Rachel's Precaution Reporter #125

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008..........Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Considering Knowledge's Limits for Tomorrow's Sake
  Both science and the economists are wrong if either imagines that
  judicious prudence originates in their perspective fields of
  understanding. The precautionary principle isn't a new idea. It is a
  natural element of human free will.
French Govt Move To Ban Monsanto GMO Draws Fire
  "(The decision) means simply that when the precautionary principle
  is at stake I will make the political choice to put our country at the
  front of the debate on the environment," French President Sarkozy said
  in announcing the ban on Monsanto's genetically modified corn.
Food from Clones Safe, E.U. Draft Says
  "It remains unclear, however, whether the European Union will
  ultimately approve the sale of cloned products... Unlike in the United
  States, such decisions in Europe must incorporate social and ethical
  factors. And the European public broadly supports the 'precautionary
  principle,' which calls for society to err on the side of caution when
  risks are uncertain."
Federal Agency OKs Cloned Food
  FDA tentatively ruled in 2006 that products from cloned animals,
  like meat and milk, are no different than those from naturally bred
  adult animals, calling cloning "a more advanced form of" breeding
  technologies already widely used in the cattle industry.
Green Clorox
  "Also I'd look to see whether Clorox put any money into the
  Chlorine Chemistry Council, an industry group that formed to prevent
  any efforts to apply the precautionary principle to chlorine
  products... but, oh, there I go again, not being happy enough."
Coca-Cola Ally Recommends Bottling Plant Closure in India
  "The Coca-Cola company is part of the UN Global Compact and as a
  result, it has agreed to uphold the precautionary principle,"
  Srivastava continued. "The Coca-Cola company must apply the
  precautionary principle and cease its operations in water stressed
  areas as well as areas with excessive pollution around Coca-Cola
  plants in India."
What a Fearful World Needs
  In this long, rambling article we find the precautionary principle
  offered as evidence that people have lost hope. To us, it is just the
  opposite: the worldwide advance of the precautionary principle is one
  of the most hopeful signs of the past 20 years. If the glass half
  empty or half full?


From: Juneau Empire (Alaska), Jan. 9, 2008
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By Rich Moniak, for the Juneau Empire

On Alaska's Shishmaref Island in the Chukchi Sea, global warming is
not about the ability of scientists to predict the future. The
retreating sea ice has robbed the community of its natural barrier
against storm surges. Coupled with the melting of the once stable
permafrost, the island is rapidly eroding and threatening the present
day community of predominantly Native Alaskans.

The cause of global warming is debatable, though. Even as new studies
add credibility to the possibility that the changes are human-induced,
it is still a theory limited by the inability to truly model the
earth's complexity. It's not a question of certainty as much as trust
in the advances of scientific knowledge. And those most vigorously
questioning science's conclusions are politicians with a focus on our

Scientists and economists come together at the astrologer's table.
Both see predictions through the glass ball of their professions. They
are reading the global warming scenarios as cautions, one claiming a
desire to protect physical human communities, the other to guard
against erosion of the American machine that keeps almost all of us

At the 1998 Wingspread Conference in Wisconsin, scientists,
philosophers, lawyers and environmental activists met to discuss ways
to implement the "precautionary principle" into American policy. This
ideal that has been incorporated into more than a few international
agreements states: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human
health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even
if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established

The principle might well be imagined as an admission that science
hasn't always been a basis of solid knowledge. Scientists supporting
it seem to be reacting to past mistakes which have contributed to the
present crisis they believe we're facing. At the same time, though,
they are attempting to elevate their role in directing more of the
affairs of our society.

Absent from the conference were the nation's economists. But replace
the words human health and environment with economy, and it's apparent
the two sides agree on safeguarding society from the recklessness of
acting without complete certainty of knowledge. They only disagree
over who should lead the way.

Both science and the economy [sic; economists?] are wrong if either
imagines that judicious prudence originates in their perspective
fields of understanding. The precautionary principle isn't a new idea.
It is a natural element of human free will.

What's allowed us to progress to the point where science and the
economy are at odds is that for too long the side effects of their
advancements have been cast aside. When other people were harmed in
relatively subtle ways, we've dismissed it as the price of progress.
Only disasters like Love Canal, Chernobyl and Bhopal caused us to look
at what might be lurking in our backyards.

