Rachel's Precaution Reporter #122
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

From: New York Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
December 26, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Science does not provide a definitive answer to the question of safety. However, having reviewed the science, insurance companies have been unwilling to insure the planting of genetically-engineered Bt corn because the risks to people and the environment are too uncertain.]

By By Elisabeth Rosenthal

BRUSSELS -- A proposal that Europe's top environment official made last month, to ban the planting of a genetically modified corn strain, sets up a bitter war within the European Union, where politicians have done their best to dance around the issue.

The environmental commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said he had based his decision squarely on scientific studies suggesting that long-term uncertainties and risks remain in planting the so-called Bt corn. But when the full European Commission takes up the matter in the next couple of months, commissioners will have to decide what mix of science, politics and trade to apply. And they will face the ambiguous limits of science when it is applied to public policy.

For a decade, the European Union has maintained itself as the last big swath of land that is mostly free of genetically modified organisms, largely by sidestepping tough questions. It kept a moratorium on the planting of crops made from genetically altered seeds while making promises of further scientific studies.

But Europe has been under increasing pressure from the World Trade Organization and the United States, which contend that there is plenty of research to show such products do not harm the environment. Therefore, they insist, normal trade rules must apply.

Science does not provide a definitive answer to the question of safety, experts say, just as science could not determine beyond a doubt how computer clocks would fare at the turn of the millennium.

"Science is being utterly abused by all sides for nonscientific purposes," said Benedikt Haerlin, head of Save Our Seeds, an environmental group in Berlin and a former member of the European Parliament. "The illusion that science will answer this overburdens it completely." He added, "It would be helpful if all sides could be frank about their social, political and economic agendas."

Mr. Dimas, a lawyer and the minister from Greece, looked at the advice provided by the European Union's scientific advisory body -- which found that the corn was "unlikely" to pose a risk -- but he decided there were nevertheless too many doubts to permit the modified corn.

"Commissioner Dimas has the utmost faith in science," said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for the environment department. "But there are times when diverging scientific views are on the table." She added that Mr. Dimas was acting as a "risk manager."

Within the European scientific community, there are passionate divisions about how to apply the growing body of research concerning genetically modified crops, and in particular Bt corn. That strain is based on the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis and mimics its production of a toxin to kill pests. The vast majority of research into such crops is conducted by, or financed by, the companies that make seeds for genetically modified organisms.

"Where everything gets polarized is the interpretation of results and how they might translate into different scenarios for the future," said Angelika Hilbeck, an ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, whose skeptical scientific work on Bt corn was cited by Mr. Dimas. "Is the glass half-empty or half-full?" she asked.

Ms. Hilbeck says that company-financed studies do not devote adequate attention to broad ripple effects that modified plants might cause, like changes to bird species or the effect of all farmers planting a single biotechnology crop. She said producers of modified organisms, like Syngenta and Monsanto, have rejected repeated requests to release seeds to researchers like herself to conduct independent studies on their effect on the environment.

In his decision, Mr. Dimas cited a dozen scientific papers in finding potential hazards in the Bt corn to butterflies and other insects.

But the European Federation of Biotechnology, an industry group, contends that the great majority of these papers show that Bt corn does not pose any environmental risk.

Many plant researchers say that Mr. Dimas ignored scientific conclusions, including those of several researchers who advised the European Union that the new corn was safe.

"We are seeing 'advice-resistant' politicians pursuing their own agendas," said one researcher, who like others asked not to be identified because of his advisory role.

But Karen S. Oberhauser, a leading specialist on monarch butterflies at the University of Minnesota, said that debate and further study of Bt corn was appropriate, particularly for Europe.

"We don't really know for sure if it's having an effect" on ecosystems in the United States, she said, and it is hard to predict future problems. About 40 percent of corn in the United States is now the Bt variety, and it has been planted for about a decade.

"Whether Bt corn is a problem depends totally on the ecosystem -- what plants are near the corn field and what insects feed on them," Ms. Oberhauser said. "So it's really, really important to have careful studies."

Bt crops produce a toxin that kills pests but is also toxic to related insects, notably monarch butterflies and a number of water insects. The butterflies do not feed on corn itself, but they might feed nearby, on plants like milkweed. Because corn pollen is carried in the wind, such plants can become coated with Bt pollen.

Ms. Oberhauser said she had been worried about the effect of Bt corn on monarch butterflies in the United States after her studies showed that populations of the insect dipped from 2002 to 2004. But they have rebounded in the last three years, and she has concluded that, in the American Corn Belt, Bt corn has probably not hurt monarch butterflies.

