public health practice in the face of reasonable questions
  about the safety of a product. "Hold off until you know more."
In South Africa, NATO Exercises Are Called 'Inappropriate'
  "Because of lack of knowledge and the fact that there have been
  mass strandings [of whales] caused by the use of these naval sonars,
  the precautionary principle should have been invoked."
Upgrading Capitalism's Operating System
  Peter Barnes's solution to the problem of corporate greed on the
  one hand and regulatory capture on the other is to turn the commons
  over to trusts. Trustees would be obliged not to maximize income from
  their trusts but to preserve their assets for future generations,
  acting on the precautionary principle rather than as risk-takers.
Social Workers Want To Seize Baby as a Precautionary Measure
  A pregnant woman has been told that her baby will be taken from her
  at birth because she is deemed capable of "emotional abuse", even
  though psychiatrists treating her say there is no evidence to suggest
  that she will harm her child in any way. Is this a proper use of the
  precautionary principle?


From: Westport News (Westport, Conn.), Aug. 31, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Frank Luongo

Hartford -- Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is calling
for the funding of further testing by the Connecticut Agricultural
Experiment Station (CAES) of the rubber in-fill material that is used
in the installation of synthetic-turf playing fields.

Speaking in Hartford Wednesday at a press conference held by
Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) in the Legislative Office
Building, Blumenthal said that the amount needed by CAES, which is
estimated to be $200,000, would be found in the state's current
environmental protection and health budgets.

David Brown, a Westport resident and EHHI's director of toxicology,
presented the findings of a preliminary study of the rubber granules
by CAES that provided the basis for Blumenthal's commitment to more
testing. Brown is the past chief of environmental epidemiology and
occupational health at the Connecticut State Department of Health.

Attending the press conference were Westport parents Tanya Murphy,
Stacy Prince and Patricia Taylor, who have been active in an effort to
bring about a review of the town's commitment to synthetic fields,
which now number two in place and two scheduled to be completed in

As reported in these pages, CAES has found that under "relatively mild
conditions," the chemicals in the rubber granules, some of which are
widely recognized as toxic, migrate into the air as vapor and
particulates and leach out in contact with water. Brown's report said
that the CAES preliminary study identified four chemicals that were
released from the granules, which together are reported to have the
potential for causing skin and eye irritation, for being corrosive and
destructive to mucous membranes, and for having a toxic impact on
endocrinal, gastrointestinal, immunological and neurological systems.

The four chemicals are benzothiazole, butylated hydroxyanisole, n-
hexadecane and 4-(t-octyl) phenol.

The CAES study emphasizes the need for testing the air at various
levels above the fields over several seasons for studying out-gassing
and particulate-migrating of the chemical compounds known to be in the

"This can be dangerous and it calls for more study," but not for
"panic or dire apprehension," Blumenthal said with reference to
communities that already have the synthetic fields with rubber in-

He advised parents in those communities to be aware of the potential
hazards on the fields and to "manage the risk" by "addressing
symptoms" and "reducing exposure on hot days."

Blumenthal said that synthetic fields have a number of advantages over
natural grass fields, especially for the avoiding of certain injuries,
and he speculated that "better substances" might be found to replace
rubber as in-fill material.

"This should be in the mix," said Blumenthal about decisions that
communities make about whether to stay with natural fields or adopt a
synthetic option.

EHHI President Nancy Alderman, whose group commissioned the
preliminary CAES study and has proposed a moratorium on new synthetic
fields, said that the plan for further study does not include a look
at alternative in-fill materials.

Alderman said that proposed alternatives should be studied as fully as
the rubber granules before being used on the fields, which, she said,
would require more funding.

In support of the moratorium, Susan Addiss, past commissioner of the
state Health Department and EHHI director of health education,
suggested a way for "thoughtful communities" to approach the turf

She advised the use of the "precautionary principle," which she
associates with good public health practice in the face of reasonable
questions about the safety of a product. "Hold off until you know

Near the end of the press conference, Brown said that communities
should be having an informed discussion about toxicity and should have
access to as much information as possible from state agencies that
have done their own studies of the issues presented by synthetic
playing fields.

