Environmental Health News

What's Working

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

#117 -- Precaution For Open Space, 21-Nov-2007

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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #117

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007.........Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 

Featured stories in this issue...

Dangerous Beauty: Taming Toxics in Everyday Cosmetics
In 2003, the European Union passed legislation outlawing the use of
known carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens in cosmetics -- more than
1,000 chemicals in all. Their regulatory approach is similar to the
"precautionary principle" -- the idea that we should err on the side
of caution when regulating products (or, more often, technologies)
with potential for negative repercussions.
Faster, Taller, Stronger, Smarter... Better?
Harris seems to forget that the genetic enhancements he
enthusiastically welcomes will be brought to us by the same industry
which (in the 1950s) sold women thalidomide 'for stronger, healthier
babies' and, more recently, Vioxx for arthritic pain. When we remember
that the power of man over nature is often, in practice, the power of
one man to exploit another, then the maxim, "First of all, do no
harm," seems eminently sensible.
Military Nanotechnology: Preventive Arms Control
On the face of it, preventive arms control makes sense -- aiming to
prevent wars rather than fight them. However, using nanotechnology
for preventive arms control complicates things considerably.
An Issue for the Center-right
The European emphasis on environmentalism is imbedded in the legal
foundation of the European Union. The precautionary principle,
codified in the European Union's 1992 Maastricht Treaty, states that
if an action or policy may have negative effects on the environment,
even if these effects are not fully scientifically proven, the burden
of proof falls on the advocates of the risky action.
Can We Save the Planet
The precautionary principle for action on climate change: 'It's
like Pascal's wager. The consequences if we worry and take action
about global warming will be minor if we are wrong. If we do not take
action and we are wrong, the consequences will be devastating'."
New Bid To Save Scottish Salmon
"With marine survival such a lottery, the precautionary principle
must prevail -- and this means drastically reducing indiscriminate
exploitation."
Precaution Drives Innovation in European Food Industry
"Consumer demands for low-fat products, the precautionary principle
in the new EC [European Commission] law to achieve the demanded high
level of health protection, and market competition are all driving
forces for the meat industry to launch new products."

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
From: WorldChanging, Nov. 13, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

DANGEROUS BEAUTY: TAMING TOXICS IN EVERYDAY COSMETICS

By Erica Barnett

As someone who's used cosmetics since early adolescence (I'm from
Texas, okay?), I'm particularly horrified by the awful stuff in
ordinary makeup -- chemicals that cause infertility, birth defects,
learning disabilities, and even cancer. (We've written before about
the growing concerns around -- and awareness of -- the toxic
substances that lurk in everyday household products.) I've long wished
that someone would create a one-stop resource detailing what's safe,
what's not, and why. That's why I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of Stacy
Malkan's new book "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the
Beauty Industry
."

Malkan, communications director for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,
explores the health risks that are inflicted on women by the beauty
industry. In an interview with Alternet, Malkin explained her
motivation for writing the book:

I think cosmetics is something that we're all intimately connected to.
They're products that we use every day, and so I think it's a good
first place to start asking questions. What kinds of products are we
bringing into our homes? What kinds of companies are we giving our
money to?... I think of it as global poisoning. I think that the
ubiquitous contamination of the human species with toxic chemicals is
a symptom of the same problem (as global warming), which is an economy
that's based on outdated technologies of petrochemicals -- petroleum.
So many of the products we're applying to our faces and putting in our
hair come from oil. They're byproducts of oil.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics got its start in 2002, when a
coalition of women's, public health, labor, environmental health and
consumer-rights nonprofits got together and tested 72 beauty products
for phthalates, chemicals that act as plasticizers and hormone
disrupters and cause birth defects, particularly in males. They
discovered the chemicals were nearly ubiquitous, although none of the
products they tested listed phthalates on their labels. In fact,
Malkan says, the typical American woman uses 12 products containing
about 180 chemicals every single day. Nonetheless, the cosmetics
industry remains virtually unregulated, with minimal oversight from
the Food and Drug Administration, which must prove in court that a
product is harmful before it can take any action.