Still, she said there was disagreement about that as well as broader causes for worry. Monarch butterflies may have been saved in the United States, she said, by a fluke of local farming practices. Year by year, farmers alternate Bt corn with a genetically modified soy seed that requires the use of a weed killer. That weed killer, Monsanto's Roundup, eliminated milkweed -- the monarch's favored meal -- in and around corn fields, so the butterflies went elsewhere and were no longer exposed to Bt.

"It's a problem for milkweed, but it made the risk for monarchs very small," she said.

Still, she said, other effects could emerge with time and in farming regions with other practices. For example, Bt toxin slows the maturation of butterfly caterpillars, which leaves them exposed to predators for longer periods.

"Sure, time will give you answers on these questions -- and maybe show you mistakes that you should have thought about earlier," she said.

For ecologists and entomologists, a major concern is that insects could quickly become resistant to the toxin built into the corn if all farmers in a region used that corn, just as microbes affecting humans become resistant to antibiotics that are prescribed often. The pests that are killed by modified corn are only a sporadic problem and could be treated by other means.

Scientists also worry about collateral damage because Bt toxin is in wind-borne pollen. Most pollens "are highly nutritious, as they are designed to attract," Ms. Hilbeck said, wondering how a toxic pollen would affect bees, for example.

Having reviewed the science, insurance companies have been unwilling to insure Bt planting because the risks to people and the environment are too uncertain, said Duncan Currie, an international lawyer in Christchurch, New Zealand, who studies the subject.

In the United States, where almost all crops are now genetically modified, the debate is largely closed.

"I'm not saying there are no more questions to pursue, but whether it's good or bad to plant Bt corn -- I think we're beyond that," said Richard L. Hellmich, a plant scientist with the Agriculture Department who is based at Iowa State University. He noted that hundreds of studies had been done and that Bt corn could help "feed the world."

But the scientific equation may look different in Europe, with its increasing green consciousness and strong agricultural traditions.

"Science doesn't say on its own what to do," said Catherine Geslain- Laneelle, executive director of the European Food Safety Authority. She noted that while her agency had advised Mr. Dimas that Bt corn was "unlikely" to cause harm, it was still working to improve its assessment of the long-term risk to the environment.

Part of the reason that science is central to the current debate is that European law and World Trade Organization rules make it much easier for a country or a region to exclude genetically modified seeds if new scientific evidence indicates a risk. Lacking that kind of justification, a move to bar the plants would be regarded as an unfair barrier to trade, leaving the European Union open to penalties.

But the science probably will not be clear-cut enough to let the European ministers avoid that risk.

Simon Butler at the University of Reading in Britain is using computer models to predict the long-term effect of altered crops on birds and other species. But should the ministers reject Bt and other genetically modified corn?

"My work is not to judge whether G.M. is right or wrong," he said. "It's just to get the data out there."

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company


From: Plastics News (pg. 6) ..............................[This story printer-friendly]
November 19, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: This is another victory for the precautionary principle -- simply said, it's the idea that in case of scientific uncertainty, society should err on the side of caution.]

What should we make of Target Corp.'s decision to reduce the amount of PVC in its packaging and products?

First, there's no way to spin this -- it's bad news for vinyl. OK, so Target doesn't have a firm time line to remove all vinyl. But don't expect the company to sit on the issue for a few years and then announce that it was wrong, vinyl is fine after all, and no other material can beat it when it comes to price and performance.

That may be true, but Target would never get away with it.

Now that the retail chain has made the no-more-PVC pledge, you can be sure that the groups that pressured Target to make the promise will be watching closely for signs of progress. They will follow up, and they will apply additional coercion if they feel Target is moving too slowly.

Here's a hint at what's coming next: It's highly unlikely that anti- PVC forces will feel that Target is moving fast enough.

Also, though the news is hitting during an epidemic of headlines over Chinese-made toys that contain lead paint, don't be misled into thinking this is just a lead safety issue. The news may be resonating with the media and some consumers because of made-in-China concerns. But the groups that pushed for Target (and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.) to reduce PVC use aren't just focused on lead, or on China.

No, this is another victory for the precautionary principle -- simply said, it's the idea that in case of scientific uncertainty, society should err on the side of caution. Sure, everyone takes risks every day, when we eat fatty foods, don't get enough exercise, ride motorcycles, cross the street. But the chemical industry increasingly is under scrutiny from activists who feel that the benefits of some chemical products are not worth the risks associated with them. Never mind if the risks have not been proved scientifically -- the mind-set is to ban now and ask questions later.