"But the discussion shouldn't be toxic. Information is needed. It
should be a conversation," Brown said.

Copyright 2006 MediaNews Group, Inc.

Return to Table of Contents


From: Cape Argus (Capetown, South Africa), Aug. 31, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By John Yeld and Henri du Plessis

Whale conservationists and marine scientists are unhappy that the Nato
naval exercises off the Peninsula next week will "inappropriately" be
taking place at the height of the whale season.

But navy spokesperson have denied that their actions will have an
effect on the mammals that have become one of the country's top
tourist attractions.

Hundreds of southern right whales have arrived for their annual spring
and early summer pilgrimage to the Cape waters, with many of them
giving birth and mating.

'With so many whales inshore and off-shore, the chances of vessel
strikes are of major concern' There are also humpback whales and
Bryde's whales.

Whale and dolphin conservationist Nan Rice of the Dolphin Action Group
was among those expressing concern, as was whale expert Dr Peter Best
of Pretoria University's Mammal Research Institute.

"I was astounded, as are others to whom I have spoken, that these
exercises should have been scheduled for the time when the number of
whales of different species peak around our coasts in their
thousands," Rice said.

All the naval vessels, including South Africa's new corvettes, carried
low or medium range submarine detection sonars which would "obviously"
have to be used if the task force intended testing anti-submarine
proficiencies, she said.

"Furthermore, with so many whales inshore and off-shore, the chances
of vessel strikes are of major concern."

Best said he shared Rice's concerns. "Although we are unclear of the
exact nature of these war games, there is enough evidence from naval
exercises elsewhere as regards their potential effect on deep diving
species such as beaked whales for us to be concerned.

"It might be more reassuring if the organisers... could provide us
with details of the mitigating measures they plan to take to avoid
undue disturbance and damage to marine life, especially cetaceans
(whales and dolphins)."

Rice said there was still no certainty over whether sonars affected
all whale and dolphin species or just certain species.

"Because of lack of knowledge and the fact that there have been mass
strandings caused by the use of these naval sonars, the precautionary
principle should have been invoked."

But spokesperson for both the SA Navy and the Nato force stressed that
low frequency sonars would not be used during the exercises.

This was confirmed by the commander of the task force, Rear Admiral
Michael Mahon of the US Navy, who said it was US Navy policy to be
ultra careful over environmental issues.

The government's own marine scientists are also understood to be

Mava Scott, acting chief director: communications in the Department of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism, said they would investigate.

This article was originally published on page 5 of Cape Argus on
August 31, 2007

Copyright 2007 Independent Online

Return to Table of Contents


From: Grist, Sept. 5, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


A review of Peter Barnes' Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the

By Gar Lipow

Peter Barnes' Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons
(also available as a free PDF at Barnes' site) suggests that flaws
in capitalism lie at the root of the environmental and social problems
we face today; his solution, as a retired corporate CEO, is not to
discard capitalism, but fix those flaws.

As he puts it:

"Eventually, after retiring from Working Assets in 1995, I began
reflecting on the profit-making world I'd emerged from. I'd tested the
system for twenty years, pushing it toward multiple bottom lines as
far as I possibly could. I'd dealt with executives and investors who
truly cared about nature, employees, and communities. Yet in the end,
I'd come to see that all these well-intentioned people, even as their
numbers grew, couldn't shake the larger system loose from its dominant
bottom line of profit.

"In retrospect, I realized the question I'd been asking since early
adulthood was: Is capitalism a brilliant solution to the problem of
scarcity, or is it itself modernity's central problem? The question
has many layers, but explorations of each layer led me to the same
verdict. Although capitalism started as a brilliant solution, it has
become the central problem of our day. It was right for its time, but
times have changed.