In Discourse of Method, a philosophical classic published more than a
hundred years before the industrial age began, Rene Descartes explored
the limits of human knowledge. "I think, therefore I am" he famously
wrote. A precept for all his thinking was never to accept anything
"for true which [he] did not plainly know to be such."

The most obvious truth we will never know is tomorrow's. And this
applies to both the doomsayers and those who predict that our actions
today will have no serious consequences to our children's future
health and the well being of their communities.

Security has always trumped the unknown, and thus the wish for
certainty has made it easy to dismiss the philosopher. We've trusted
the knowledge of experts only to learn later they never fully
understood the world and its human inhabitants.

The cause of global warming challenges our belief systems. One is the
economy with the metaphorical lifeline "In God We Trust" printed on
our currency. Another is science, which we rely on more than money
when our body is failing. We believe in preventative medicine to
detect the worst diseases at the earliest stages. If we trust the
doctor whose oath is to treat our individual ailments "so long as the
treatment of others is not compromised," then perhaps we need a
philosophy of life that grants greater respect to the unknown
inhabitants of tomorrow's world.

** Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

Copyright Copyright 1997-2007 Juneau Empire

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From: Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Jan. 13, 2008
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By Reuters

PARIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) -- French government moves to ban the
country's only genetically modified (GMO) crop drew fire on Sunday
from the speaker of the country's parliament, farmers and
biotechnology industry groups.

The government said on Friday it would activate a "safeguard clause"
in European law to suspend the commercial use of MON 810, a maize
developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto.

Writing in the Sunday newspaper Journal Du Dimanche, National Assembly
President Bernard Accoyer of the ruling centre-right UMP party said
decisions to ban GMOs should be based on "irrefutable" evidence,
implicitly criticising the government for basing its decision on a
panel's controversial opinion.

"The scientists on this (panel) have disassociated themselves publicly
from the conclusions expressed by the chairman of this body," wrote

"Can our country really bind its future to this fragile and hasty
opinion...?" he added, arguing GMOs offered potential public health
benefits and calling for parliament to establish its own "high
authority" to oversee their authorisation.

When a country activates the safeguard procedure it has to provide the
European Commission, the EU's executive body, with proof there is new
scientific evidence justifying a ban.

If the Commission and European Union member states deemed France's
arguments invalid, France would probably receive an order to lift its
ban, a decision it could then appeal.

INDUSTRY, FARMERS UPSET In an interview with Reuters, Jacques
Beauville, a farmer near Toulouse who had planted 80 percent of his
127 hectares with MON 810, accused Paris of caving in to anti-
globalisation protestor Jose Bove, who had gone on hunger strike to
protest the use of GMOs. Bove ended his protest on Saturday.

"If we obey this moratorium then we will end up polluting more and
using more water. Even worse, as yields fall we will from next August
have to buy Argentine maize, which is made using GMOs," Beauville

Around 22,000 hectares -- or 1 percent of France's cultivated land --
was sown with MON 810 last year.

In a statement on Sunday, the U.S. based Biotechnology Industry
Organization (BIO) said there were no safety concerns that could
justify France's MON 810 ban.

"BIO urges the U.S. government and the European Commission to object
to this unnecessary and unscientific policy at the highest levels," it
said in a statement.

France's announcement on Friday coincided with a deadline for the EU
to comply with a WTO ruling to end a ban on imports of genetically
modified (GMO) food. The EU is not due to respond until Jan. 21,
leaving it open to possible trade sanctions.

The MON 810 technology, which is also used by other seed makers, is
designed to resist the European corn borer, a pest that attacks maize
stalks and thrives in warmer climates.

Monsanto says the protein contained in its maize has selective
toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife.

The Commission has approved the use of MON 810 around the 27-nation
bloc, but several EU countries have expressed concern about its
safety, including Austria, Greece and Hungary.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended his government's decision in
a speech on Saturday while emphasising he was not hostile in principle
to the development of GMOs.