In 2003, the European Union passed legislation outlawing the use of
known carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens in cosmetics -- more than
1,000 chemicals in all. Their regulatory approach is similar to the
"precautionary principle" -- the idea that we should err on the side
of caution when regulating products (or, more often, technologies)
with potential for negative repercussions. In the US, only
California has followed in the EU's footsteps. In her interview with
Alternet, Malkan said the most surprising toxin her organization has
discovered in cosmetics is lead in lipstick; last month, the Campaign
issued a controversial report claiming to have found lead in nearly a
dozen brand-name lipsticks.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics offers a guide to "safer" companies
that have signed its Compact for Safe Cosmetics, pledging not to use
chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer,
mutation or birth defects in their products. Skin Deep, a cosmetic
database that's searchable by name, is another useful resource, while
Teens for Safe Cosmetics offers not only resources but grassroots
youth action to tackle the problem (like Operation Beauty Drop --
which places large bins in malls for teens to drop their unsafe
cosmetics -- and a successful campaign to pass a California law
requiring cosmetics manufacturers to notify the Department of Health
Services about any toxic or carcinogenic components in their makeup).

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Toronto Globe and Mail, Nov. 17, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

FASTER, TALLER, STRONGER, SMARTER... BETTER?

Book review of Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better
People, By John Harris; Princeton University Press, 242 pages, $26.35


By Arthur Schafer

It is a commonly observed fact that, as we age, telephone directory
print comes to seem microscopically tiny. People cope with this
inconvenience by resorting to reading glasses. Although we don't
usually think of them in this way, reading glasses, along with hearing
aids and anti-wrinkle creams, are enhancement technologies, as are
anti-inflammatory drugs that help us to cope with arthritic pain, and
coffee, which improves our concentration.

It's natural that our physical and mental abilities deteriorate in old
age. Thus, all of the above-mentioned technologies could be described
as "unnatural." They are unnatural but not, on that account, morally
objectionable. It's fallacious to equate what's natural with what's
good. Sometimes they coincide; often they diverge. For example,
painless childbirth was regularly denounced as a blasphemy against God
until, in 1853, Queen Victoria set an example by delivering a child
under chloroform. Only then did religious opposition fall silent.
Today, no one worries much about the ethics of analgesics or
eyeglasses. Quite the opposite: You'd seem a complete idiot if you
rejected all artificial aids to better living.

So why is there so much fear and fretting about the present and future
use of biotechnology to make ourselves healthier, stronger, smarter
and longer-lived?

John Harris, a leading British bioethicist, believes that the ethical
controversy swirling around such new technologies as pre-implantation
genetic diagnosis, embryonic stem cell cloning and regenerative
medicine is mostly the product of ignorance, prejudice and bad
reasoning.

Much of his book is given over to exposing the anti-enhancement
arguments of prominent philosophers, such as Francis Fukuyama, Michael
Sandel and Jurgen Habermas. By the time Harris has finished his
demolition job, there are more defunct arguments littering the page
than there are dead bodies in the last scene of Hamlet. Those who like
their philosophy dark-roasted, robust and slightly bitter will find
his combativeness very good fun. Those who favour a weaker brew may
find themselves awake in the middle of the night. You've been warned.

The primary goal of Enhancing Evolution is, in the words of the
subtitle, to present "the ethical case for making better people."
Harris offers a powerful and, incidentally, powerfully entertaining
case in favour of using medical science to enhance both ourselves and
our children. As he points out, the quest to improve ourselves is as
old as human history. We should welcome enthusiastically the
possibility that regenerative medicine might soon be able to make our
bodies resistant to heart disease, cancer and senile dementia. This
would, of course, dramatically expand both the quality and the length
of human lives. That's something else we should welcome.

More than this, however, Harris defends the individual's right to use
biotechnology in order to improve memory, intelligence and physical
strength. He wants us to move from chance to choice, from Darwinian
evolution to enhancement evolution. Instead of blindly accepting our
fate in the natural lottery of life, we should opt to enhance
ourselves and our children, both physically and cognitively. In short,
he urges us to become Wonderwoman and Superman (the title of an
earlier Harris book).

Accept for the sake of argument that these are worthwhile goals. They
are certainly the goals for which many of us aim, both as individuals
and as parents: We want the best possible education and health care
for our children and for ourselves. So why not, also, the best genes,
when technology offers this possibility?

If we strive to eliminate genetic impairments, the critics say, we are
thereby expressing contempt for people who must live with physical and
cognitive disabilities. Harris responds by asking: When the orthopedic
surgeon resets a broken leg, does she thereby show disrespect for
people born with an incurable limp?

The objection is often raised that we should beware of "playing God"
or falling victim to "hubris." Harris dismisses such arguments as
quasi-religious claptrap, and insists that striving to better
ourselves is part of what defines us as human and humane.

