Table of Contents...
Zimbabwe: Africa Should Resist Pressure Over GMOs
A writer in Zimbabwe offers many reasons why Africa should resist
pressure from multinational corporations that flood the farming sector
with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The push for genetically
modified food is more about corporate control than anything else.
New Resources Are Now Available for Precautionaries
The BE SAFE Campaign for Precaution has just put some valuable new
resources and publications on its web site.
Guarding the Commons in Japan
In Japan, the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship
resonates with people who want to protect the commons.
The Power of Precaution
A Bioneers interview with Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and
Environmental Health Network.
A New 'Proactionary Principle' Arises in Opposition to Precaution
It may sound loopy, but a group of people calling themselves
'transhumanists' seeks to replace humans with an artificial form of
life. The group is aggressively opposing the precautionary principle,
hoping to substitute their own 'proactionary principle.' We dismiss
them at our peril.
From: Checkbiotech.org, Jul. 26, 2006
ZIMBABWE: AFRICA SHOULD RESIST PRESSURE OVER GMOS
By Sifelani Tsiko
It is worrying that the majority of people in Africa have become
consumers of foods that they have no knowledge of how they were
produced and manufactured.
A conference on food security and the challenge of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) which was held last week at Silveira House,
about 23km east of Harare raised stakes in the debate.
Participants at this conference which was organised by Environment
Africa and the Catholic-run Silveira House, who were drawn from South
Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe raised pertinent questions on the need for
African governments to set clear guidelines on GMOs when it comes to
food aid as well as the general consumption of other GMO products.
Andrew Mushita, the director of Community Technology Development Trust
(CTDT) said African governments should develop food aid policies so
that they adopt specific measures to guard against the dumping of GMO
food donations in their countries.
Delegates agreed that the adoption of GMO technology and food aid was
not the panacea to hunger in Africa.
"So far there is no technology to decontaminate GM seed. Food security
is fundamental for many people. Most of these technologies are not
focused on increasing food security and production but maybe disease
resistance," Mushita said.
There are huge risks to the smallholder rural African farmers if they
Experience highlights the danger of dependency and monopoly control
over GM seed by multinationals.
Large multinationals, Mushita said, have monopoly through their
country agents, subsidiaries and joint-venture exercises on the price
of the GM seed eroding the rights of the poor farmers to other
Kevin Roussel, an anti-GMO campaigner of the South African Catholic
Bishops' Conference, said new genetically engineered seed known as
"suicide" or "terminator" seeds which were engineered to be sterile
forced poor farmers to repurchase seed each year from the
multinationals who have patented these 'genetic use restriction
These GM seeds, he said, included "junkie plants" that were dependent
on chemicals sold by multinationals to flower, seed or sprout.
He said all farmers using GM crops in South Africa had to sign
contracts with Monsanto, a giant GMO corporation, where they agree not
to share their seed, only use Monsanto chemicals, buy new seed the
following year and agree to set aside 25 percent of their land as a
"refuge" area to control diseases.
Participants felt that GM seed would increase the dependency and
indebtedness of smallholder farmers to multinationals eroding the
communal rights, which entitled them to traditional crop varieties,
which they would share freely without added costs.
The multinational giants include Monsanto, Aventis, DuPont and
Syngenta (a merger of Astra Zeneca and Novartis) which dominate the
global agro-chemical business as well as genetic engineering
It is estimated that between them, they account for nearly two-thirds
of the $31 billion global pesticide market, one quarter of the $30
billion commercial seed market and virtually the entire GM seed
To push for further global control, these "Gene Giants" are merging
with the $300 billion pharmaceutical industry as plants are being used
to produce penicillin and insulin amongst other chemical and bacterial
The major actors in the GMO debate are the United States, which
supports it, and the European Union, which has largely opposed the
wholesale spread of the GMOs.
The US has tightened its law on GMOs but surprisingly still continues
to encourage use of the technology throughout the world.
"Both these blocs have tried to dictate their positions on other
countries in the absence of either side being able to convince the
other," said Roussel.
Resource poor farmers will never be able to afford technology fees and
the chemicals to grow the GM seeds.