"(The decision) means simply that when the precautionary principle is
at stake I will make the political choice to put our country at the
front of the debate on the environment," he said in a speech to a UMP
conference. (Reporting by Nick Antonovics and Nicolas Fichot; editing
by Rory Channing)

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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From: Washington Post (pg. A6), Jan. 12, 2008
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Similar conclusions expected from FDA

By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer

The European Food Safety Authority yesterday declared that meat and
milk from healthy cloned cattle and pigs is "very unlikely" to pose
risks to consumers, opening the door to possible European sales of
those controversial foods in the future.

The highly anticipated draft scientific opinion of the European agency
comes just days before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is due to
release its final report on food from clones, which is expected to
reach virtually the same conclusion. Some backers of the fledgling
agricultural cloning industry have said they hoped that a positive
report from Europe might help ease the process of gaining acceptance
by American consumers.

It remains unclear, however, whether the European Union will
ultimately approve the sale of cloned products, and if so, under what

Unlike in the United States, such decisions in Europe must incorporate
social and ethical factors. And the European public broadly supports
the "precautionary principle," which calls for society to err on the
side of caution when risks are uncertain.

Moreover, the European agency, which provides scientific advice to the
European Commission, noted in its report that many cloned farm animals
have health problems, including life-threatening physiological
abnormalities. In Europe, where animal welfare is a much higher-
profile issue than it is in the United States, that reality could also
become a stumbling block.

The 47-page report concluded, however, that unhealthy clones would be
screened out by standard food inspection methods. And, echoing earlier
assertions by the FDA, it found that milk and meat from healthy clones
are as nutritious and safe as milk and meat from ordinary animals.

"Based on current knowledge there is no expectation that clones or
their progeny would introduce any new food safety risks compared with
conventionally bred animals," the report said.

The report also concluded that sexually produced offspring of clones
-- far more likely to enter the food supply than clones themselves,
which are too valuable to slaughter -- are fully normal.

Scientists at a handful of companies around the world, including at
least two in the United States, want to clone prize-winning beef
cattle, dairy cows and pigs as a way to bring more consistently high-
quality products to market. But consumer reaction has been chilly.

Some fear that clones may harbor hidden health risks, while others
decry the high death rates seen in newborn clones and the suffering of
their surrogate mothers, which can have trouble giving birth to their
often oversize offspring.

Despite that wariness, and despite European agriculture's general lack
of interest in adopting the technology, the EU has been under
international pressure to rule on the products' safety -- in part so
other nations can export their meat and milk products there without
worrying about trade challenges.

The issue is also of interest in Europe because farmers there use
semen from American cattle.

New Zealand has released a positive report on the safety of food from
clones and their progeny, and Canada and Argentina are expected to
follow soon.

The "draft risk assessment" released by the FDA in December 2006 found
no unique health risks from meat or milk from clones or their
offspring. The agency has been reworking that analysis, taking into
account new science and the more than 30,500 public comments it
received. It is expected to release its final report any day.

Last February, noting progress made by the FDA, the European
Commission asked its Food Safety Authority also to provide a
"scientific opinion" on the safety of foods from clones and an
assessment of cloning's effects on animal health and welfare and on
the environment.

Yesterday's report was a first draft of that opinion and will be open
for public comment for 45 days. It asserted that the introduction of
cloned animals into agriculture will not affect the environment.

"Cloning does not involve changes in DNA sequences and thus no new
genes would be introduced into the environment," it said.

The report noted that a different European advisory group is preparing
a study of the ethical implications of bringing cloning to European
agriculture. And it recommended further research, especially on older
clones, very few of which, it said, have been carefully studied.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director at the Washington-based Center for
Food Safety, which has petitioned the FDA to delay approving cloned
food, predicted that Europeans would demand marketing restrictions on
the products.

"Human health is only part of the equation in Europe," Mendelson said.
"And even if Europe gives it a green light, we believe they will
require labels."

The FDA has said it is unlikely to require that cloned food be labeled
as such if no novel risks are identified.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington-based trade
group whose members include the nation's two largest farm animal
cloning companies, applauded the European action and encouraged the
FDA to release its long-delayed final report.

Foreign correspondent Molly Moore contributed to this report from

Copyright 2008 The Washington Post Company

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From: Greenwire, Jan. 15, 2008
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The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that food for healthy
cloned animals and their offspring are as safe to consume as food from
ordinary animals.

