Table of Contents...
A Precautionary Tale
"In adopting the precautionary principle, members of the Emeryville
School District school board chose to assume the role of guardians of
this generation and those to come. As guardians they are taking steps
to protect children for the long term."
Illinois Joins 'Pre-school for All' Movement
All across the U.S., people are taking action to prevent life-long
problems for children by helping them get a good educational start in
Company's Green Chemistry Program Wins Environmentalists' Praise
The SC Johnson Company has devised a system for ranking chemicals
based on their environmental impact, thus giving a boost to green
An Inconvenient Principle
"Regrettably, the precautionary principle -- a simple, sensible
concept -- has surreptitiously slipped out of the global-warming
discussion. It is time for it to be concertedly reinserted into the
From: Center for Ecoliteracy, Jul. 18, 2006
A PRECAUTIONARY TALE
By Carolyn Raffensperger
Children in our day suffer from a host of diseases and problems that
our great-grand parents could not have imagined. We have seen
increases over the span of one generation in autism, learning
disabilities, certain birth defects and cancers, asthma, obesity, and
diabetes. The nature of the increases point to the possibility that
these afflictions may have been preventable. Some statistics are
startling: the chance that a little girl would get breast cancer was
only one in 25 when my mother got married. But now, one woman in seven
can expect to get breast cancer. By the time my 12-year-old niece gets
married, one in three will likely face that diagnosis. Unless we do
My generation came of age in a world in which the best minds thought
we could measure and manage risk. We believed that economic decisions
would take care of any unacceptable risk and the market would make
necessary course corrections. That old approach has failed. Measuring
and managing risk has led to global warming, emptying the oceans of
fish, polluting much of the world with toxic chemicals, and increasing
chronic diseases in humans. The GNP may be healthy, but our world and
our children are not.
Risk management may represent a flawed strategy, but a new and
significant approach to protecting public health has emerged in the
last decade. In January of 1998, at the Johnson Foundation's
Wingspread Conference Center, environmental leaders met to develop
guiding principles for evaluating decisions that affect human health
and the environment. They came to consensus around what is referred to
as the precautionary principle, or the "forecaring" principle. It is
based on the simple notion that an ounce of prevention is worth a
pound of cure.
The group called on governments, corporations, communities, and
scientists to implement the precautionary principle when making
decisions affecting public health:
When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human
health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and
effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this
context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should
bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary
principle must be open, informed, and democratic, and must include
potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of
the full range of alternatives, including no action.
In other words, we can take precautionary action in order to prevent
harm and suffering in the face of uncertainty. This simple idea of
preventing harm is, at its core, an ethical precept, with its origins
in other ethical norms like the physician's Hippocratic Oath to do no
harm or the Golden Rule, which says we should do to others as we would
have them do to us. In this case, "others" represents our fellow
beings on the Earth, including future generations. Implementing the
precautionary principle emphasizes upstream evaluation and decision-
making -- preventing potential problems and harm -- in contrast to the
risk management approach based on evaluating our capacity to deal with
While several state, municipal and county governments have adopted the
precautionary principle to guide environmental and public health
policy, public schools have been in the vanguard of this precautionary
principle movement. The school is a primary environment for children
from the day they enter kindergarten until the day they walk out with
a diploma. In the late 1990's the Los Angeles Unified School District
adopted the precautionary principle paired with a program of
Integrated Pest Management to eliminate unnecessary pesticides from
the buildings and grounds of the largest school district in the United
States. LAUSD chose this route because they believed that a child's
future health and learning potential should not be compromised through
the use of pesticides that include neurotoxicants, carcinogens, or
mutagens on playgrounds or in classrooms.
More recently the Governing Authority of the Emeryville Unified School
District in California adopted the precautionary principle as the
foundation of all its environmental policy. This far-reaching policy
will guide everything from curriculum to building materials and the
food served at the schools. Some elements of the precautionary
principle included in the policy are the following:
** The community has a right to complete and accurate information on
the impacts of school district choices. The proponent of the product
or service must supply the information, not the public.
** Precautionary decisions should be transparent, participatory and
** The district asserts an obligation to examine and choose the
alternative with the least harmful impact on human health and the
** When evaluating those alternatives, there is a duty to consider all
the reasonably foreseeable costs, including raw materials,
manufacturing, transportation, use, cleanup, eventual disposal and
health costs even if such costs are not reflected in the initial
price. Short- and long-term benefits and time thresholds should be
considered when making decisions.