"When capitalism started, nature was abundant and capital was scarce;
it thus made sense to reward capital above all else. Today we're awash
in capital and literally running out of nature. We're also losing many
social arrangements that bind us together as communities and enrich
our lives in nonmonetary ways. This doesn't mean capitalism is doomed
or useless, but it does mean we have to modify it. We have to adapt it
to the twenty-first century rather than the eighteenth. And that can
be done.

"How do you revise a system as vast and complex as capitalism? And how
do you do it gracefully, with a minimum of pain and disruption? The
answer is, you do what Bill Gates does: you upgrade the operating

In essence, Barnes sees two fixable flaws: wrong assignment of
property rights, and the lack of a large "commons sector" that is
neither governmental nor corporate.

The latter concept grows out of Sky Trust, which Barnes developed
around global warming. The fundamental policy insight climate change
science gives us is that there is a limit to the amount of greenhouse-
gas emissions we can afford to pump into the atmosphere (along with a
similar limit on the number of greenhouse-gas sinks we can afford to
destroy). We have collectively used up most of the total atmospheric
space available for such emissions without catastrophic consequences;
serious discussion around climate change policy means discussion of
how to divide up that remaining atmospheric space.

Barnes took that policy insight and asked, if there is only so much
atmospheric space to go around, who does it belong to? He concluded
that it belongs to the human race -- that each person should get an
equal share of emissions. In the U.S., his suggestion was to set up a
trust that owns our nation's limited atmospheric space and auctions
off permits for using it; the revenue generated by that trust would be
divided among all of us. So every U.S. resident would get a dividend
check from the Sky Trust in the same way that Alaska residents get
revenue from the Alaska Pipeline.

He extended that to water trusts -- to limit both withdrawal from, and
pollution of, water tables -- again auctioning permits for those now-
limited rights. He suggests similar trusts for forests and habitats,
and even extends the plan to economic rents created by social commons
but collected by private entities. This, as Barnes acknowledges, is
essentially a form of modern Georgism.

Barnes bases his commons plans on property rights, going back to Locke
and some of the original theorists of capitalism. They defined
legitimate withdrawal from the world's common property as "leaving
enough, and as good." Barnes argues that destroying endangered
habitats or emitting greenhouse gases in excess of what the atmosphere
can handle is not "leaving as much and as good." These trusts are not
a taking of private property, but a recovery of property that is
currently being stolen from us without compensation.

His second argument regards how this "recovered property" should be
treated. He opposes simply giving it away -- "grandfathering" it -- to
large corporations, as under the failed Kyoto treaty. He's also
against simply turning it over to government, because he fears
corporate appropriation via regulatory capture. So he favors a new
sector in the economy, neither public nor private: a sector of trusts
that manages these common sectors on behalf of the both today's public
and the public of the future. This would amount to economic
representation for the seventh generation.

In short, Barnes is arguing for green social democracy, with a
property rights justification.

Barnes' Property Rights Justification

To the extent the moral justification is taken seriously, I'm not sure
the specifics Barnes borrows from Locke are convincing. If we accept
the premise that X is an economic commons, then what follows is the
need to protect it and ensure that everyone benefits. I'm not sure
what is gained by drilling down to an individual property rights
level. Property is an artificial creation, after all. Barnes makes a
big deal of how public stock exchanges are artificial creations that
add tremendous value to private corporations. But private corporations
are just as artificial, and also require tremendous social
infrastructure -- so do partnerships, and banks, and mortgages, and
bonds, and credit cards, and... Barnes makes a pragmatic case that the
old software is failing, and needs an upgrade or replacement; I think
that is "enough, and as good."