Some claim that deliberately to modify the genes of our children is to
deny these children their autonomy as human beings. He replies that
choosing better genes for one's children does not in any way impair
their autonomy. Moreover, the genetic lottery can be deeply cruel and
unfair. Almost everything we do in life is an attempt to avoid the
worst effects of fate.

Another argument claims that Harris's enhancement agenda would, if
adopted, lead ultimately to the creation of a new species: "post-
humans." Critics worry that such enhanced human beings might feel
little or no sense of common humanity with those of us who are
unenhanced. He replies, in essence: So what? The wealthy and
privileged are already healthier, longer-lived and better-educated
than the poor and unprivileged.

Harris agrees that equality of life opportunity is an important ideal,
but insists that we shouldn't promote human equality by reducing the
advantages of the privileged. Instead, we should strive to make
genetic enhancements available to everyone. Initially, these
technologies will be priced out of the range of most people, even in
wealthy countries. Eventually, however, the enhancements enjoyed first
by the rich will become available to the poor. In the long run,
everyone will benefit.

I'm not entirely persuaded by this trickle-down argument. As British
economist John Maynard Keynes famously observed: In the long run,
we'll all be dead. Pace Professor Harris, it seems entirely reasonable
to worry that the technology he favours might dramatically and,
perhaps permanently, aggravate the already worrying gap between Haves
and Have-Nots.

Harris is also too dismissive of the precautionary principle. He
concedes that before tampering with the genes of healthy people, we
need to ensure a favourable risk-benefit ratio. He seems to forget,
however, that the enhancements he enthusiastically welcomes will be
brought to us by the same industry which (in the 1950s) sold women
thalidomide "for stronger, healthier babies" and, more recently, Vioxx
for arthritic pain. When we remember that the power of man over nature
is often, in practice, the power of one man to exploit another, then
the maxim, "First of all, do no harm," seems eminently sensible.

Caveats aside, Enhancing Evolution makes a fine contribution to clear
thinking and cogent argument in a field where these commodities have
been in short supply. It should be on the must-read list for citizens
and politicians alike.

==============

Arthur Schafer eagerly awaits the genetic enhancement of his tennis
skills. He is professor of philosophy and director of the Centre for
Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

Copyright Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Foresight Nanotech Update 58, Nov. 17, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

MILITARY NANOTECHNOLOGY: PREVENTIVE ARMS CONTROL

Book Review of Jurgen Altmann, Military Nanotechnology: Potential
applications and preventive arms control (Routledge, 2006. Paperback,
238 + xvi pages)


By James Lewis, PhD

Jurgen Altmann holds a PhD in physics, has been studying disarmament-
related issues since 1985, and has been actively investigating
nanotechnology (NT) since 2002. The goal of Military Nanotechnology:
Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control "is to do a first
assessment of the implications that NT weapons and other military NT
systems could entail, and to present first considerations on
preventive limitations." This goal is decisively achieved. Altmann
uses the term NT to cover the wide range of (mostly short-term and
medium-term) research and development activities that are currently
the focus of major government funding initiatives (such as the US
National Nanotechnology Initiative) and commercial development. For
the vision of long-term advanced nanotechnology first elaborated by K.
Eric Drexler and Foresight during the 1980s he uses the term MNT (for
molecular NT). This book addresses the military implications of both
NT and MNT, but with most emphasis on NT.

Military Nanotechnology is the fruit of a thorough scholarly effort,
supplemented by abundant notes and bibliographic references. The notes
and references do not extend past 2004. Accordingly, Altmann's
characterization of MNT as having to do with "universal molecular
assemblers" and "self-replicating nano-robots" does not reflect the
consensus developed within the MNT community during 2003 to de-
emphasize self-replicating nanomachines in favor of desktop
nanofactories, culminating in the 2004 publication by Chris Phoenix
and Eric Drexler of "Safe exponential manufacturing" (Nanotechnology
15 869-872)

Altmann's introduction includes a concise (12 pages) but thorough
summary of previous writing on the potential military use of
nanotechnology -- from Engines of Creation in 1986 through two 2002
articles in the journal Disarmament Diplomacy. Chapter 2 is an
overview of nanotechnology (through 2003) that manages to be
simultaneously concise, comprehensive, easy to follow for someone with
modest technical background, and of sufficient depth to enable
understanding the key ideas. The coverage of MNT includes distinct but
associated futuristic concepts, including super-human artificial
intelligence, eradication of disease and aging, and merging of humans
and robots. The approach that Altmann takes toward MNT "is guided by
the precautionary principle: those concepts that do not obviously run
counter to the laws of nature will be taken seriously as principal
possibilities." Altmann's overview also includes the visionary
concepts associated with the convergence of nano-, bio-, information,
and cognitive sciences and technology (see Update 49 article)
championed by the US National Science Foundation and Dept. of
Commerce.