Right now, PVC is one of the chemicals where the critics are getting traction. And their leverage to enforce a ban is in children's products. It's not a huge leap from saying, "Some PVC toys and baby products contain lead or phthalates, so let's ban lead and phthalates," to, "Let's ban PVC in toys and baby products."

Target now has taken the natural next step, which is to say that babies might get ahold of just about anything they sell, so why not apply the same rule across the board?

Is it logical? Not really. But it absolutely is a trend to watch.

The primary market for PVC -- construction products like vinyl siding and pipe -- isn't in jeopardy. The world needs PVC products to build - and rebuild -- utility infrastructure, as well as residential housing. The people who make the decisions about construction materials - builders and the majority of home-building consumers -- are still solidly in the PVC camp.

But if you're making a PVC product that you need to sell in a Target or Wal-Mart store in order for your business to survive, you'd better not wait too long to start looking at alternatives.


From: The New York Times (pg. F2) ........................[This story printer-friendly]
November 13, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: In "A Contract With the Earth," Mr. Gingrich, with his co-author Terry L. Maple, has written a manifesto challenging conservatives not just to grudgingly accept, but to embrace, the idea that a healthy environment is necessary for a healthy democracy and economy. The book invokes concepts like the precautionary principles that are anathema to many in Mr. Gingrich's party.]

By Andrew C. Revkin

For many years, the battle over what to think and do about human- caused climate change and fossil fuels has been waged mostly as a yelling match between the political and environmental left and the right.

The left says global warming is a real-time crisis requiring swift curbs on smokestack and tailpipe gases that trap heat, and that big oil, big coal and antiregulatory conservatives are trashing the planet.

The right says global warming is somewhere between a hoax and a minor irritant, and argues that liberals' thirst for top-down regulations will drive American wealth to developing countries and turn off the fossil-fueled engine powering the economy.

Some books mirror the divide, like the recent "Field Notes from a Catastrophe," built on a trio of articles in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert, and "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming" by Chris Horner, a lawyer for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ms. Kolbert sounds a strong warning call, and Mr. Horner's book fits with the position of the institute, a libertarian and largely industry-backed group that strongly opposes limits on greenhouse gases.

But in three other recent books, there seems to be a bit of a warming trend between the two camps. Instead of bashing old foes, the authors, all influential voices in the climate debate with roots on the left or the right, tend to chide their own political brethren and urge a move to the pragmatic center on climate and energy.

All have received mixed reviews and generated heated Internet debate -- perhaps because they do not bolster any one agenda in a world where energy and environmental policies are still forged mainly in the same way Doctor Dolittle's two-headed pushmi-pullyu walked. (It didn't move much.)

One such book comes from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the most polarizing forces in politics a decade ago.

In "A Contract With the Earth," Mr. Gingrich, with his co-author Terry L. Maple (a professor of psychology at Georgia Tech and president of the Palm Beach Zoo), has written a manifesto challenging conservatives not just to grudgingly accept, but to embrace, the idea that a healthy environment is necessary for a healthy democracy and economy.

The book invokes concepts like the precautionary principles that are anathema to many in Mr. Gingrich's party. In a rare stance for those on the right, the authors say curbing carbon dioxide emissions (affordably) is a wise strategy.

They call for America to lead in moving to a world where "fossil fuels have been largely modified for carbon recycling or replaced by carbon-neutral alternatives."

The book does reveal in spots Mr. Gingrich's disdain for what he calls liberals' failed reliance on legislation and litigation in environmental protection. It is all about carrots, like tax incentives, and nowhere about sticks, like binding emissions limits.

But for the most part it is aimed at conservatives, urging them to embrace their inner Teddy Roosevelt and craft a new "entrepreneurial environmentalism."

The book won over Edward O. Wilson, the prize-winning conservation biologist and author, sufficiently that he wrote a foreword calling the authors "realists and visionaries."

While Mr. Gingrich is beckoning the right to come to the middle, a similar plea has been sent out to the left by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger in "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility."

This pair of young environmental thinkers, a political strategist and a social scientist, respectively, shook up the green movement in 2004 with an essay called "The Death of Environmentalism," which provided a launching pad for the book. They say traditional regulatory approaches and dark environmental messages -- like the "planetary emergency" at the heart of "An Inconvenient Truth," the book by former Vice President Al Gore and the subject of a film -- will fail if applied to global warming.

Instead they call for an aggressive effort to invest in energy research, while also building societies that can be resilient in the face of the warming that is already unavoidable.