Experts say about 1,4 billion people depend on saved seed for their
Worldwide hectarage of GM crops grew from 1,7 million in 1996 to an
estimated 60,7 million in 2002, showing the strength of the growing
influence of transnational corporations.
Roussel and Mushita said genetic engineering in its present form and
thrust cannot form part of the solution to the food crisis in Africa.
They said it merely worsens the problem and reduced smallholder
farmers to beggars and highly indebted people. They said it took away
the communal farmers' right to be able to save, sell and exchange seed
Muyatwa Sitali of Zambia said there was need to mobilise mass
campaigns to educate the poor rural farmers about the perceived
dangers of GMOs to human health and the environment.
"After analysing the issues at stake we realised that there was need
to blow the whistle," he said. "Are we going to refuse forever? Are we
not going to see any benefits coming with it? We have to educate rural
farmers about the risks and challenges that GMOs pose."
Other experts say there is enough food for everyone but the main
problem is the inequitable distribution process.
"Food aid comes as a result of the myth of hunger. Hunger in Africa is
unevenly distributed and I must say that this is a result of
inequitable economic systems which deny the poor access to food and
land, not merely inadequate supplies of food," Raymond Bokor, an agro-
ecologist wrote in a paper in 2003.
Most of the concerns which were raised by participants at Silveira
House centred on the monopoly by multinationals, the need to buy GM
seed for every new planting season to maintain high yield levels,
dependency on new generation GM seeds, rising input costs and
declining profits for smallholder farmers.
Of major concern was the possible loss of the existing robust crop
varieties and technologies that may reduce diversity, flexibility and
resilience in farming systems that could expose many to famine.
Additional concerns at the conference included the issue of the
ongoing globalisation and liberalisation of markets changes in
agricultural systems and how these were impacting on rural societies.
The US government, through the World Food Programme, has donated a lot
of GMO food items to some food insecure African countries as food aid
with no option for the recipients or governments to make any choices.
Mushita said the US must give such African countries other options
like cash to buy alternative non-GM food the way the European Union
was doing in some cases.
In 2000, Algeria banned the importation, distribution,
commercialisation and cultivation of GM foods and raw materials. Egypt
followed suit and banned the import of GM wheat and canned tuna packed
in genetically modified soybean oil.
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Angola have rejected GMO maize offered
through the WFP as food aid, raising concern over the way hunger was
being used to impose GM crops and food on developing countries.
The Zimbabwe Biosafety Board screens food aid before it comes in to
safeguard the health of the people as well as protect the environment.
All GMO grain food aid is milled outside the country in periods of
distress and the country has enacted laws to manage and control GMOs
and biotechnological research.
Other countries in the region are in the process of enacting laws to
govern and control GMOs.
South Africa has embraced genetic engineering and is now producing GM
maize, milk, cotton, canola, wheat, apples, potatoes, sugar cane and
Critics say most South Africans are not aware that they are consuming
GM foodstuffs due to lack of information, labelling and the
monopolistic influences of the multinationals when it comes to media
advertising, lobbying government and the funding of stooge NGOs which
support the proliferation of GMOs for profit.
"Cross contamination in the region is also a possibility. With
terminator seed technology this could be devastating for farmers,"
said Roussel. "The region could lose centuries of practice which will
be a major loss of indigenous knowledge systems. We should be wary of
making the same mistakes that formed in the Green Revolution."
Experts fear that genetic engineering in agriculture is likely to have
adverse environmental impacts that may affect the ecological basis of
food production. They say GM crops will stimulate the growth of
"superweeds" and "superbugs" leading to the use of higher doses of
chemicals making food supplies more vulnerable to pest damage.
Adoption of GM crops may lead to reduced genetic diversity resulting
in fewer and fewer types of food crops. This, in turn, may increase
the likelihood of pest and disease epidemics.
Mushita said there are great scientific uncertainties regarding the
safety of GMOs and their potential risks to the environment, health,
food and animal safety.
This, he said, calls for the precautionary principle in regulating
international trade in living modified organisms.
The other ethical concern, he said, was that most developing countries
had no biosafety regulations but were under pressure from GMO
exporting countries to implement weak biosafety regulations and to
accept GMOs through food aid.