Military R&D efforts in NT are the topic of chapter 3. US DoD efforts
are covered in considerable detail, illustrating the immense depth and
breath of current US military NT. Several tables list the titles of
numerous specific projects. The military NT R&D efforts of other
countries are sketched very briefly, either because they are much
smaller than the US effort, or much less open, or both. Altmann
estimates that US investment in military NT R&D currently (2003)
exceeds that of the rest of the world combined by a factor of 4 to 10.
However, several nations, particularly China and Russia, have the
capacity to rapidly develop military NT R&D applications. Altmann
identifies factors that could enhance mutual suspicion and thus, in
the absence of international constraints, lead to an NT arms race.

Potential military applications of nanotechnology (both NT and MNT)
are described in chapter 4. Numerous specific NT applications
(including devices for computation and communication, software and
artificial intelligence, nanostructured materials for vehicles and
improved armor, autonomous combat vehicles, sensors, incremental
improvements in conventional weapons, etc.) are identified in time
frames ranging from 5 to 20 years.

Altmann's consideration of the potential military uses of MNT draws on
Mark Gubrud's work, presented at the 1997 Fifth Foresight Conference
on Molecular Nanotechnology. First of all, a mature molecular
manufacturing base, perhaps including advanced artificial intelligence
systems for engineering design, would provide for rapid, inexpensive
stockpiling of the highest quality conventional weapons. Further, the
potential for self-replicating weapons and for full automation of
weapons production and deployment by artificial intelligence adds
qualitatively new dimensions to warfare. Swarms of microscopic
vehicles could attack infrastructure and weapons. Such machines could
certainly also attack human beings, either with extreme precision or
as non-specific weapons of mass destruction. The production of nuclear
weapons would be greatly facilitated. Perhaps the most troubling
danger is strategic instability caused by arms races, weakening
conventional deterrence, and enhancing first strike advantage.

The remainder of the book focuses on preventive arms control,
beginning with the precedents provided by conventional arms control
treaties, and by limitations on civilian R&D for the sake of health,
safety, environmental, and ethical considerations. Altmann's
philosophy on regulation derives from the "precautionary principle",
which maintains that "limits should not have to wait for full
indisputable evidence, but should already be applied if there are
reasonable grounds for concerns about potential dangers to
environmental, human, animal or plant health". Altmann also points out
that "in general adequately verified arms limitations are much cheaper
than military preparations for mutual armed conflict." Ideally
regulations and verification would prohibit dangerous military
applications but not impede useful applications. Reasons why this
distinction might be difficult to make in practice are surveyed.

Applying these general considerations to NT and MNT, Altmann is
particularly concerned about the development by the military of
distributed sensors for use on the battlefield. Specifically he
advocates complete bans on self-contained sensor systems smaller than
3 to 5 cm, small arms and munitions that contain no metal, and
missiles smaller than 20 to 50 cm. Likely to arouse objections is
Altmann's "demand for a moratorium on implants and other body
manipulations that are not directly medically motivated." This
moratorium would include civilian as well as military use and would
last at least 10 years. Altmann also wants to prohibit "armed, mobile,
systems without crew", which would prohibit not only military robots
but the current US Predator drone Hellfire missile combination. Both
military and civilian use of mini- and micro-robots would also be
banned. For MNT Altmann advocates first determining feasibility and
time frames, and then studying appropriate limits and verification
means for both civilian and military applications.

In his conclusion, Altmann offers the hope that the rapid advance of
technology, especially NT and MNT, may lead nations to conclude that
"security can no longer be reliably ensured by national armed forces,"
and this realization would be a catalyst for strengthening
international institutions and international law.

Military Nanotechnology provides an excellent beginning to addressing
a very difficult problem -- avoiding a nanotechnology arms race.
However, it is likely that much more work remains to be done before
the outline of a workable solution becomes visible. Because
nanotechnology is deeply anchored in molecular technology essential to
the civilian economy and has many far-reaching implications, it is not
clear to what extent military applications can be limited without
unacceptable restrictions on core technologies. Altmann makes
reasonable proposals for how to draw this line with respect to NT, but
does not address this crucial issue with respect to MNT.