Taking the long view is key to the precautionary principle. Our
children stand on the threshold of the future. My Indigenous friends
say that the precautionary principle is the seventh generation
principle, which comes from the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy
practice of making decisions with the seventh generation in mind. The
only way we can guarantee that we leave blessings and an inheritance
for future generations, rather than the fruits of our
shortsightedness, is to acknowledge that we can't wait for science to
prove everything before we take action. We need to use the
precautionary principle and make decisions that are the wisest,
fairest, and most preventive of harm.
In adopting the precautionary principle, members of the Emeryville
School District school board chose to assume the role of guardians of
this generation and those to come. As guardians they are taking steps
to protect children for the long term. Those steps were laid out in 10
action points, three of which describe a precautionary food policy.
The food recommendations are to:
Follow and build upon the examples of New York City, Chicago,
Nashville, San Francisco and others and ban soda, candy, junk food,
and fast food from all school grounds.
Evaluate the district's school lunch program to ensure good nutrition
and consider developing a farm-to-school program.
Encourage the development of school gardens and green schoolyards as
hands-on learning tools that promote good nutrition and stewardship of
The Emeryville School District leaders intuitively understand that
school meal programs stand at the center of our hope for a good and
healthy future. Lunch is the time when we can say, "We have provided
food that will nurture your body and not harm you. We want to show you
your place in the community of farmers, bees, water, and the land that
grew your food. We promise to be wise guardians of your future."
School lunch is our communion, of past lessons and hope for the
future, of knowledge that wisdom accrues in small bites, and of our
vow to forecare.
Carolyn Raffensperger is the Executive Director of the Science and
Environmental Health Network (SEHN). In 1982 she left a career as an
archaeologist to work for the Sierra Club, where she addressed an
array of environmental issues, including forest management, river
protection, pesticide pollutants, and disposal of radioactive waste.
She began working for SEHN in 1994. As an environmental lawyer, she
specializes in fundamental changes in law and policy necessary for the
protection and restoration of public health and the environment.
Carolyn is coeditor of Protecting Public Health and the Environment:
Implementing the Precautionary Principle (Island Press, 1999), the
most comprehensive exploration of the history, theory, and
implementation of the precautionary principle. She coined the term
"ecological medicine" to encompass the broad notions that health and
healing are entwined with the natural world. She writes the Public
Trust column for the Environmental Law Institute's journal
This essay is part of Thinking outside the Lunchbox, an ongoing series
of essays connected to the Center for Ecoliteracy's Rethinking School
Lunch program. Read all the essays at www.ecoliteracy.org
No part of this article may be reproduced without permission. Please
contact the Center for Ecoliteracy to obtain permission.
Copyright 2006. Center for Ecoliteracy
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From: Stateside Dispatch, Jul. 31, 2006
ILLINOIS JOINS 'PRE-SCHOOL FOR ALL' MOVEMENT
This past week, Illinois Governor Blagojevich signed the first law in
the nation that establishes the goal of universally-available public
preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds in that state.
As a first step, the legislature this year set aside $45 million in
additional funding to open up 10,000 new slots with a priority for
children with language barriers, developmental disabilities and
middle-income families earning less than four times the poverty rate
-- up to $80,000 per year for a family of four. In the last four
years, Illinois had already increased funding for preschool by $90
million, so this was the natural next step.
Currently, federal and state dollars in Illinois pay for preschool for
130,000 low-income or academically "at risk" Illinois children, but
the new law aims to make pre-K available regardless of income, with
the goal of enrolling 190,000 children in publicly-funded preschool by
"This is a bill that can raise the bar for the rest of the country,"
said Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a Harvard professor of pediatrics and
national child development expert, in an interview with the Chicago
Universal Pre-K: An Emerging Trend
Illinois' new law is just part of a trend in recent years of expanding
pre-K in the states; in 2005, state lawmakers increased pre-K funding
by $600 million across 26 states, adding 180,000 more children to pre-
school rolls around the country.