In its unreleased "final risk assessment" obtained by the Washington
Post, the agency found no evidence to support concerns that cloned
food products could present a danger to humans.

The 968-page report includes hundreds of pages of raw data to support
the agency's conclusions against opposition to cloned foods from
multiple groups.

"Moral, religious and ethical concerns... have been raised," the
agency notes in a document accompanying the report. But because the
agency is banned by law to evaluate those issues, the risk assessment
is "strictly a science-based evaluation."

FDA tentatively ruled in 2006 that products from cloned animals, like
meat and milk, are no different than those from naturally bred adult
animals, calling cloning "a more advanced form of" breeding
technologies already widely used in the cattle industry.

Some consumers and consumer groups remain skeptical about cloning, as
well as genetically altered foods. Some big food companies say they
will not sell cloned products, while others worry about the safeguards
in place to inform and protect consumers (Greenwire, Jan. 4).

Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a
Washington advocacy group that petitioned FDA to restrict the sale of
food from clones, said his group is considering legal action.

"One of the amazing things about this," Mendelson said, "is that at a
time when we have a readily acknowledged crisis in our food safety
system, the FDA is spending its resources and energy and political
capital on releasing a safety assessment for something that no one but
a handful of companies wants" (Rick Weiss, Washington Post, Jan.
15). -- EB

Copyright 1996-2007 E&E Publishing, LLC

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From: Grist Magazine, Jan. 14, 2008
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Bleach company discovers its green gene

By David Roberts

Joel Makower has a characteristically thorough and thoughtful look
at Clorox's launch of their new "Green Works" line of cleaning
products, in which he was peripherally involved (does the guy sleep?).

I'll admit, when I read these things, I feel positive and hopeful, and
then I think, hm, how will some enviro manage to spin this as a
hopelessly cynical greenwashing ploy from The Man? Sometimes I can
predict in advance, sometimes I can't, but it's inevitable. Sigh.

Anyway, here's the uplifting conclusion:

"But there's a potentially bigger story here. Clorox -- a 95-year-old,
relatively stodgy company -- seems to have discovered its green gene.
CEO Knauss has identified sustainability as one of three core consumer
trends with which he wants to align Clorox products. The combination
of Green Works, Burt's Bees, and Brita give it a toehold in that
market space, a foundation on which it can build more offerings.
Already, additions to the Green Works line are being planned.

All of which has invigorated the company, says Buttimer, a
thirtysomething mother of two who has become the corporate face of
Green Works. "I can't keep my calendar clear of associate marketing
managers, our entry-level positioning and marketing people, asking,
'How do I work on this project?' Or people coming to me and
announcing, 'My parents are members of Sierra Club.' Everyone wants to
be involved."

Moreover, she adds, "What's really exciting is that we're building
knowledge and confidence within the rest of the company that we can do
the same things with a lot of our other product lines."
Every success story is another brick in the wall.


A Grist Magazine reader, identified only as JMG, posted this response
to David Roberts:

You need a new gig

"I'll admit, when I read these things, I feel positive and hopeful,
and then I think, hm, how will some enviro manage to spin this as a
hopelessly cynical greenwashing ploy from The Man? Sometimes I can
predict in advance, sometimes I can't, but it's inevitable. Sigh.
I'll admit, when I read these things, I think 'Gee, about time' and
then I think, hm, how will some pundit use this to attack enviros, the
very people whose insistence on environmental consciousness propelled
this? Sometimes I can predict in advance -- no wait, pretty much all
the time. Every positive step will be presented with a big 'So there,
now stop whining you big babies,' no matter how otherwise odious the
companies involved are."

I had to laugh at the description of chlorine atoms as benign simply
because they come from table salt -- hey, uranium and arsine are
totally 100% natural products too! Mmmm, mmm, good, right!

At some point, when an editor starts to dislike his audience enough,
it's time for a break.

(I personally am pleased with this and provisionally say "Huzzah" --
but will first wait to see if they take the other products (which
their own research admits work no better) -- off the market before
cheering too loud. Also I'd look to see whether Clorox put any money
into the Chlorine Chemistry Council, an industry group that formed to
prevent any efforts to apply the precautionary principle to chlorine
products... but, oh, there I go again, not being happy enough.)