As one example Altmann explicitly rejects the position taken in the
Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology [he references
version 3.7 (June 2000); current version (April 2006)] that "While
a 100% effective ban [of core MNT technologies] could, in theory,
avoid the potential risks of certain forms of molecular
nanotechnology, a 99.99% effective ban could result in development and
deployment by the 0.01% that evaded and ignored the ban." Altmann
labels this approach "clearly flawed" (p. 11). His reasons for this
judgment make sense with respect to military applications of MNT but
do not address the fact that the Foresight Guidelines concern the core
MNT technologies that are already aggressively being developed in
thousands of laboratories in dozens of nations.

Perhaps the most debatable aspect of Altmann's analysis is his
dismissal of effective nanotechnology-enabled countermeasures to
nanotechnology-enabled threats. Compare his conclusion with the
argument advanced by J. Storrs Hall in Nanofuture that open
development by mainstream populations will provide defenses against
nanotechnology-based threats (see "Anticipating advanced
nanotechnology
" in this issue).

For an initial discussion of the issues raised by Military
Nanotechnology, see the Nanodot post "Facing up to military
nanotechnology
."

Copyright 1986-2007 Foresight Institute

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Harvard Political Review Online, Nov. 16, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

AN ISSUE FOR THE CENTER-RIGHT

European conservatives take the lead in environmental policy

By Abigail Schiff

If European countries are any guide, the next big thing in
conservative politics may well be environmentalism. As Europe becomes
more environmentally conscious, its center-right politicians have
adapted environmentalism and have made it conform to the logic of
capitalism. Conservative leaders from England's David Cameron to
France's Nicolas Sarkozy have followed German Chancellor Angela
Merkel's lead to make environmental protection a priority of the
center-right. Market-based environmental policy has become a hallmark
of the new Europe, and an important part of its leaders' success, both
at home and internationally.

Proceed With Caution

The European emphasis on environmentalism is imbedded in the legal
foundation of the European Union. The precautionary principle,
codified in the European Union's 1992 Maastricht Treaty, states that
if an action or policy may have negative effects on the environment,
even if these effects are not fully scientifically proven, the burden
of proof falls on the advocates of the risky action. Recent
environmental disasters such as flooding in England and widespread
fires in Greece this past summer have heightened public consciousness
of the fragility of the natural environment. As the Maastricht Treaty
indicates, the European Union has made environmental issues a greater
priority in an effort to secure the future of its bloc and establish
its leadership on an important global issue.

New Conservatism for the New Europe

Market environmentalism is gaining ground in Europe, as conservative
politicians realize that environmental consciousness can be the key to
the economic and popular success of their governments. Many European
governments have adapted a market-based system of environmentalism
based on the Kyoto "cap and trade" policy, culminating in the 2005 EU
emissions trading scheme, which allows companies to buy and sell
permits to produce greenhouse gases. Daniele Cesano, a fellow at the
Kennedy School of Government, said in an interview with the HPR that
the market-based model is attractive for two reasons: "Based on the
United States's experience, it has proved to be more cost-effective to
have carbon trade, and it is also easier to be sold to voters,
although it results in the same cost to taxpayers in the form of
increases in costs of energy."

European leaders have also found that action on green issues can be
parlayed into political and diplomatic capital. According to Sheila
Jasanoff, the Pforzheimer professor of science and technology studies
at Harvard, a government's increased attention to environmental policy
shows "what kind of world citizen you're going to be," and brings
international goodwill. This, in turn, affects everything from trading
relationships to interactions between heads of state. At least since
Margaret Thatcher took a pioneering interest in the environment,
politicians have used environmental policy to strengthen their popular
image.

Following Merkel's Lead

Leading the current movement of center-right environmentalism is
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has won acclaim for her strong
environmental advocacy. The German minister for the environment from
1994 to 1998, she was only narrowly elected as Chancellor on a
platform of conservative reform. Once in office, working with an
unsteady coalition government, she turned her energies towards
environmental policy. She advocated for the European carbon-trading
scheme, made diplomatic advances to the United States, and became a
spokeswoman for the European environmental movement. She has since
benefited from approval ratings over 70 percent. Germany has likewise
benefited from international goodwill and from economic success based
on environmentally friendly products, which now make up 19 percent of
German exports.