In a recent interview, Mr. Shellenberger reprised a central point of the essay and book. "Martin Luther King didn't give the 'I have a nightmare' speech, he gave an 'I have a dream' speech," Mr. Shellenberger said. "We need a politics that is positive and that inspires people around an exciting and inspiring vision."

In this same centrist camp sits Bjorn Lomborg. A Danish statistician, Mr. Lomborg has made a career out of challenging the scariest scenarios of environmentalists and argues for a practical calculus weighing problems like poverty, disease and climate against one another to determine how to invest limited resources.

His first book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," put him on Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people in 2004 and made him a star among conservative politicians and editorial boards.

In his short new book, "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming," Mr. Lomborg reprises his earlier argument with a tighter focus. He tries to puncture more of what he says are environmental myths, like the imminent demise of polar bears. (Most bear biologists have never said the species is doomed but do see populations shrinking significantly in a melting Arctic.)

Like almost everyone these days, Mr. Lomborg says rich countries should spend far more on basic energy research.

Unlike Mr. Gingrich, who opposes a tax or binding cap on greenhouse gases, Mr. Lomborg supports putting a price on emissions, although he says the right price is a tax of $2 to $14 on a ton of carbon dioxide -- about the equivalent of a 2- to 14-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax.

This is much lower than the cost most environmental scientists say would be necessary to induce companies to shift to less-polluting technologies.

In the end, the books overlap most in their embrace of the idea that the human influence on climate requires a concerted response, but that the rhetoric of catastrophe is unlikely to motivate that response.

Mr. Shellenberger and Mr. Nordhaus say one necessary step is to jettison the idea of a sacred nature separate from human affairs. In a line that is bound to inflame as many readers as it inspires, they said: "Whether we like it or not, humans have become the meaning of the earth."


From: The Korea Herald ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
December 7, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: In South Korea, the Ministry of Environment has adopted and tried to implement four basic environmental principles -- the precautionary principle, the receptor-centered approach, prioritizing protection of the vulnerable and sensitive groups, and guaranteeing the right to know through citizen participation and information sharing.]

By Yun Sun-jin

This is the 24th installment in a 30-part special report focusing on social changes in Korea since the civil uprising in June 1987, a watershed in contemporary Korean history. A select group of Korean sociology professors will contribute essays analyzing the diverse aspects of societal transformation during the past two decades. -- Ed.

Korea has accomplished a very compressed form of economic growth over the last 35 years. But rapid economic growth has been accompanied by rapid ecological dilapidation and environmental pollution. The environment was sacrificed to pursue more economic growth through industrialization. However, Korean people's recognition of the values of the environment was revitalized with the witness and experience of several environmental disasters including the phenol accident in the Nakdong River in 1991.

Economic growth has made people pay more attention to aspects of quality of life which is mostly dependent upon the quality of the surrounding environment. Since democratization in 1987, environmental movements have also grown as rapidly as environmental destruction and have actively engaged in environmental recovery and protection.

In the process, the Ministry of Environment has been established and expanded, through which the quality of the Korean environment has gradually improved. Environmental legislations by the ministry numbered 45 as of October 2007. Even though Korea has delivered progress in environmental performance, more complicated challenges still lie ahead. In this article, Korea's progress will be explored first and its challenges will be examined later.

Progress in environmental management

Since the financial crisis in 1997, Korea has achieved the most rapid economic growth among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with annual growth rate of 6 percent. The number of cars has also sharply increased by 57.4 percent, from 10.1 million cars in 1997 to 15.9 million in 2006. Nevertheless, it has accomplished little progress in the fields of air, water and waste management as pointed out in the OECD environmental performance review report in 2006.

Several environmental pressures have been decoupled from growth in gross domestic product. Sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions are remarkably decoupled with economic growth. Growth in emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides (NOx), small particles (PM10), lead, and hydrocarbons (VOCs) are all slightly decoupled. Actually, Korea's SOx and NOx emissions per unit of GDP are below the OECD average.

Concerning waste management, Korea has accomplished massive progress. Although municipal waste generation has increased 6 percent since the mid-1990s, the growth rate is lower than GDP growth and per capita municipal waste generation in 2003 -- which stands at 390 kg, about the level of the mid-1990s -- is below the OECD average. All this has been achieved through Korea's active recycling policy, volume-based waste fees and, more broadly, its emphasis on the 3R (Reduce, Recycle, Reuse) strategy. The recycling rate of Korea is the highest among OECD countries. Sanitary landfills have been constructed and operated, while energy recovery has been achieved via landfill gas capture and combustion.