"This calls for the region to develop collective regional policies on
food aid that address the array of potential risks in all facets of
the technology," Mushita said.
The food crisis in Africa is a result of droughts, floods, limited
access to credit, poor infrastructure, unfavourable agricultural
policies, trade policies that disadvantage poor farmers, lack of
inputs, inappropriate technologies and lack of information and
unsustainable farming practices.
There are 300 million people in Africa who are hungry and in many
cases this is due to inequitable distribution of food.
Africa must be in the driving seat when it comes to introducing new
technologies that aim to boost food security and reduce poverty.
All indicators from the Silveira House conference point to the need to
strengthen the anti-GMO movements, regional and global network for
information sharing to break the power of multinational firms and
research institutions on the continent.
In light of the controversy and public concern over GMOs, Bokor
concludes: "It is imperative that an immediate freeze on genetic
engineering on food and farming is declared throughout Africa until we
have assessed and understood all the implications for consumers,
farmers and the environment."
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From: BE SAFE, Jul. 25, 2006
NEW RESOURCES ARE NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRECAUTION ACTIVISTS
By Anne Rabe
The BE SAFE web site now offers several new resources stemming from
the First National Conference on the Precautionary Principle in
Baltimore in June, which brought together over 300 people and affirmed
that precaution is a powerful unifying force that is changing the way
policy is made in the U.S.
Here are links to obtain: Conference Proceedings, NEW Resource
Guide on Precaution, Platforms on Precaution, and a summary of
ideas for future precautionary organizing.
Go to www.besafenet.com for the following resources.
1. Conference Proceedings -- Learn from over 50 great speakers about
cutting-edge precautionary policies, programs, tactics and strategies!
View their power point presentations, speeches and educational
handouts, as well as summaries of strategy sessions.
2. Resource Guide on Precaution -- Download this valuable NEW guide
which includes websites, bibliography (by issue) of key articles,
reports and books on precaution plus media, organizing and fundraising
3. Platforms & Statements on Precaution -- Download this nice
summary which includes the 1998 Wingspread Statement, 2001 Icicle
Creek Statement on Ecosystems, Lowell Statement on Science &
Precaution, 2002 Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow Plan, 2003 BE SAFE
Platform and 2005 Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals.
4. Pioneer of Precaution Awards -- View the list of wonderful
leaders and groups that received awards at the conference.
5. Precautionary Organizing -- Get a Summary of Ideas from the
conference's "Building a Precautionary World" sessions, on the
following subjects: 1) Build a Bigger Tent; 2) Create a Common Vision;
3) Organize Day of Actions, Regional Meetings & More; 4) Take
Political Action; and 5) Develop More Effective Communication &
Contact me if you are interested in working on any of these
initiatives at email@example.com or 518-732-4538.
The conference was the 1st national conversation across issue
movements dedicated to precautionary action and it marks the beginning
of an expanded network with opportunities for collaboration and
information-sharing. If you have any questions or would like more
information, please let me know. I look forward to working with you to
build a precautionary world.
Anne Rabe, Coordinator BE SAFE Campaign for Precaution Center for
Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) firstname.lastname@example.org 518-732-4538
1265 Maple Hill Rd., Castleton, NY 12033
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From: Japan Times, Jul. 26, 2006
WILL COMMONS SENSE DAWN AGAIN IN TIME?
By Stephen Hesse
These days we can be forgiven for wondering if Homo sapiens have gone
completely mad. From just a glance at the headlines, it is easy to
conclude that humans are hellbent on destroying themselves and their
environment, with little concern for which goes first.
The missiles being heaved across national borders in northeast Asia
and the Middle East are the most egregious examples. Less obvious, but
every bit as destructive, is our steady degradation of the planet's
atmosphere, fresh water and oceans, also known as "the commons."
The key challenge facing these commons, and inevitably all of us who
depend on them, is whether humans can learn to see beyond immediate,
personal gain and act to preserve the global environment for the sake
of our children's children, and beyond. The alternative really isn't
an alternative at all. It's simply survival -- or not.
