Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

Wingspread Takes Flight
[Rachel's Introduction: Over ten years of promoting the precautionary principle as a helpful tool for creating healthier communities, one of the joys of doing this work has been hearing the stories of communities all over the country who have made the principle their own.]
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By Katie Silberman
The Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle, the first major gathering of American advocates to define the principle and dream of its possibilities, was held in January 1998. In the ten years since, we wonder, what ripples have flowed outward from that pebble in that pond? How has Wingspread actually changed the direction of public health and environmental decisionmaking in the face of uncertainty? What happens in the next ten years, and the ten after that?

At Wingspread, participants drafted a statement defining the precautionary principle that has since become standard fare:

"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."

Sounds good on paper. But what has this meant to real communities in 10 years? In Los Angeles, it meant replacing pesticides in school with safer alternatives. In San Francisco, it meant looking at the $600 million the City spent every year on goods and services, and choosing more sustainable options. In Atlanta, it meant demanding more health and more justice for a community already burdened unfairly with threats to their well-being.

In fact, over ten years of promoting the precautionary principle as a helpful tool for creating healthier communities, one of the joys of doing this work has been hearing the stories of communities all over the country who have made the principle their own.

In 2008, the Networker will be devoted to looking back at the ten years since Wingspread, as well as looking forward: to the next ten years of "Wingspread Taking Flight." As such, in this issue you will find reflections on Wingspread from SEHN Communications Director Nancy Myers, who's been along for the ride for all ten years, as well as SEHN Board Member Madeleine Kangsen Scammell, whose career has been shaped by Wingspread's afterglow.

Do you have a story about how Wingspread has affected your work or your life? We'd love to hear it at info@sehn.org. Onward and upward!

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