Barnes' Trusts

Barnes' solution to the problem of corporate greed on the one hand and
regulatory capture on the other is to turn the commons over to trusts.
They would be obliged not to maximize income from their trusts but to
preserve their assets for future generations, acting on the
precautionary principle rather than as risk-takers. They would have
neither the obligation of corporate boards of directors to maximize
profit nor the freedom of elected officials to favor the richest and
most powerful. Barnes' main examples of how trustees can be loyal to a
long-term obligation to society as a whole -- the Federal Reserve
board and U.S. judges -- are unbelievably ill-chosen.

Dean Baker, in the second chapter of his book The Conservative
Nanny State, lays out how one of the primary objects of the Federal
Reserve is to keep wages low. If profits rise faster than
productivity, the Fed sees no problem. As far as the Fed is concerned,
it's perfectly healthy if wages rise more slowly than productivity.
But the Great Market God forbids that wages should ever rise faster
than productivity. That is "inflationary," and we must raise interest
rates until wages drop again.

The alternative to inflation or a wage drop is that wage earners might
actually increase their share of the economy; that can never be
allowed to happen. If workers' share of the economy drops year after
year, that is simply their fate in a global economy. But if they
should recover some of that lost share -- well, the ratchet is
supposed to go one way. Workers' share in the economy can drop; it
cannot rise.

Of course, keeping wages under control is not the only role the Fed
plays. It is supposed to prevent market instability by preventing
bubbles from developing; for example, the internet bubble that popped
in the late nineties, or the mortgage bubble that is popping as this
article is being written. So much for that.

In terms of judges, history is even more decisive. There was one brief
moment in history -- the Warren Court -- when judges were a net
progressive force. But that was an exception. Nathan Newman of the
National Lawyers Guild wrote a brief overview of how the courts
historically have intervened for slavery and against freedom (pre-
Civil War), for discrimination and against equality (post-Civil War),
for government power over individual rights, for corporate power over
government protection of individual rights, for owners and against
unions, and for polluters against citizens. The judiciary, like the
Senate, was designed by our founding fathers as a conservative
institution, a protection for the rich and powerful against democracy.
With few exceptions, most of them during the Warren court, that is the
role it has played. Like the Federal Reserve, it seems an incredibly
bad example of either fairness or insulation from corporate influence.

The Unbearable Messiness of Being

Fundamentally, though Barnes is realistic enough to understand that he
must use politics to achieve any of his goals, he is unrealistic
enough to hope that those goals can escape the messiness of politics.

Much as Barnes would like to think of trusts as a third way between
government and corporations, ultimately they are no less vulnerable to
corporate influence than legislatures, or courts, or the Federal
Reserve Board. If board members are elected, corporations can
intervene in the electoral process just as they do with other elected
offices; if appointed, they can influence the people doing the
appointing just as they do with other appointed offices.

Board members will need jobs to go to after they leave; in the
meantime, they will have spouses and relatives who need jobs, or are
happy to get better jobs than the ones they already have. Or they will
have spouses and relatives in businesses that will be happy when good
deals come their way. Or board members can be offered free continuing
education and professional development opportunities in Bali and
Hawaii, and on cruise ships ...

It's not hopeless. It's just that there is no magic third way beyond
politics. Barnes is completely right that these are common resources
that need institutions to manage them for the common good. But the
messiness won't end with the political struggles that create such
institutions. Once they are built, there will be conflict over what
the common good includes. We will have to use the messy business of
politics to resolve these conflicts, whether the institutions are
trusts or simply new government agencies. You can't upgrade Plato's
dream of philosopher kings to philosopher boards-of-directors.

I strongly recommend reading this book. Barnes' inventory of various
commons that are currently privatized, and his suggestions of how they
would be managed if the aim were the common good, are smart,
extensive, and helpful. His suggestions on politics are less helpful,
as are his thoughts on how to keep the commons well-managed in the
long run. Maybe those can be the main topics of another book.

Copyright 2007 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Return to Table of Contents


From: Sunday Telegraph (London, England) (pg. 8), Aug. 26, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By David Harrison

A PREGNANT woman has been told that her baby will be taken from her at
birth because she is deemed capable of "emotional abuse", even though
psychiatrists treating her say there is no evidence to suggest that
she will harm her child in any way.