As idealistic as such environmental altruism may sound, it is not
totally alien to human societies. The Haudenosaunee people who
inhabited North America hundreds of years ago, also known as the
Iroquois, are famous for having embraced a philosophy that placed
priority on future generations.
Their credo, known as the Seventh Generation Principle, states: "The
first mandate... is to ensure that our decision-making is guided by
consideration of the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation
Recently, this indigenous wisdom has been woven together with
contemporary notions of environmental management, specifically the
Precautionary Principle, in an indigenous people's declaration known
as the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship. The
statement was released on July 6 in Bemidji, Minnesota, at a
conference convened by the Indigenous Environmental Network.
However averse we may be to learning from those cultures that we have
ransacked in the past, there is much we can discover from their eons
of living in dependence on, and harmony with, the earth.
Today we face what has been called "the tragedy of the commons" -- the
conflict for natural resources that pits individuals' interests
against those of the common good.
According to Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, this term
originally comes from a book on population written by William Forster
Lloyd in 1833. More recently, the term was popularized by Garrett
Hardin in a 1968 Science magazine piece titled "The Tragedy of the
Various critics have challenged Hardin's claims and assumptions, and
Hardin admits that he should have called his essay, "The Tragedy of
the Unregulated Commons." Nevertheless, Hardin's commons help
illustrate why human societies continue to degrade their air, water
and oceans despite the rising costs to health and human welfare that
we all inevitably shoulder.
Hardin uses the hypothetical example of animal herders sharing a
field. Each herder wants to maximize his own yield and, therefore,
will naturally try to increase the size of his herd. With each new
animal added to the pasture, there are both costs and benefits: On the
positive side, the herder benefits from the proceeds of each extra
animal, while on the negative side, each animal contributes to further
degradation of the field.
The key here is that "the division of these components is unequal: the
individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is
shared between all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an
individual herder weighing up these utilities, the rational course of
action is to add an extra animal. And then add another, and another.
However, since all herders reach the same conclusion, overgrazing and
degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate," explains Wikipedia.
In today's world, Hardin's herder represents each of us, each farmer,
fisher, politician and corporate CEO who seeks immediate gain at the
expense of the greater community, whether it be through abuse of
pesticides, overfishing, unnecessary pork-barrel projects or
exploitation of workers and natural resources.
Some examples of the "potential and actual tragedies" of the modern
commons include, according to Wikipedia, uncontrolled human population
growth leading to overpopulation of the planet; pollution of the
atmosphere; pollution and wasting of fresh water; soil contamination;
logging of old-growth forests; overfishing of the oceans; and species
More novel examples are littering of public lands, traffic jams, and
excessive advertising -- certainly each of us can identify with the
time and energy we waste picking spam from between our e-mails. Not a
tragedy, of course, but most definitely a waste of individual minutes
that, when multiplied, costs society countless millions of hours each
No doubt the Iroquois would have some thoughts on how to conserve the
time and energy we waste hunched over our computers. However, for the
authors of the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship,
conserving nature is the only priority.
"The Statement is written with the intent of being able to adopt it at
all levels of our society. It is also written to change the way we
think about our future.... It is intended for individuals or small
groups of individuals to take guardianship responsibility for one
piece of the web of life and protect or restore that one piece for
this and future generations," reads an introduction to the statement
provided by the Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network.
Some readers will find the statement too "green," even quaint, but
where it touches on the principle of precaution, it is advocating an
approach that is on the cutting edge of environmental policy being
Calling for caution, the Bemidji Statement notes that "scientific
uncertainty has been misused to carry out economic, cultural and
political exploitation of the land and resources. Failure to recognize
the complexity of these relationships will further impair the future
health of our people and function of the environment."
Similarly, one definition of the Precautionary Principle -- as
contained in the Wingspread Statement drafted in 1998 at a conference
of scientists and policymakers in Wisconsin -- states, "We believe
existing environmental regulations and other decisions, particularly
those based on risk assessment, have failed to protect adequately
human health and the environment -- the larger system of which humans
are but a part.... Therefore, it is necessary to implement the
Precautionary Principle: 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 scientifically. In this context the proponent of an
activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof."