In the case of water quality management, Korea has made partial progress. Water quality of the four main water supply reservoirs improved beyond the target of the Green Vision 21 in 2005. Korea adopted a river-basin management approach for its four major rivers for a more integrated quality and quantity management, away from the past supply-dominated approach. In 2007, Korea began implementing a "total pollution load management" system to manage point-source pollution discharge.

There is some progress in protection of nature and biodiversity. The government has strengthened its legal, strategic and planning framework including environmental impact assessment and the prior environmental review system. To integrate environmental concerns into land-use planning, the principle "plan first, develop later" was adopted. Some policy instruments such as an ecosystem preservation fee on large-scale developers and the system of "nature sabbatical periods" for national parks were adopted.

The Ministry of Environment has adopted and tried to implement four basic environmental principles -- the precautionary principle, the receptor-centered approach, prioritizing protection of the vulnerable and sensitive groups, and guaranteeing the right to know through citizen participation and information sharing. Public-private partnership has been established, through which business and environmental non-governmental organizations have contributed to addressing and dealing with environmental issues. Environmental expenditure in Korea has increased and has now exceeded 2 percent of GDP.

More challenges lie ahead

Despite the progress in environmental management, however, more serious challenges lie ahead. The problems require more than technological treatment -- social restructuring and changes in lifestyle, based on self-reflection on the modern industrialization process and the relationship between nature and society. Korea still has problems in managing PM10, ozone, NOx, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The air quality in Seoul turned out to be the worst among capitals of OECD countries last year. Concentration levels of PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, and increasing frequency of high ozone concentrations are problematic in the Seoul megalopolis. The concentration levels of PM10 in the Seoul megalopolis approximately satisfy Korean environmental standards (70 micrograms per cubic meter) but are much higher than the standards of the World Health Organization (40 micrograms per cubic meter). Increasing numbers of cars and high population density have led to a deterioration of air quality despite improved fuel quality and engine technology. In the Seoul megalopolis, which accounts for 10.8 percent of national territory, 48 percent of the entire population live, producing 53 percent of GDP and consuming 21 percent of total primary energy. For this reason, the Korean government has implemented comprehensive policy instruments focusing on the Seoul megalopolis, with 91.2 percent (208.1 billion out of 228.0 billion won or $226 million out of $247 million) of the total budget for air quality management allocated to the area. Air pollution of the Seoul megalopolis is related to city congestion resulting from a Seoul-concentrated national land use problem, not just technological issues. Recently, increasing amounts of yellow dust blown over from China have aggravated air quality in the Seoul megalopolis. Long-range trans-boundary air pollution such as this yellow dust cannot be solved easily.

Protection of nature and biodiversity is a complicated area accompanied by social conflicts, in spite of the aforementioned small progress. Rapid urban and coastal development and industrialization, increasing demand for recreation and leisure, and land scarcity and rising land prices have encroached on forests, agricultural land and tideland. This has led to acute conflicts between development and nature conservation. It has not been always possible to reconcile economic development with environmental conservation. More arable land and mountainous forest areas have been exploited for golf course and road construction and more tideland has been reclaimed for industrial and commercial use. After the financial crisis, economic concerns have dominated the national conscience, while desire for environmental conservation seems to have been weakened. The defeat of environmental movements in the struggle against the Saemangeum reclamation project and the Chonsungsan express railroad construction project clearly showed the current state of eager economic growth-orientation in Korea.

Chemical management is also troublesome. Even though the risk posed by chemicals was warned of many years ago by Rachel Carson in her monumental book, "Silent Spring" (1962), more than 100,000 kinds of chemicals are circulated globally and over 2,000 kinds of chemicals are developed and commercialized annually. Chemicals are used everywhere, from home detergents to cars and electronics. In pursuit of a convenient life and profitable industrial production, their safety has not been assured through risk assessment. In Korea, since more and more chemicals are used, safe management of chemicals has become urgent. Since many chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls, persistent organic pollutants, and endocrine disruptors can have fatal impacts on human health and the ecosystem, thorough risk assessment and cautious management are necessary. Chemical management is just beginning. This is a very critical moment requiring deeper recognition of the interlocking relationship between human and ecological health.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

The most serious environmental problem Korea is facing now is increasing CO2 emissions. CO2, of which human emissions arise mainly though fossil fuel combustion, is the most important greenhouse gas (GHG). These gases contribute to the greenhouse effect, which causes climate change resulting from global warming. CO2 takes the largest share of total GHG emissions by volume, accounting for 88.4 percent in Korea, which is much higher than that of global level (77 percent) and industrialized countries (83.2 percent). Frequently, environmental quality improvement is explained in connection with per capita GDP by using the so-called "environmental Kuznets curve" but the relationship between CO2 emission and per capita GDP does not show the reversed U shape of the environmental Kuznets curve in most OECD countries. More income has been accompanied with more energy use and more CO2 emissions. It means that it is much difficult to decouple economic growth and CO2 emissions.