Social services' recommendation that the baby should be taken from
Fran Lyon, a 22-year-old charity worker who has five A-levels and a
degree in neuroscience, was based in part on a letter from a
paediatrician she has never met.

Hexham children's services, part of Northumberland County Council,
said the decision had been made because Miss Lyon was likely to suffer
from Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy, a condition unproven by science
in which a mother will make up an illness in her child, or harm it, to
draw attention to herself.

Under the plan, a doctor will hand the newborn to a social worker,
provided there are no medical complications. Social services' request
for an emergency protection order -- these are usually granted -- will
be heard in secret in the family court at Hexham magistrates on the
same day.

From then on, anyone discussing the case, including Miss Lyon, will be
deemed to be in contempt of the court.

Miss Lyon, from Hexham, who is five months pregnant, is seeking a
judicial review of the decision about Molly, as she calls her baby.
She described it as "barbaric and draconian", and said it was
"scandalous" that social services had not accepted submissions
supporting her case. "The paediatrician has never met me," she said.
"He is not a psychiatrist and cannot possibly make assertions about my
current or future mental health. Yet his letter was the only one
considered in the case conference on August 16 which lasted just 10

Northumberland County Council insists that two highly experienced
doctors -- another consultant paediatrician and a medical consultant -
attended the case conference.

The case adds to growing concern, highlighted in a series of articles
in The Sunday Telegraph, over a huge rise in the number of babies
under a year old being taken from parents. The figure was 2,000 last
year, three times the number 10 years ago. Critics say councils are
taking more babies from parents to help them meet adoption "targets".

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of the Justice for
Families campaign group, said the case showed "exactly what is wrong
with public family law".

He added: "There is absolutely no evidence that Fran would harm her
child. However, a vague letter from a paediatrician who has never met
her has been used in a decision to remove her baby at birth, while
evidence from professionals treating her, that she would have no
problems has been ignored."

Mr Hemming was concerned that "vague assertions" of Munchausen's
Syndrome by proxy -- now known as "fabricated and invented illness" -
had been used to remove a number of children from parents in the

Miss Lyon came under scrutiny because she had a mental health problem
when she was 16 after being physically and emotionally abused by her
father and raped by a stranger. She suffered eating disorders and
self-harm but, after therapy, graduated from Edinburgh University and
now works for two mental health charities, Borderline and Personality
Plus. Dr Stella Newrith, a consultant psychiatrist, who treated Miss
Lyon for her childhood trauma for a year, wrote to Northumberland
social services stating: "There has never been any clinical evidence
to suggest that Fran would put herself or others at risk, and there is
certainly no evidence to suggest that she would put a child at risk of
emotional, physical or sexual harm."

Despite this support, endorsed by other psychiatrists and Miss Lyon's
GP, social services based their recommendation partly on a letter from
Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant paediatrician unable to attend the

He wrote: "Even in the absence of a psychological assessment, if the
professionals were concerned on the evidence available that Miss
Holton (as Miss Lyon was briefly known), probably does fabricate or
induce illness, there would be no option but the precautionary
principle of taking the baby into foster care at birth, pending a
post-natal forensic psychological assessment."

Miss Lyon said she was determined to fight the decision. "I know I can
be a good mother to Molly. I just want the chance to prove it," she

The council said the recommendation would be subject to further
assessment and review. "When making such difficult decisions,
safeguarding children is our foremost priority," a spokesman said.

Copyright 2007 Telegraph PLC

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.

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

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

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

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

  Full HTML edition: rpr-subscribe@pplist.net
  Table of Contents (TOC) edition: rpr-toc-subscribe@pplist.net

  In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
  you want to subscribe.

  To unsubscribe, send any email to rpr-unsubscribe@pplist.net
  or to rpr-toc-unsubscribe@pplist.net, as appropriate.

Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903