Even more to the point are three distilled elements of the principle
offered by Peter Montague, Editor of Rachel's Precaution Reporter, a
U.S.-based Precautionary Principle advocacy organization: "When we
have a reasonable suspicion of harm, and scientific uncertainty about
cause and effect, then we have a duty to take action to prevent harm."
In short, as Earth's human population climbs past 6.4 billion, our
degradation of the commons -- our air, water and oceans -- is
increasing exponentially; local, regional and global environmental
management based on the Precautionary Principle offers a simple and
coherent paradigm for ensuring that our own seventh generation has its
day in the sun.
As for readers who may think all this precautionary talk is just New
Age babble, it is worth noting that abuse of the commons has been on
the minds of great thinkers for centuries.
More than 2,300 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote: "For
that which is common to the greatest number has the least care
bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all
of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an
Words to ponder seriously, especially in light of what became of
Ancient Greece, and so many other human societies.
For some more information on The Bemidji Statement, visit:
For more on the Precautionary Principle, see: www.precaution.org
Stephen Hesse welcomes readers' questions and comments at:
Copyright 2006 The Japan Times
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From: Bioneers, Jul. 18, 2006
THE POWER OF PRECAUTION
By Kim Ridley
Today, a growing number of communities, school districts, health care
organizations, and other entities are applying the precautionary
principle to protect the health of people and the environment. San
Francisco passed a Precautionary Principle Ordinance in 2003, and many
other cities and towns are incorporating precaution into their laws
and policies. Schools are using the precautionary principle to find
safer alternatives to toxic pesticides. Hospitals are using it to
replace supplies containing PVC with healthier options.
It's an idea whose time has clearly come: The First National
Conference on Precaution took place in June in Baltimore, Maryland.
The applications of this tool are virtually limitless, says
Raffensperger, co-editor of Precautionary Tools for Reshaping
Environmental Policy and Protecting Public Health and the
Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle. She spoke with
Bioneers editor-at-large Kim Ridley about the evolution of this new-
old paradigm, and its potential to catalyze life-sustaining change.
Kim Ridley: The precautionary principle is rooted in very old ideas.
Can you talk about its re-emergence and its particular relevance for
Carolyn Raffensperger: It comes from a German word that means
forecaring. It's the grandmother principle -- better safe than sorry,
an ounce of prevention, a stitch in time. We also have archetypes and
stories that are precautionary, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, which
warns that our technology and arrogance can harm us. An ethical strand
comes from the ancient Hippocratic Oath of "do no harm" to prevent
suffering. It is out of this wellspring of archetypes and wisdom that
the precautionary principle has taken root and bloomed.
As we define it today, the precautionary principle has three core
elements: the threat of harm, uncertainty, and precautionary action. I
think the big surprise of the precautionary principle is the paradox
of action. Taking a precautionary approach doesn't mean stopping
everything or not doing anything or blocking progress. It means
looking for alternatives, using democracy, and reversing the burden of
proof from those who have been harmed to those who pollute.
The precautionary principle is part of a larger set of ideas that aim
to prevent problems in the first place. It encourages us to use our
imaginations and all of our technological and intellectual power to
create a lustrous and beautiful future for generations to come.
KR: Where are some of the places you're seeing the precautionary
principle being used most effectively?
CR: Communities like Denton, Texas, are applying the precautionary
principle to find safer alternatives to harmful pesticides in parks,
which is a key way to reduce chemical exposure for children and pets.
Many school districts are applying it in similar ways. They are
switching to safer alternatives to pesticides and cleaners containing
toxic materials. Schools around the country are looking for
alternatives to sugary, fatty processed foods in vending machines and
lunches. The school district in Emeryville, California, is applying
the precautionary principle to all of its activities from the
curriculum to school buildings to food to energy.
Some large businesses are also adopting the principle. Kaiser
Permanente recognized the cognitive dissonance of causing illnesses
through practices that were supposed to be healing. For instance, they
are trying to find alternatives to toxic chemicals used in hospitals.