Other European governments have followed her example and leveraged
environmentalism as a policy issue. Former British Prime Minister Tony
Blair developed an image of environmental leadership in order to
differentiate himself from his allies in the United States. French
President Nicolas Sarkozy has continued his country's established
energy policy by focusing on nuclear power, and has also used calls
for environmental action to offset his pro-American slant. All of
these politicians have used environmentalism for their own ends, but
also for the good of their country's economy and international
standing.

Politicians elsewhere might do well to learn from the leaders of
Europe. As environmental challenges increasingly dominate the global
political agenda, conservatives worldwide may not be able to cede this
issue to the left. Moving forward, the center-right could find that
promotion of the precautionary principle will save more than the
global environment -- it could also save their jobs.
.
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #117 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, November 21, 2007.........Printer-friendly version www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Featured stories in this issue...

Dangerous Beauty: Taming Toxics in Everyday Cosmetics
In 2003, the European Union passed legislation outlawing the use of
known carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens in cosmetics -- more than
1,000 chemicals in all. Their regulatory approach is similar to the
"precautionary principle" -- the idea that we should err on the side
of caution when regulating products (or, more often, technologies)
with potential for negative repercussions.
Faster, Taller, Stronger, Smarter... Better?
Harris seems to forget that the genetic enhancements he
enthusiastically welcomes will be brought to us by the same industry
which (in the 1950s) sold women thalidomide 'for stronger, healthier
babies' and, more recently, Vioxx for arthritic pain. When we remember
that the power of man over nature is often, in practice, the power of
one man to exploit another, then the maxim, "First of all, do no
harm," seems eminently sensible.
Military Nanotechnology: Preventive Arms Control
On the face of it, preventive arms control makes sense -- aiming to
prevent wars rather than fight them. However, using nanotechnology
for preventive arms control complicates things considerably.
An Issue for the Center-right
The European emphasis on environmentalism is imbedded in the legal
foundation of the European Union. The precautionary principle,
codified in the European Union's 1992 Maastricht Treaty, states that
if an action or policy may have negative effects on the environment,
even if these effects are not fully scientifically proven, the burden
of proof falls on the advocates of the risky action.
Can We Save the Planet
The precautionary principle for action on climate change: 'It's
like Pascal's wager. The consequences if we worry and take action
about global warming will be minor if we are wrong. If we do not take
action and we are wrong, the consequences will be devastating'."
New Bid To Save Scottish Salmon
"With marine survival such a lottery, the precautionary principle
must prevail -- and this means drastically reducing indiscriminate
exploitation."
Precaution Drives Innovation in European Food Industry
"Consumer demands for low-fat products, the precautionary principle
in the new EC [European Commission] law to achieve the demanded high
level of health protection, and market competition are all driving
forces for the meat industry to launch new products."

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
From: WorldChanging, Nov. 13, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

DANGEROUS BEAUTY: TAMING TOXICS IN EVERYDAY COSMETICS

By Erica Barnett

As someone who's used cosmetics since early adolescence (I'm from
Texas, okay?), I'm particularly horrified by the awful stuff in
ordinary makeup -- chemicals that cause infertility, birth defects,
learning disabilities, and even cancer. (We've written before about
the growing concerns around -- and awareness of -- the toxic
substances that lurk in everyday household products.) I've long wished
that someone would create a one-stop resource detailing what's safe,
what's not, and why. That's why I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of Stacy
Malkan's new book "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the
Beauty Industry
."

Malkan, communications director for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,
explores the health risks that are inflicted on women by the beauty
industry. In an interview with Alternet, Malkin explained her
motivation for writing the book:

I think cosmetics is something that we're all intimately connected to.
They're products that we use every day, and so I think it's a good
first place to start asking questions. What kinds of products are we
bringing into our homes? What kinds of companies are we giving our
money to?... I think of it as global poisoning. I think that the
ubiquitous contamination of the human species with toxic chemicals is
a symptom of the same problem (as global warming), which is an economy
that's based on outdated technologies of petrochemicals -- petroleum.
So many of the products we're applying to our faces and putting in our
hair come from oil. They're byproducts of oil.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics got its start in 2002, when a
coalition of women's, public health, labor, environmental health and
consumer-rights nonprofits got together and tested 72 beauty products
for phthalates, chemicals that act as plasticizers and hormone
disrupters and cause birth defects, particularly in males. They
discovered the chemicals were nearly ubiquitous, although none of the
products they tested listed phthalates on their labels. In fact,
Malkan says, the typical American woman uses 12 products containing
about 180 chemicals every single day. Nonetheless, the cosmetics
industry remains virtually unregulated, with minimal oversight from
the Food and Drug Administration, which must prove in court that a
product is harmful before it can take any action.