P.S. For Makower

Rebuts is not the same as refutes, even when you're writing about a
paying client. Clorox's responses were offered as a refutation for
environmentalists concerns about chlorine; they hardly qualify as a

Copyright 2007. Grist Magazine, Inc.

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From: CommonDreams.org, Jan. 14, 2008
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New Report Highlights Coca-Cola's Shortcomings in India

NEW DELHI -- January 15 -- In a major blow to the Coca-Cola company in
India, a report by its ally, the Energy and Resources Institute
(TERI), has called for the closure of one of its bottling plants in
India -- in the village of Kala Dera in the state of Rajasthan.

Citing the widespread water shortages being experienced by villages
around Coca-Cola's bottling plant, the report by TERI released
yesterday recommends that either the Coca-Cola bottling find
alternative sources of water -- a highly impractical option -- or
either relocate or shut down the plant altogether.

The 500 page report, -- "Independent, Third Party Assessment of Coca-
Cola Facilities in India" -- came as the result of high profile
student-led campaigns in the US, Canada and the UK. Over twenty
colleges and universities have removed Coca-Cola products as a result
of the international campaign which aims to hold the Coca-Cola company
accountable for creating water shortages and pollution in the areas
where it operates in India. The report assessed only 6 of Coca-Cola's
50 bottling plants in India.

The University of Michigan had placed the Coca-Cola company on
probation in 2006 and had asked for an independent assessment of its
operations in India.

"We are absolutely thrilled that finally the source of so many of our
problems, the Coca-Cola bottling plant, will be shut down," said
Rameshwar Kudi of the Kala Dera Sangharsh Samiti, the local group that
has led the campaign for the plant's closure.

It remains to be seen how the Coca-Cola company will respond to the
recommendations by TERI. But activists in India have vowed to ensure
that Coca-Cola meets the recommendations for Kala Dera.

The report by TERI is a damning indictment of Coca-Cola's operations
in India.

The report takes the company to task for siting its bottling plants in
already water stressed areas, without much thought given to the
impacts on communities. The report also validates the concerns of
water scarcity and pollution that have been raised by communities in
Kala Dera, Mehdiganj as well as others. A list of Coca-Cola's
shortcomings, according to the report, follows this press note.

"The report confirms what we have been saying all along. The
groundwater situation in Mehdiganj is deteriorating, and we are not
going to wait till we also become like Kala Dera. The company must
stop its operations immediately," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti
which is leading the campaign to shut down the Coca-Cola plant in

The report points out the heavy pollution present in the immediate
vicinity if the Coca-Cola bottling plants and calls for additional
studies. The report also shows that the Coca-Cola company has failed
to meet its own standards regarding waste management, and that the
company has hampered the TERI assessment because it has refused to
share the Environmental Impact Assessments for any one of the six

It remains unclear as to why the six plants were chosen. Community
activists would have expected to see the Coca-Cola bottling plant in
Plachimada in Kerala, which has been shut down since March 2004, also
included because the Coca-Cola company is still trying to re-open the
plant. Similarly, a franchisee operated Coca-Cola bottling plant in
Ballia in Uttar Pradesh should have been included in the assessment
because community members found industrial waste scattered all across
the plant premises less than a year ago.

"Enough is enough. Now even Coca-Cola's ally in India has found the
company to not be up to the mark when it comes to protecting water
resources and preventing pollution," said Amit Srivastava of the India
Resource Center, an international campaigning group.

"The Coca-Cola company is part of the UN Global Compact and as a
result, it has agreed to uphold the precautionary principle,"
Srivastava continued. "The Coca-Cola company must apply the
precautionary principle and cease its operations in water stressed
areas as well as areas with excessive pollution around Coca-Cola
plants in India."

The precautionary principle states that "where there are threats of
serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty
shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures
to prevent environmental degradation."

The India Resource Center has opposed the choice of TERI as the
"independent" assessor of Coca-Cola because the two groups have worked
together in the past, including funding from Coca-Cola to TERI, co-
organizing Earth Day, and TERI naming Coca-Cola as among the most
responsible companies in India in 2001.