Even more interesting is their application of precaution to food in
hospitals. Hospitals routinely serve meat and eggs from animals that
were raised using antibiotics. This increases the chance that the
hospital will foster antibiotic-resistant diseases. By applying the
precautionary principle and serving food that was raised without
antibiotics, the health care system protects its medicines and
decreases the chance of serious illness caused by the very food that
should be healing and nourishing.
On an even larger scale, the city and county of San Francisco has
consolidated all of its environmental ordinances under the large
umbrella of the precautionary principle. One facet of the
precautionary principle that has emerged through the experience of San
Francisco and other jurisdictions is that the precautionary principle
isn't what lawyers call "self-executing." A law that is self-executing
tells you what should happen and how it should get carried out. So to
express the ideals contained in the precautionary principle ordinance,
San Francisco has passed a couple of other ordinances. The first law
passed to carry out the principle was a purchasing policy ordinance
that mandated that San Francisco would purchase the most
environmentally sound alternatives.
KR: How does one initiate this idea in one's own back yard?
CR: Most people start with what they love -- or what they fear will
happen to what they love. The next step is setting some community
goals. For example, here in my state the Iowa Environmental Council
set goals for everything from clean water to the number of raptors
that would nest here. You can set goals for reducing the asthma rate
or increasing the monarch butterflies or pollinators in your
community, or whatever problem worries you. Then you can start looking
for alternatives to the things that are barriers to achieving your
KR: What role does imagination play in the search for safer
CR: The precautionary principle is future-oriented, so we get to apply
our imaginations to the kind of world we want to live in. If we can
imagine a world where children are born free of toxic chemicals in
their bodies -- that's real liberty, by the way -- or a world where we
can prevent breast cancer, we can begin to move toward that goal. We
can ask ourselves, what are the next three steps we need to
take?Although the precautionary principle is defined by scientific
uncertainty, the outcome doesn't have to be more decimal points. Sure,
we can get more data, we can proceed with science and safer
technologies, but just as important, we can choose the most beautiful
solution. We've been given a biological radar for beauty, which is
part of imagination.
KR: What other kinds of problems can the precautionary principle
CR: It can apply to everything from new technology to social issues.
Right now, we're in dialogue with people working on poverty. We
believe that ending poverty is actually an environmental issue. The
work that led up to the 1992 Rio Declaration, which was the first
clear international expression of the precautionary principle, said
that poverty was both a cause and effect of environmental degradation.
Excessive wealth amassed by rape and plunder of the earth also is a
cause and effect of environmental degradation.
Another set of economic ideas growing out of the precautionary
principle is redefining wealth to specify the common wealth and the
common health. In this new definition, the commons is the essential
basis of the economy, not just capital. In other words, if you can't
breathe the air or drink the water, all of the money you've got in the
bank doesn't matter one whit. When you make decisions based on the
common wealth, the state or government becomes a trustee to manage
resources -- the commons -- for this and future generations. And guess
what, if government is to serve as a good and wise trustee of the
commons for future generations, it has to use the precautionary
KR: Is such a shift possible in the current political climate?
CR: What we've got now are institutions that are really designed to
allow pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, is
set up to permit pollution. I think that our next task is to begin
designing how we want to live together and govern ourselves in a world
where we have seen the consequences of our damage. What if we had
governmental institutions that were designed to protect future
A number of tribes have been working on something called the Seventh
Generation Amendment, which my friend Tom Goldtooth says is the
precautionary principle. What's really exciting is that we don't have
one constitution in the U.S. we actually have fifty-one because every
state has a constitution. In addition, we also have more than six
hundred federally recognized tribes, most of whom have their own
constitution. So what if all these states and tribes adopted
essentially a Seventh Generation Amendment in their constitutions?
When you build in the Seventh Generation idea, you've defined the
government's responsibility to serve as a trustee, and you have an
absolute requirement for the precautionary principle. Imagine if a
state like Minnesota said, "We're going to take that so seriously that
we're going to have a guardian for the Seventh Generation make a
decision about every piece of legislation."
KR: Are there any existing models?
CR: The Florida Constitution requires polluters to pay for damaging
the Everglades, a common. Reversing the burden of proof is built into
the Florida Constitution. Voters in Florida recognized that the sugar
industry was polluting the Everglades, especially Lake Okeechobee.