Korea has drawn global attention because of its unique situation and rapid growth of GHG emissions. Korea, with Mexico, is a developed country but classified as a non-industrialized country which has no obligation to reduce GHG emissions during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol regardless of its OECD membership. Korea reached the 10th place in the world in 2004 in terms of energy-related CO2 emissions. Its CO2 emissions have doubled (rising 104.6 percent) from 1990 to 2004. This growth rate is the highest within OECD members as shown in Figure 1. However, comparison of growth rates among countries is not proper because of their different baseline in 1990. With regard to absolute amount of emission growth, Korea ranks fourth during 1990 to 2002.

Since annual growth rates of GHG and CO2 are gradually modified and GDP grew more rapidly than both emissions since 2000, GHG and CO2 intensities have decreased during the period of 1990 to 2004, by 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent respectively (see Table 1). Nevertheless, it is problematic that Korea's GHG and CO2 emission growth rates are so high and projected to continue their growth. GHG emissions, especially CO2 emissions, are highly correlated with energy use which enables rapid economic growth and more convenient lifestyles. The energy sector, the most responsible source for CO2 emissions in Korea, accounts for 83.0 percent of GHG emissions in 2004 followed by industrial processes (11.7 percent), agriculture and livestock (2.7 percent) and waste (2.6 percent). Korea's energy consumption has increased sharply since the mid-1970s accompanied with rapid economic growth driven by heavy and chemical industries. The increase in energy consumption has outpaced GDP growth for the last 35 years. Primary energy consumption in 2005 is almost 12 times higher than in 1970, while GDP in 2005 is 10 times that of 1970. Korea ranked 10th in terms of primary energy supply in 2004. Concerning per capita energy consumption, Korea (4.43 ton of oil equivalents in 2004) exceeded Japan (4.18 TOE) and most EU countries including the United Kingdom (3.91 TOE) and Germany (4.22 TOE).

Within the energy sector, the share of power generation is highest, accounting for 33.7 percent in 2004 in spite of the large use of nuclear power. There is a tendency that electricity consumption increases with life quality improvement. More economic growth is likely to be accompanied by increasing electricity consumption. Industry is the second biggest emission source, accounting 32.3 percent of CO2 emissions. Actually, since the industrial sector consumes more than half of the nation's electricity, more than half of the emissions from generation could be attributed to industry sector as well.

It is noteworthy that emissions from the transportation sector have increased most rapidly even though its share is 19.7 percent. Improvement of life quality and persistent demand for mobility and convenience will lead to a steady increase of cars on the street. In most developed countries, the transportation sector is the hardest sector to deal with.

Air quality deterioration and increasing CO2 emissions, and the simultaneously rise in energy use, will place increased burdens on the Korean economy as well as environment itself because of increasing energy prices, international carbon regulations and the increasing threat from climate change itself. Reduction of energy consumption through energy efficiency improvement and expansion of renewable energy are proper ways to respond to climate change and air quality improvement. The share of new and renewable energy in primary energy was no more than 2.3 percent in 2005. As shown in figure 2, new and renewable energy consists of 18.8 percent of hydro and 75.9 percent of waste. Only 5.2 percent of new and renewable energy in Korea is considered renewable energy in most OECD countries. This accounts for just 0.1 percent of primary energy. (Figure 2.)

The Korean government has dealt with climate change as a matter of convention or negotiation. However, climate change is a matter of survival. If a society wants to be sustainable, it cannot avoid responding to this issue. During the 20th century, the world temperature increase was 0.6 C but that of Korea was 1.5 C, 30 percent of which is regarded as the effect of urban heat islands through urbanization. Nevertheless, it means that temperature increase was higher in Korea than the rest of the world. Korea, as a peninsula with long coastal lines, is very vulnerable to climate change. Severe climate disasters happen more frequently and more strongly. Furthermore, the global market will refuse or punish CO2-intensive products in the long run. In this case, countries like Korea, whose rate of export to gross national income is high, will find itself in a difficult situation. Climate change is a matter of survival in both senses.

