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#122 -- Questions Beyond Science, 26-Dec-2007

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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #122

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007.........Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Both Sides Cite Science To Address Genetically Altered Corn
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.
Editorial: Target's PVC Shift Unfair, Irreversible
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.
Newt Gingrich Embraces Precaution for Global Warming
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.
Climate Change Tests Korea's Adaptability
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.
Editorial: No Excuses for Toying with Public Safety
"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."
Only a Reckless Mind Could Believe in Safety First
"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."

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From: New York Times, Dec. 26, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

BOTH SIDES CITE SCIENCE TO ADDRESS ALTERED CORN

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

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From: Plastics News (pg. 6), Nov. 19, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

EDITORIAL: TARGET'S PVC SHIFT UNFAIR, IRREVERSIBLE

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.

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From: The New York Times (pg. F2), Nov. 13, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

CHALLENGES TO BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT ON GLOBAL WARMING

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."

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From: The Korea Herald, Dec. 7, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

CLIMATE CHANGE TESTS KOREA'S ADAPTABILITY

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.

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From: The Age (Melbourne, Australia) (pg. 16), Nov. 8, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

EDITORIAL: NO EXCUSES FOR TOYING WITH PUBLIC SAFETY

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.

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From: The Times (London) (pg. 17), Jul. 27, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

ONLY A RECKLESS MIND COULD BELIEVE IN SAFETY FIRST

Jamie Whyte dissects the folly of the so-called precautionary
principle


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

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

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

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
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.

Editors:
Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org

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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #122 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, December 26, 2007.........Printer-friendly version www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Featured stories in this issue...

Both Sides Cite Science To Address Genetically Altered Corn
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.
Editorial: Target's PVC Shift Unfair, Irreversible
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.
Newt Gingrich Embraces Precaution for Global Warming
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.
Climate Change Tests Korea's Adaptability
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.
Editorial: No Excuses for Toying with Public Safety
"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."
Only a Reckless Mind Could Believe in Safety First
"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."

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From: New York Times, Dec. 26, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

BOTH SIDES CITE SCIENCE TO ADDRESS ALTERED CORN

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

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From: Plastics News (pg. 6), Nov. 19, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

EDITORIAL: TARGET'S PVC SHIFT UNFAIR, IRREVERSIBLE

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.

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From: The New York Times (pg. F2), Nov. 13, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

CHALLENGES TO BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT ON GLOBAL WARMING

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."

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From: The Korea Herald, Dec. 7, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

CLIMATE CHANGE TESTS KOREA'S ADAPTABILITY

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.

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From: The Age (Melbourne, Australia) (pg. 16), Nov. 8, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

EDITORIAL: NO EXCUSES FOR TOYING WITH PUBLIC SAFETY

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.

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From: The Times (London) (pg. 17), Jul. 27, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

ONLY A RECKLESS MIND COULD BELIEVE IN SAFETY FIRST

Jamie Whyte dissects the folly of the so-called precautionary
principle


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

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

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

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
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.

Editors:
Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org

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