Among others, the report notes that:

* The Coca-Cola company's decision to site their plants is strictly
driven by business and comes at a heavy cost to the communities. The
report notes that "the basic focus of the Coca-Cola Company water
resource management practices is on business continuity--community
water issues do not appear to form an integral part of the water
resource management practices of the Coca-Cola Company."

* The concerns being raised by the community about water scarcity and
pollution have been validated by the report. The report notes that,
"In general, the community perceptions were found in conformity to the
results obtained from the detailed technical assessment of groundwater

* In Mehdiganj, the site of another vibrant community-led campaign
against Coca-Cola, the report acknowledges that "the water tables have
been depleting and the aquifer may move from a safe to semi-critical
situation." The Coca-Cola company, on the other hand, has actually
claimed that groundwater levels are rising as a result of its
operations in the past.

* The report also found excessive pollution in the immediate vicinity
of the Coca-Cola bottling plants, and has recommended additional
studies to establish the reasons. "Regional water quality assessment
of four out of six sites (Kaladera, Mehndiganj, Nemam, and Sathupalle)
revealed that villages located in the immediate vicinity of the plant
showed the excess presence of certain parameters. However, since this
assessment here could not relate the regional groundwater quality to
the operations of the Coca-Cola plant, there is a need to carry out a
further detailed study to establish/rule out the reasons for such

* The Coca-Cola company hampered the assessment by not sharing the
Environmental Due Diligence reports (environmental impact assessments)
with the assessment team, citing "legal and confidential" reasons.

* The report noted that farmers' rights to groundwater for farming
must be respected, and given precedence over industrial demands for
water, particularly in areas that have been declared critical or
overexploited in terms of groundwater resources.

* The report also noted that while the bottling plants assessed may
have met some, but not all, of the government regulatory standards,
the plants had not achieved the wastewater standards set by the Coca-
Cola company itself. "The presence of faecal coliform and several
other physico-chemical pollutants in the treated wastewater in almost
all the plants calls for an urgent and stringent definition (and
implementation) of standards and practices as well as source

CONTACT: India Resource Center Rameshwar Kudi, India (Hindi only) +91
9414049053 Amit Srivastava, India +91 98103 46161 US + 1 415 336 7584

Copyright Copyrighted 1997-2008

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From: Zenit.org, Jan. 13, 2008
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Pope Extols a Key Virtue for an Angst-Filled Society

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME -- In a timely message for the New Year, Benedict XVI urged the
world to rediscover the Christian virtue of hope. In his homily during
the Dec. 31 vespers to mark the end of 2007 the Pontiff referred to
the lack of hope and trust in life prevalent in modern Western
society, calling it an "obscure" evil.

Since the publication of his encyclical on hope, "Spe Salvi," the Pope
has returned on a number of occasions to this theme. On Dec. 2, during
his Angelus address for the First Sunday of Advent, the Pontiff
commented that modern science has tended to confine faith and hope to
the private sphere.

He said that this unfortunately tends to deprive the world of hope.
"Science contributes much to the good of humanity, but it is not able
to redeem it," Benedict XVI affirmed.

Then, in his opening words of the address preceding the Christmas Day
blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world), the Pope
said the feast is "a day of great hope: Today the Savior of mankind is
born." With the birth of the child Jesus, "a great hope entered the
hearts of those who awaited him," he added.

The Holy Father isn't the only one to perceive how contemporary
society needs to rediscover hope. On Jan. 1 the New York Times
published an article titled "In 2008, a 100% Chance of Alarm."

The article referred to the constant warnings of climate change, and
how often the media tend to concentrate on the most pessimistic
warnings. Too many journalists and scientists, the article contended,
are constantly on the lookout for the new sin -- producing excessive

This often results in misleading articles. The New York Times noted
how British forecasters predicted 2007 would be the hottest on record.
It turned out not to be so, but in any case at the end of the year,
the BBC exclaimed that 2007 data had confirmed the warming trend.

The Times article also observed that the media ignored recent evidence
of cooling in Antarctica, along with higher ice levels, in contrast to
the widespread publicity given to lower ice levels in the Arctic.