In 2003, the European Union passed legislation outlawing the use of
known carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens in cosmetics -- more than
1,000 chemicals in all. Their regulatory approach is similar to the
"precautionary principle" -- the idea that we should err on the side
of caution when regulating products (or, more often, technologies)
with potential for negative repercussions. In the US, only
California has followed in the EU's footsteps. In her interview with
Alternet, Malkan said the most surprising toxin her organization has
discovered in cosmetics is lead in lipstick; last month, the Campaign
issued a controversial report claiming to have found lead in nearly a
dozen brand-name lipsticks.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics offers a guide to "safer" companies
that have signed its Compact for Safe Cosmetics, pledging not to use
chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer,
mutation or birth defects in their products. Skin Deep, a cosmetic
database that's searchable by name, is another useful resource, while
Teens for Safe Cosmetics offers not only resources but grassroots
youth action to tackle the problem (like Operation Beauty Drop --
which places large bins in malls for teens to drop their unsafe
cosmetics -- and a successful campaign to pass a California law
requiring cosmetics manufacturers to notify the Department of Health
Services about any toxic or carcinogenic components in their makeup).

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From: Toronto Globe and Mail, Nov. 17, 2007
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FASTER, TALLER, STRONGER, SMARTER... BETTER?

Book review of Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better
People, By John Harris; Princeton University Press, 242 pages, $26.35


By Arthur Schafer

It is a commonly observed fact that, as we age, telephone directory
print comes to seem microscopically tiny. People cope with this
inconvenience by resorting to reading glasses. Although we don't
usually think of them in this way, reading glasses, along with hearing
aids and anti-wrinkle creams, are enhancement technologies, as are
anti-inflammatory drugs that help us to cope with arthritic pain, and
coffee, which improves our concentration.

It's natural that our physical and mental abilities deteriorate in old
age. Thus, all of the above-mentioned technologies could be described
as "unnatural." They are unnatural but not, on that account, morally
objectionable. It's fallacious to equate what's natural with what's
good. Sometimes they coincide; often they diverge. For example,
painless childbirth was regularly denounced as a blasphemy against God
until, in 1853, Queen Victoria set an example by delivering a child
under chloroform. Only then did religious opposition fall silent.
Today, no one worries much about the ethics of analgesics or
eyeglasses. Quite the opposite: You'd seem a complete idiot if you
rejected all artificial aids to better living.

So why is there so much fear and fretting about the present and future
use of biotechnology to make ourselves healthier, stronger, smarter
and longer-lived?

John Harris, a leading British bioethicist, believes that the ethical
controversy swirling around such new technologies as pre-implantation
genetic diagnosis, embryonic stem cell cloning and regenerative
medicine is mostly the product of ignorance, prejudice and bad
reasoning.

Much of his book is given over to exposing the anti-enhancement
arguments of prominent philosophers, such as Francis Fukuyama, Michael
Sandel and Jurgen Habermas. By the time Harris has finished his
demolition job, there are more defunct arguments littering the page
than there are dead bodies in the last scene of Hamlet. Those who like
their philosophy dark-roasted, robust and slightly bitter will find
his combativeness very good fun. Those who favour a weaker brew may
find themselves awake in the middle of the night. You've been warned.

The primary goal of Enhancing Evolution is, in the words of the
subtitle, to present "the ethical case for making better people."
Harris offers a powerful and, incidentally, powerfully entertaining
case in favour of using medical science to enhance both ourselves and
our children. As he points out, the quest to improve ourselves is as
old as human history. We should welcome enthusiastically the
possibility that regenerative medicine might soon be able to make our
bodies resistant to heart disease, cancer and senile dementia. This
would, of course, dramatically expand both the quality and the length
of human lives. That's something else we should welcome.

More than this, however, Harris defends the individual's right to use
biotechnology in order to improve memory, intelligence and physical
strength. He wants us to move from chance to choice, from Darwinian
evolution to enhancement evolution. Instead of blindly accepting our
fate in the natural lottery of life, we should opt to enhance
ourselves and our children, both physically and cognitively. In short,
he urges us to become Wonderwoman and Superman (the title of an
earlier Harris book).