Koreans have become much sensible in climate change over time because they have witnessed and experienced symptoms of climate change and natural disasters. Last April, the Ministry of Environment released findings of public opinion poll concerning citizens' recognition of climate change, in which 1,000 citizens over 13 years old participated. According to the poll, 97.0 percent of the respondents knew what climate change was and 92.6 percent thought that climate change was serious (43.2 percent very serious, 49.4 percent quite serious). However, most respondents do not know details of climate change. Only 9.7 percent of respondents replied they understand climate change very well.

If so, what is an appropriate way for Korea? First of all, Korea needs to actively set up reduction targets even before the first year of a post-Kyoto treaty. These targets may become a signal for industry and the public to reduce energy consumption, and various policies and measures can be more persuasive and implemented more smoothly. Energy saving can be made through energy conservation, purchase of energy- efficient goods and devices, and fuel change. Also, use of renewable energy needs to be expanded. The most important thing that should be considered is energy saving through demand-side management. If an increase in energy demand is taken for granted and resources are mobilized to satisfy increasing energy demand, there will not be much change. Climate change requires change in land use patterns, energy- intensive industrial structures, oil-dependent agricultural production and, ultimately, our addiction to energy use.

In addition, it is necessary to study the impact of climate change and our vulnerability to it and develop strategies to adapt to it. There is no escape from climate change for Korea. Ironically, climate change accompanied with natural disasters is more unfavorable to the socio- economically weak, who are usually less responsible for advent of climate change and have less ability to cope with it. More active support is required to adaptation strategy development in terms of finance and personnel because climate change is actually occurring now and will continuously proceed and the least responsible are the most vulnerable. Even if we accomplished a GHG emissions reduction to 1990 levels by tomorrow, climate change would continue; GHG already emitted into and accumulated in the atmosphere will still cause global warming for a certain period of time.

Climate Change, the most important environmental issues in 21st century, is not just an environmental issue but also a survival- and security-related issue. Climate change, as an alarm from nature, is going to limit the current unrestrained and imprudent economic growth. Every nation is trying to have a bigger share of GHG emissions to avoid an immediate economic burden. In the meantime, climate change has been rapidly occurring and existence and the survival of most species including we human beings is jeopardized. In the international negotiation arena, inter-generational equity as well as intra- generational equity is lost. Every nation, especially countries more responsible for climate change, should take action at home first. Korea cannot be an exception. Climate change reminds us of the unsustainability of modern industrial society based on fossil fuels and unsound economic wealth-orientation. How our society deals with climate change could be the litmus test of the potential of sustainable development in Korea.


From: The Age (Melbourne, Australia) (pg. 16) ............[This story printer-friendly]
November 8, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "It is regrettable that it has taken the poisoning of children to remind manufacturers and authorities, including the State Government, of how vital it is to act on the precautionary principle of safety first."]

Product recalls happen all the time, but this one demands attention: a product voted Australia's toy of the year is banned because its "magic beads" contain a substance that turns into a toxic illegal drug when ingested, leading to the hospitalisation of children in NSW [New South Wales] and Queensland. The toy, Bindeez, is produced by Melbourne company Moose and made in China. The company says what should be a non-toxic glue appears to have been substituted without its knowledge. When swallowed, the substitute chemical metabolises into gamma-hydroxy butyrate, also known as "grievous bodily harm", which can be life- threatening.

This incident raises many questions. Given that NSW scientists had identified the danger to health, why did Victoria delay a whole day when other states imposed bans immediately? Even if it was Melbourne Cup day, government responsibility for public safety does not stop on holidays. Moose had begun a recall and is co-operating with investigations. Its acknowledgement of incidents worldwide raises the question: when did it become aware of the problem?

Whether human error or cost cutting is to blame, the Bindeez recall comes on top of recent health scares involving millions of Chinese- made products: toys containing lead paint, toothpaste containing toxins and drug-contaminated seafood. While most of the toys were later revealed to be unsafe because of a design fault, not lead paint, these cases point to the urgent need to ensure all imports meet Australian safety standards.

An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission review of toy standards was already under way. China has been shocked into a regulatory review to reassure the world its products are safe. Companies that use cut-price overseas factories also have a duty to ensure their products are safe and made exactly to design specifications, without substitutions. That requires continual auditing of manufacturing processes and testing of the finished products. It is regrettable that it has taken the poisoning of children to remind manufacturers and authorities, including the State Government, of how vital it is to act on the precautionary principle of safety first.