Be afraid

Fear tactics are also common in politics. In its Dec. 24 issue the
magazine Newsweek dedicated a four-page article to examining how fear
is used by many of the candidates in the U.S. presidential campaign
under way. "A candidate who neglects the fear factor should have a
concession speech ready to go," concluded the article.

In a book published in November, Christopher Richard and Booker North
looked at the high costs of excessive fears. We run the risk of
falling into a new age of superstition, warns "Scared to Death: From
BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us the Earth"

Genuine threats do exist, the authors admit. But too often preliminary
scientific evidence is exaggerated, the media inflate the dangers, and
then politicians impose new laws, with high economic costs, Richard
and North contend.

For example, when in 1996 the BSE, or mad cow disease, broke out,
media reports predicted hundreds of thousands of deaths. One newspaper
went so far as to forecast a half-million deaths a year. The final
death toll was calculated at around a couple of hundred.

In their conclusion to the almost 500-page analysis of food and
environmental scares during the last years, the authors observe that
in part the fear is due to the secularization of society. Once people
no longer draw the meaning of their lives from religion, society's
highest value is now related to bodily existence. Moreover, the need
to find a substitute for notions of sin and evil encourages the
presentation of dangers in an apocalyptic manner.

Negative focus

Other authors have also commented on the increasingly fearful nature
of modern society. In 2005 British sociologist Frank Furedi published
the third edition of his book "Culture of Fear" (Continuum).

We run the risk of being dominated by the belief humanity is
confronted by destructive forces that threaten our existence, Furedi
warned. Scares range from killer asteroids to lethal viruses and
global warming. A corollary to the culture of fear is that we now
celebrate victimhood more than heroes, and people are urged to prove
they are the most deserving of counseling and compensation, instead of
encouraging initiative.

Furedi followed up his analysis with a further book, published in
2005, "Politics of Fear" (Continuum). The terms of left and right, he
noted, are no longer an adequate way to describe politics. Instead,
today the cultural environment is one of skepticism, relativism and
cynicism, which leads in the political arena to what Furedi terms "the
conservatism of fear."

Unlike the conservatism of the past, which believed in the unique
character of a human being, the current conservatism is driven by a
"profound misanthropic impulse," he argued. "The ethos of
sustainability, the dogma of the precautionary principle, the
idealization of nature, of the 'organic,' all express a misanthropic
mistrust of human ambition and experimentation.


The theological counterpart to this sociological and political
analysis came in the Pope's recent encyclical. He started by observing
the novelty of the Christian message of hope. St. Paul, the Pontiff
noted, told the Ephesians that before coming into contact with Christ,
they were "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians

The pagan gods were questionable and the myths contradictory, the
encyclical added. Therefore, without Christ they were, "in a dark
world, facing a dark future" (No. 2).

Christians, by contrast, know that their lives will not end in
emptiness, even if the details of their future life are not all clear.
This certainty changes our lives, and so the Christian message, the
Pope continued, is not just informative but it is life-changing. "The
one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted
the gift of a new life," he said.

The current crisis of faith in modern society is "essentially a crisis
of Christian hope," the Pope explained (No. 17). The encyclical went
on to urge a dialogue between modernity and Christianity, and its
concept of hope.

In this dialogue Christians "must learn anew in what their hope truly
consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot
offer" (No. 22). For its part contemporary society needs to re-examine
its uncritical faith in material and scientific progress. Benedict XVI
does not reject progress, but notes that it is ambiguous.


"Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also
opens up appalling possibilities for evil -- possibilities that
formerly did not exist," he observed. True progress, the Pope went on
to say, also needs to be moral, and if reason opens itself to faith,
then it becomes possible to distinguish between good and evil.

The encyclical does not disparage material and scientific progress,
and in fact, Benedict XVI acknowledged the need for "the greater and
lesser hopes that keep us going day by day" (No. 31). Nevertheless,
the text continued, these hopes are not enough without the "great
hope" that is God.

"God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a
human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and
humanity in its entirety," the Pope concluded.

A world without God is a world without hope, the Pontiff observed
further on in the encyclical. Perhaps, then, we should not be
surprised at the fear-ridden state of modern society. Along with
science, humanity needs to rediscover its faith in God if it is to
heal the deeper sources of its fears.

Copyright Innovative Media, Inc.

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