And the increased commitments to pre-K continued this year. As just
one example, Tennessee announced that it will add 227 new pre-K
classes to serve 5000 "at risk" 4-year-olds statewide, bringing the
state total to 13,500, funded by a combination of state lottery and
Still, most families across the country either have to pay for private
programs or do without preschool for their kids, since fewer than 10
percent of 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide are in state-funded preschool
programs. Because of this, states are increasingly moving towards
integrating existing preschool programs into a more universal pre-K
program that is seen as an extension of the overall K-12 public
education system. In creating its goal of universal pre-K, Illinois is
joining Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma as states with statewide
And other states are looking to join these pioneers; while California
voters did not support a recent pre-K ballot initiative (partly, some
analysts believe, because of general ballot initiative fatigue), the
legislature did support a substantial expansion of preschool funds.
And new Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has announced the goal of
universal preschool for every 4-year old in that state, although the
plan is not likely to be introduced until 2008 after a commission
established by the governor comes back with recommendations on the
best way to design and fund the program.
Why Universal Pre-K?
Three simple reasons explain this turn to universal pre-K:
** the desire for greater equity in our educational system
** the clear economic returns to society from investing in early
** the need to lift the financial burden on parents
Educational Equity: Since research increasingly shows that early
education provides children with the skills necessary for later school
success, most analysts see broadly-accessible preschool as critical
for giving all children an equal educational opportunity. A study by
NIEER of pre-K programs in five states -- Michigan, New Jersey,
Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia -- found that children in
those states had clear gains in early language, literacy, and
mathematical development. A more recent study of the Oklahoma pre-K
program found across-the board gains from preschool for all socio-
economic groups. Significantly, the Oklahoma study indicated that
lower-income children gained more benefits when programs included
middle-income children-- a strong argument for more universal
preschool programs that bring children together from all communities.
Economic Returns: And if the returns to the children are clear, so are
the economic returns to states investing in them. Just last week, a
major study, The Economic Promise of Investing in High Quality
Preschool, released by the business-backed Committee for Economic
Development at a DC conference, highlighted research that every dollar
invested in preschool is expected to yield $2 to $4 in future societal
benefits, including savings for states from less crime and lower
remedial educational costs down the road.
Easing Financial Burden on Parents: One key benefit of preschool
programs are that they ease the financial burden on parents of paying
for child care and preschool programs themselves-- and making sure
that working families are forced to put their kids in substandard and
potentially unsafe care situations out of financial desperation. A
recent study found that families with a 4-year-old spend an average
of $3,016 to $9,628 a year in child care fees-- roughly 10% of median
household incomes and an even higher percentage for many lower-income
working families. While pre-K doesn't solve all those child care
issues, it can play a significant role in easing the burden and can
provide a real alternative to often substandard child care options
available in many communities.
Models for Universal Pre-K
The Oklahoma Preschool Program is the longest standing state pre-K
program and has achieved the highest percentage of 4-year olds in
publicly-funded preschool in the country. The link above highlights
key statutory provisions on defining eligibility, the responsibility
of local school boards, and the creation of both curriculum and
teacher certification standards for the pre-K program.
Senate Bill 1497, the Illinois Preschool for All law, doesn't create
a similar right by Illinois children to pre-K education yet, but
instead specifies a grant program for local school systems to expand
their preschool programs, along with guidelines for the state Board of
Education to assist in the expansion of the program to achieve the
goal of universal access in coming years as funding expands.
The legal organization, Starting at 3, has a state-by-state
breakdown of statutes and the legal context for pre-K systems in
different states, while the Economic Commission of the States tracks
ongoing legislative developments. The Commission also has a
searchable database of program characteristics from different
Pre[k]now put out a recent report, Funding the Future, outlining the
different ways states are funding their pre-K programs.
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) issued two recent
reports, Missed Opportunities on how states can better use Title I
funds from the No Child Left Behind Act to fund preschool, and All
Together Now on how states are integrating community-based child care
centers into their pre-K programs.
Universal Pre-Kindergarten Organizations Supporting Pre-K
pre[k]now -- advocacy center for pre-K
Starting at 3 -- legal center focused on preschool funding
Economic Commission of the States -- provides education news and
assistance to state on education issues
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)-
nation's largest organization of early childhood educators
CLASP -- national non-profit focused on the needs of low-income
Preschool California -- state group with range of resources on pre-K
Legislation and Models for Pre-K
Oklahoma Preschool Program
Senate Bill 1497, the Illinois Preschool for All law
Starting at 3 has a state-by-state breakdown of statutes and the
legal context for state pre-K systems
Economic Commission of the States tracks ongoing legislative
Reports and Studies
The Institute for Women's Policy Research: The Price of School
Readiness: A Tool for Estimating the Cost of Universal Preschool in
the States- reports built around a model for measuring costs of
Pre[k]now, Funding the Future on funding pre-K
CLASP's Missed Opportunities on using Title I funds from NCNL to
fund preschool and All Together Now on integrating community-based
child care centers into pre-K.