From: The Times (London) (pg. 17) ........................[This story printer-friendly]
July 27, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "Precaution is now explicitly endorsed by the UN, the EU and Tony Blair, who has claimed that "responsible science and responsible policymaking operate on the precautionary principle". From the genetic modification of crops to speed limits for trains to carbon dioxide emissions, the right policy is claimed to be the careful one. Yet the precautionary principle is not really a maxim of good policy. In fact, it is meaningless."]

By Jamie Whyte

Worrying was considered foolish when I was growing up in New Zealand. Let your fretting show and you received the classic Kiwi response: "She'll be right, mate."

When in doubt, just press on and set your mind at ease.

Times have changed. You never hear "she'll be right" these days, except said ironically. And this new pessimism is not restricted to New Zealand. Across the West, the "she'll be right" principle has been replaced by the so-called precautionary principle. When in doubt, stop and divert your efforts towards minimising the risks.

Indeed, precaution is now explicitly endorsed by the UN, the EU and Tony Blair, who has claimed that "responsible science and responsible policymaking operate on the precautionary principle". From the genetic modification of crops to speed limits for trains to carbon dioxide emissions, the right policy is claimed to be the careful one.

Yet the precautionary principle is not really a maxim of good policy. In fact, it is meaningless. It can provide no guidance when making difficult decisions. Those who invoke it in support of their favoured policies do not display their prudence; they reveal groundless biases.

To understand the precautionary principle and its foolishness, we must first distinguish between what economists call "risk" and what they call "uncertainty".

An outcome is risky when it is not guaranteed but we know its probability. An outcome is uncertain when we do not even know its probability. That a tossed coin will land heads is thus a matter of risk, while the destruction of an ecosystem from the introduction of GM crops is a matter of uncertainty.

Making decisions under risk presents no problem for which the precautionary principle could provide a solution. Suppose that, in return for an annual premium of £ 1, someone promises to pay you £ 1 million if you are abducted by aliens (such insurance exists). You should pay up if your chance of being abducted is greater than one in a million because then the policy is worth more than $1.

The right decision can be determined from the numbers alone, with no help from caution, recklessness or any other attitude.

But suppose that, for all you know, the chance of being abducted could be well under one in a million or well over. What should you do? You lack the information required to know if the insurance is a good deal. It is in such situations of uncertainty that the precautionary principle is supposed to apply.

What does the principle tell you to do? Those who advocate precaution typically favour incurring costs now to reduce the chance of incurring greater costs in the future. That is their reason for wanting to limit carbon emissions, ban GM crops and slaughter livestock with some unknown chance of contracting foot-and-mouth disease.

Applied to our insurance conundrum, this principle tells you to buy the ticket.

You should incur the £ 1 cost of the premium if there is any chance that it will save you from the greater cost of experiencing an uncompensated alien abduction. Whenever the prize is greater than the bet, and you do not know the odds, the principle says you should gamble. Bookmakers must dream of the day when punters bring such wisdom to the racetrack.

Better safe than sorry. This is the verity that the precautionary principle is supposed to bring to policymaking. But the difficult question is never whether it is better to be safe than sorry. Of course it is. The serious question is always which options are safe and which sorry.

The big lie behind the precautionary principle is the idea that we can identify safe options even when we are profoundly ignorant of the probable outcomes. It is nonsense to claim that betting or buying insurance is the safe option whenever you do not know the odds. And it is equally foolish to claim that slaughtering livestock is the safe option when you do not know by how much this will reduce the chance of an epidemic, or that banning GM crops is safe when you do not know its likely ecological effect.

For, as with insurance, such measures are costly. Those currently popular with the cautious lobby run into the billions and, in the case of limiting carbon emissions, perhaps the trillions. It is a strange kind of caution that recommends spending such sums when the chance of success is unknown.

Or, if it is crass to set mere monetary costs against risks to the environment or future generations, then consider the deaths such measures will cause. Banning GM crops, for example, will increase starvation in the third world. More generally, any serious economic cost will cause death because, among other things, less wealth means less nutrition and less healthcare. Economists have estimated that a life is lost for every £ 10 million of cost imposed by regulation.

Sacrificing thousands of lives for uncertain gains takes a very particular notion of caution.

The precautionary principle is either uncalled for, because we know the relevant probabilities, or useless, because we do not know them and so cannot tell whether any policy is a safe or a sorry proposition. So we should hear no more of it. Not only does it lend bogus support to the policies it is fashionable, if arbitrary, to label precautionary. It also promotes the pernicious idea that ignorance is not a serious problem, that a wise policymaker can know that an action is right even when he does not know its likely effects.

Jamie Whyte is the author of Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

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

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

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