They decided that rather than have the taxpayers pay for clean up, the
polluter should be responsible. Reversing the burden of proof means we
stop giving the benefit of the doubt to the economy. We give it to
public health and the environment. Requiring the polluter to pay for
damage is a way of keeping the burden of proof and responsibility on
the shoulders of the polluter.
The Hawaii Constitution says that the state is the trustee of the
natural resources, and the Hawaiian Supreme Court says you have to use
the precautionary principle to carry out that function. In a case
where water was being used up by golf courses and big agriculture, the
court followed this rule to protect water for and restore water to
small farmers and indigenous people. Governments around the world are
trying similar ideas. Israel, for example, has a commissioner for
KR: What are some of the biggest challenges to implementing the
CR: The chief barrier is the assumption that we have to grow the
economy, which means the earth is going to have to keep giving up out
of her guts and lungs and kidneys to feed this monster of growth.
The challenge is knowing how to implement the precautionary principle
when you're facing something like a factory hog farm in your
community. This moves the precautionary principle out of the realm of
"nice, abstract idea" into the realm of fierce and wise ideas. We've
found that things like reversing the burden of proof from the local
community to the factory hog farm owner helps protect the air and the
water because if you don't, the factory hog farm is going to take
every opportunity to make the earth and surrounding human community
pay the costs of damage so it can make a profit. So you can say to the
factory farm, "you have to put up an assurance bond that you won't
pollute. If you release antibiotic- resistant bacteria downstream or
foul the air beyond a certain limit, we're going to revoke your bond,
you're going to lose it." You really have to give the precautionary
principle some teeth. This is a ferocious defense system that lets you
say to polluters "We're not just going to let you rape and pillage and
all be nice about it. We're going to stand up for what we love."
KR: What about those who say it's already too late?
CR: We are on the brink of disaster. Kids often come to me and say,
"There's not going to be anything left of the planet when I get old
enough and educated enough to try and protect the rainforest or whales
or tall grass prairie." What I tell them is, "We don't know if we're
going to succeed, but it's worthy work."
As Camus wrote, we have to be "dazzling realists." Is it hard? Yes,
it's impossible. Are we up to it? Maybe. We're what we've got. We need
all of the imagination of the younger generation, and all of the ideas
of my generation and my grandparents' generation.
KR: How does spirit inform the precautionary principle?
CR: Love is at the heart of so much of this work, and it's not a word
used in politics very much. Van Jones calls the larger social justice
movement a "reverence movement." Terry Tempest Williams has described
the precautionary principle as "restraint in the name of reverence."
The sense of sacredness and of this great responsibility to prevent
suffering is really at the core of what we're doing.
Carolyn Raffensperger is an environmental lawyer and executive
director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, the
leading U.S. proponent of the precautionary principle as a new basis
for environmental and public health policy. The principle 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 scientifically."
Copyright 2006 by Collective Heritage Institute
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From: MercatorNet, Jul. 7, 2006
THE QUEST FOR PROACTIVE EVOLUTION
By Jerry Salyer
"Throw caution to the winds" is the motto of a technology-infatuated
group which wants to improve the human race.
Transhumanism has changed considerably since the word was first coined
by British scientist Julian Huxley in 1957. Huxley, an ardent
humanitarian, described the concept as a methodology by which eugenics
and social conditioning could improve the human race. His heirs today
are considerably more ambitious.
In broad terms, transhumanism advocates replacing the human race with
an artificial life form using artificial intelligence (AI),
cybernetics, genetic engineering, advanced pharmaceuticals, and
nanotechnology. It contends that man is destined for metamorphosis
into a superior life form with an unlimited lifespan, better memory,
faster computing power, and freedom from the bounds of traditional
For over a decade the Extropy Institute has been one of the
foundation stones of the transhumanism. ("Extropy" is the opposite of
entropy, the thermodynamic principle of decay.) In keeping with
transhumanism's commitment to endless flux, the Extropy Institute has
now metamorphosed, and its members have signed on to a manifesto which
they describe as the "proactionary principle".