American Business Leaders' Views on Publicly-funded Pre-Kindergarten
and the Advantages to the Economy details polling by Zogby
NIEER: The Effects of State Prekindergarten Programs on Young
Children's School Readiness in Five States
The Effects of Universal Pre-K on Cognitive Development -- study
done at Georgetown University
Committee for Economic Development: The Economic Promise of Investing
in High Quality Preschool
Stateline.org: Preschool gets record boost in '05
Copyright 2006 Progressive States Network
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From: Inside Green Business, Jul. 24, 2006
COMPANY'S GREEN CHEMISTRY PROGRAM WINS ENVIRONMENTALISTS' PRAISE
Profile: SC Johnson
By David Clarke
As companies face mounting pressure to limit their use of toxic
chemicals, a patented system called "Greenlist," developed by SC
Johnson for classifying and managing chemicals based on their
environmental impact, has already influenced other attempts to
eliminate harmful chemicals, including efforts by activists who praise
the firm's aggressive promotion of greener chemistry.
The family-owned consumer products manufacturer based in Racine, WI,
has made its Greenlist process a key element of its business strategy,
relying on it to influence chemical companies that supply its raw
Besides its Greenlist efforts, the company is working with DuPont,
Hewlett-Packard and Tetra Pak, as well as a group of leading
universities, to develop a "base of the pyramid (BOP) protocol" that
can identify and develop sustainable new products and business in low-
income markets -- a cutting-edge direction in sustainability.
While Greenlist and the BOP protocol are two ways in which SC Johnson
is using sustainability as a business strategy, there are other
programs as well, says Scott Johnson, vice president of SC Johnson's
Global Environmental and Safety Actions. For example, one of the
company's largest facilities for manufacturing globally sold products,
located in Waxdale, outside Racine, is solely powered by two co-
generation turbines that burn landfill and natural gas, saving the
company millions of dollars a year while obviating the production of
52,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually.
In South Africa and elsewhere, the company also participates in
programs that promote its products while reducing malaria and
benefiting the health of local communities.
Greenlist, however, stands out among the company's efforts, according
to several outside observers. Basically, Greenlist is a process the
company uses to evaluate whether the chemicals it uses in its products
could adversely impact human health or the environment, says Dave
Long, SC Johnson's Sustainable Innovation Manager. Depending on the
type of material, four to seven criteria are used evaluate and rate
chemicals. The criteria include whether a chemical biodegrades, which
would make it less risky; its potential to harm aquatic organisms and
human health; how the European Union (EU) classifies the chemical
based on its environmental impacts; its vapor pressure, which affects
its potential to become an air pollutant; its octanol/water
coefficient, which affects its water polluting properties; and other
Depending on how environmentally good or bad a chemical is rated based
on the Greenlist criteria, it is given a number: 3 is "best," 2 is
"better," and 1 is "acceptable." A raw material rated 0 can be used,
but only when there is no viable alternative and only with senior
management approval. In such cases, a request must clearly demonstrate
that there is no alternative and include a plan for eventually
eliminating the material.
"Everything is science-based," says Long, who notes, for example, that
aquatic toxicity testing must use three or more organisms. Also, he
says, for biodegradability assessments the company uses the 301
approach employed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Since its inception in 2001, Greenlist has been used to rate 95
percent of the raw materials the company uses. SC Johnson does not
manufacture chemicals but instead buys raw materials from hundreds of
chemical companies. These raw materials include waxes, preservatives,
fragrances, solvents, propellants, resins, surfactants, insecticides,
packaging, and other materials.
The Greenlist process arises from a basic company commitment to
environmentally preferable choices, according to senior officials.
"We've long been embracing sustainability," Johnson says. "We aren't
jumping on a bandwagon or reacting to government regulations. In fact,
the standards we hold for ourselves are sometimes ahead of the
government regulations," he notes, adding that the company is also
working in partnership with government programs.
"We're doing today what five generations of Johnson family leadership
have led by example," says Johnson, who is not a relative of the
family. "We're doing this because it's the right thing to do," both
for the business today and for future generations, he adds.
The company's focus on Greenlist grew out of a personal commitment by
Fisk Johnson, the company's current chairman, to continue in a
tradition established by his father and grandfather, explains Long. In
the 1930s, Fisk's grandfather sought out a sustainable source of wax,
and his father, a founding member of the World Business Council for
Sustainable Development, phased out ozone-depleting
chlorofluorocarbons three years before doing so was mandated. When he
became chairman in 2000, he recognized that eco-efficiency -- which
focuses on reducing waste and raising recycling rates -- is limited in
scope, and so 2he asked, "What do we do next?" explains Long. The
company sells products in 110 countries, has operations in 70 nations,
and thus has a large environmental footprint. The question for Fisk
Johnson was, "How do we improve it?"
When SC Johnson first looked for methods to evaluate products and
materials so it could reduce its footprint, it did not set out to
build a new chemical ranking system. But no system existed to measure
the attributes of raw materials and "steer formulators in the right
direction," Long says. So the company created the Greenlist process.
Originally, SC Johnson's goal was to raise the overall rating for its
raw materials to 1.4 in six years, almost halfway to the highest
ranking of 3. The company reached 1.41 two years ahead of schedule,
resulting in the increased use of "better" and "best" materials by
more than 13 million kilograms and eliminating more than 11 million
kilograms of 0-rated materials. In December 2002, the company phased
out the production of chlorine-based external packaging materials
worldwide. It also phased out bottles made of polyvinyl chloride and
the use of bleached paperboard, which relies on chlorine as a
bleaching agent. These and other changes did not add significant costs
for raw materials, the company says.
Today, when a Greenlist rating is completed, the results are instantly
sent to SC Johnson chemists worldwide. Company chemists try to
formulate new products using chemicals rated 3 or 2. When they
reformulate existing products, they must include materials that have
an equal or higher rating than materials used in the original formula.
For example, when SC Johnson reformulated Windex in 2002, it
eliminated a volatile organic compound (VOC) solvent and thereby
reduced VOC use by 1.8 million pounds. Windex was reformulated again
in 2004, resulting in the elimination of 400,000 million pounds of
VOCs and improving Windex's cleaning power by 30 percent.
Since receiving a patent last December for Greenlist, SC Johnson has
been in the process of licensing the system to one company and is in
discussion with others. The licensing is royalty-free, but the company
stipulates that a user of Greenlist must 1) set goals to improve the
company's environmental footprint; 2) track implementation; and 3)
report publicly the progress being made against the goal. SC Johnson
receives credit as the creator and owner of Greenlist.
"We get interesting questions from companies that are looking for
examples of how they can 'green' their chemicals," says Long. "We've
even been contacted by the World Bank," which is interested not in the
Greenlist chemical criteria but in the applying the basic model to
evaluate light bulbs that are more efficient but have a higher mercury
The next Greenlist step is to set the company's goal for 2011. That
goal is still being defined, but it will be "a significant increase in
the score," requiring "disruptive technology, not incremental change,"
says Long. For example, a switch from petroleum to bio-based products
is a possibility.
"The striking thing about Greenlist is that it's a core strategy for
the company," says Rich Liroff, a senior fellow at World Wildlife Fund
who works with the Investor Environmental Health Network. SC Johnson
has made Greenlist "a core goal," Liroff says -- actively training
employees to use the process "from the get-go" while tying employee
compensation to successful use of the system.
"No doubt about it, they're a leader," Liroff says. "It's quite
In fact, he adds, "Quite a few points in my program were inspired by
Liroff developed a benchmarking tool for both investors and senior
corporate executives to use in assessing the progress of their own
companies, or of other companies, in meeting the growing demand for
environmentally preferable products. Other environmentalists echo
Liroff's views, although one activist questioned why the company's
plug-in household fragrance produce, Glade, is even necessary.
Greenlist is now several years old. But a new sustainability effort
under way at SC Johnson involves the BOP protocol. About the company's
BOP strategy, Johnson says, "There are four billion people at the base
of the world's economic pyramid. As we continue to grow the business,
this is a critical mass of people to tap into by developing business
models that target these consumers."
Johnson notes that the company is at work on an effort to test the BOP
protocol in Kenya, a project that lets local people help SC Johnson
understand the real needs of the community. "A business model is being
developed and piloted by the company in partnership with some of the
groups the [BOP] 'testers' worked with in Kenya," Johnson says.