The proactionary principle is intended as a replacement for the
precautionary principle of bioethics. The precautionary principle
advises restraint; the proactionary principle encourages the
aggressive pursuit of technological change. The spiritual,
psychological, and environmental dangers of ramping up the pace of
change, according to transhumanists, are best met by moving faster.
The Extropy Institute supports its views with a potted history of
"Throughout history, the advancement of science has always been met
with superstition and fear. For every improvement to the human
condition, there have always been those who thought it would be better
for things to remain in their former condition. This led to the long
Dark Ages, where no progress occurred at all. The Renaissance and
Enlightenment finally broke us free from that grim era."
But clouds, principally from the Christian right and other
"conservative" interests around the world, threaten to block the
sunshine shed by the Enlightenment:
"Transhumanists were born into an enlightened world where perpetual
progress based on science and creativity seemed inevitable. However,
recent years have seen a backlash against advancement toward extending
health, enhancing intelligence, understanding emotions, and the ever-
increasing control we now can take over our own destinies. We face now
an unprecedented battle for the future of humanity."
In its discussion of human sexuality, the proactionary principle takes
mainstream attitudes on the topic toward their logical conclusion:
"The new sexual landscapes will bring about different types of
sexuality, different types of genders. In the future, we may still
want to perform the traditional types of sex, or we may want to
participate in the reconstituted and reconfigured gender roles and
sexuality that will radically change us. We may do away with our
bodily nerves, but keep some sensations, the ones for pleasure or
perhaps some for pain to remind us not to do something. Yet,
eventually we will begin to shuttle more and more parts of ourselves
as we become post-biological."
Before one dismisses the proactionary principle as the invention of
kooks who have seen too much Star Trek, it should be considered that
many transhumanists are very prominent indeed. MIT artificial
intelligence researcher Marvin Minsky is a leader of the movement, as
is former USC philosophy professor Max More. Minsky has written many
works of fiction and nonfiction which depict the supplanting of human
beings by robots as both inevitable and desireable. More has spread
the message via high-profile interviews and appearances on cable
networks such as The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and
Other are Bart Kosko, of the University of Southern California,
Gregory Stock, of UCLA; Jose Cordeiro, a Venezuelan academic and
columnist for the newspaper El Universal). Peter Thiel, former CEO of
Paypal, offers business advice. Affiliates include groups such as the
Friends of the United Nations, and UNICEF-Africa.
Another group, the World Transhumanist Association, is a close ally.
Its executive director, James Hughes, is professor of Health Policy at
Trinity College. Hughes is attracted to the political ramifications of
changing human nature, as evinced by his recent book Citizen Cyborg:
Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the
Future. In one unintentionally ironic essay, Hughes promises a fix for
the political disasters that ensue from demagogues' exploitation of
human hopes and fears: "The cure for demagoguery will be a spam filter
on our cerebellum."
The proactionary principle is largely a response to heightened public
awareness about the moral and spiritual dangers of technology; the
transhumanists understand that their goals require a public relations
campaign to counter the forces of darkness, whom they describe as the
"neo-luddites". A new magazine, The New Atlantis, a journal of the
Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC, is one of the
leading organs for neo-luddite thinking and contains refreshing
analyses of the origins of transhumanism. In a recent issue Dusquene
University political science professor Charles Rubin cogently argues
that transhumanism is basically a fantasy of egocentric libertarians:
"It starts with something that sounds so sensible: who would not want
a longer, healthier, happier life? The modern world has long been
committed to this goal. But then we're off to the enhancement races.
If you don't want an implant that allows you to feel the feelings of
your sexual partner, or that gives you a direct feed to your brain of
whatever the Internet will become, or if you don't want to design
children with a genetic leg up in the world, fine -- nobody is going
to make you. But don't try to tell me that if I do want it, I can't
have it... And...if you choose to remain a 'Natural,' don't expect
much consideration from the ranks of the 'Enhanced.'"
The transhumanists' quest to "make a better man for a better tomorrow"
may sound loopy. But it is a potent and exhilarating drug of the
spirit for many intelligent but technology-infatuated people. You can
expect to hear more from them in the future.
Jerry Salyer writes from Annapolis, Maryland.
Copyright 2006 MercatorNet
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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.
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