The company has also had success helping farmers grow the natural
source of insecticide pyrethrum, an active ingredient used in Raid,
helping SC Johnson while also enabling the farmers to grow a more
sustainable business and boost their household income, Johnson says.
Johnson comments that what is important with BOP is that, "At the same
time we are seeking to grow profits for the company, in using the BOP
model and developing products and businesses in partnership with BOP
consumers, we are bringing these consumers sustainable value."
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From: Countercurrents.org, Jul. 8, 2006
AN INCONVENIENT PRINCIPLE
By Jules and Maxwell Boykoff
With Al Gore's recently released book and film on global warming --
"An Inconvenient Truth" -- the former vice president has managed to
deliver a one-two punch that is both staggering and, well, chilling.
"An Inconvenient Truth" brings global warming into high relief,
demonstrating its far-reaching implications for the world-as-we-know-
it. Gore also attempts to re-frame global warming as a moral issue
that must be dealt with collectively and immediately.
Along the way, Gore makes use of a study we conducted in 2004, which
found that the U.S. mass media were playing a problematic role in the
global warming discussion simply by offering balanced coverage.
As he mentions in his film and book, our research revealed that 53% of
articles appearing in major U.S. newspapers over a fourteen year
period gave equal weight to the findings of the most reputable
climate-change scientists from around the world who asserted that
humans were having a discernible impact on the planet's temperature
and the work of a small band of global-warming skeptics who denied
humans contributed to changes in the climate.
Balanced coverage -- telling 'both' sides of the story -- is widely
considered one of the pillars of high-quality, professional
journalism. However, when applied to this critical environmental
issue, balance greatly amplified the views of the skeptics, many of
whom are funded by Exxon-Mobil, the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
and their fossil-fuel-pushing, status-quo-desiring allies.
Therefore, through balanced reporting, the U.S. public and
policymakers were presented with the misleading scenario that there
was a raging debate among climate-change scientists regarding
humanity's role in global warming.
While the human contributions to global warming are not seriously
debated in the scientific community, what should be done to deal with
this growing problem is hotly discussed. Yet, everyone agrees that
unless we make sharp reductions in our greenhouse-gas emissions,
global warming will significantly alter the climate -- from glaciers
to coastlines to ecosystems -- in potentially irreversible ways.
This brings us to the inevitable intersection between science and
In a recent interview Al Gore said the United States is in "a Category
5 denial" regarding "the seriousness of the global warming crisis." He
then asserted, "Until the American people change their minds about
this reality, then the politicians in both parties are going to find
rough sledding when they propose the serious solutions that are
If Gore is correct and legislators need strong public opinion as
political cover, perhaps they should take another glimpse at the
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 59 percent of
those surveyed believed that action needed to be taken to combat
global warming while a majority told Gallup that protection of the
environment should be given priority, even if it might hamper economic
Sure, global warming does not garner the attention of more immediate,
headline-grabbing issues like the War in Iraq, terrorism, or national
security, but it is a topic that the public is both familiar with and
ready to move on.
Even if U.S. residents were not in such an open-minded mood,
policymakers should nevertheless be willing to take the lead in
combating global warming. In theory that's why we call them 'leaders.'
This brings us to an inconvenient principle that U.S. legislators
should consider: the precautionary principle.
In 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
concluded by issuing the Rio Declaration. Principle 15 of the
declaration stated: "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
Translated into the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, this precautionary
principle means if you don't know what you're doing, at least don't do
When risks of alternative policy choices are difficult to calculate,
as they are with global warming, the precautionary principle requires
choosing the option that minimizes harm. This principle provides a
basis for acting before one has full information. Therefore it is
relevant to the global-warming crisis since waiting for full
information may mean postponing action beyond the climate-change
Regrettably, the precautionary principle -- a simple, sensible concept
-- has surreptitiously slipped out of the global-warming discussion.
It is time for it to be concertedly reinserted into the debate.
As "An Inconvenient Truth" points out, our geological clock is
ticking. Even if we do not feel the hot hand of global warming at our
collective throat, we need to take action now -- before it's too late.
Jules Boykoff (firstname.lastname@example.org)is an assistant professor of
political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.
Maxwell Boykoff (email@example.com) is a research fellow at
the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute in Oxford,
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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
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As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary
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