Accept for the sake of argument that these are worthwhile goals. They
are certainly the goals for which many of us aim, both as individuals
and as parents: We want the best possible education and health care
for our children and for ourselves. So why not, also, the best genes,
when technology offers this possibility?

If we strive to eliminate genetic impairments, the critics say, we are
thereby expressing contempt for people who must live with physical and
cognitive disabilities. Harris responds by asking: When the orthopedic
surgeon resets a broken leg, does she thereby show disrespect for
people born with an incurable limp?

The objection is often raised that we should beware of "playing God"
or falling victim to "hubris." Harris dismisses such arguments as
quasi-religious claptrap, and insists that striving to better
ourselves is part of what defines us as human and humane.

Some claim that deliberately to modify the genes of our children is to
deny these children their autonomy as human beings. He replies that
choosing better genes for one's children does not in any way impair
their autonomy. Moreover, the genetic lottery can be deeply cruel and
unfair. Almost everything we do in life is an attempt to avoid the
worst effects of fate.

Another argument claims that Harris's enhancement agenda would, if
adopted, lead ultimately to the creation of a new species: "post-
humans." Critics worry that such enhanced human beings might feel
little or no sense of common humanity with those of us who are
unenhanced. He replies, in essence: So what? The wealthy and
privileged are already healthier, longer-lived and better-educated
than the poor and unprivileged.

Harris agrees that equality of life opportunity is an important ideal,
but insists that we shouldn't promote human equality by reducing the
advantages of the privileged. Instead, we should strive to make
genetic enhancements available to everyone. Initially, these
technologies will be priced out of the range of most people, even in
wealthy countries. Eventually, however, the enhancements enjoyed first
by the rich will become available to the poor. In the long run,
everyone will benefit.

I'm not entirely persuaded by this trickle-down argument. As British
economist John Maynard Keynes famously observed: In the long run,
we'll all be dead. Pace Professor Harris, it seems entirely reasonable
to worry that the technology he favours might dramatically and,
perhaps permanently, aggravate the already worrying gap between Haves
and Have-Nots.

Harris is also too dismissive of the precautionary principle. He
concedes that before tampering with the genes of healthy people, we
need to ensure a favourable risk-benefit ratio. He seems to forget,
however, that the enhancements he enthusiastically welcomes will be
brought to us by the same industry which (in the 1950s) sold women
thalidomide "for stronger, healthier babies" and, more recently, Vioxx
for arthritic pain. When we remember that the power of man over nature
is often, in practice, the power of one man to exploit another, then
the maxim, "First of all, do no harm," seems eminently sensible.

Caveats aside, Enhancing Evolution makes a fine contribution to clear
thinking and cogent argument in a field where these commodities have
been in short supply. It should be on the must-read list for citizens
and politicians alike.

==============

Arthur Schafer eagerly awaits the genetic enhancement of his tennis
skills. He is professor of philosophy and director of the Centre for
Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

Copyright Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.

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From: Foresight Nanotech Update 58, Nov. 17, 2007
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MILITARY NANOTECHNOLOGY: PREVENTIVE ARMS CONTROL

Book Review of Jurgen Altmann, Military Nanotechnology: Potential
applications and preventive arms control (Routledge, 2006. Paperback,
238 + xvi pages)


By James Lewis, PhD

Jurgen Altmann holds a PhD in physics, has been studying disarmament-
related issues since 1985, and has been actively investigating
nanotechnology (NT) since 2002. The goal of Military Nanotechnology:
Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control "is to do a first
assessment of the implications that NT weapons and other military NT
systems could entail, and to present first considerations on
preventive limitations." This goal is decisively achieved. Altmann
uses the term NT to cover the wide range of (mostly short-term and
medium-term) research and development activities that are currently
the focus of major government funding initiatives (such as the US
National Nanotechnology Initiative) and commercial development. For
the vision of long-term advanced nanotechnology first elaborated by K.
Eric Drexler and Foresight during the 1980s he uses the term MNT (for
molecular NT). This book addresses the military implications of both
NT and MNT, but with most emphasis on NT.

Military Nanotechnology is the fruit of a thorough scholarly effort,
supplemented by abundant notes and bibliographic references. The notes
and references do not extend past 2004. Accordingly, Altmann's
characterization of MNT as having to do with "universal molecular
assemblers" and "self-replicating nano-robots" does not reflect the
consensus developed within the MNT community during 2003 to de-
emphasize self-replicating nanomachines in favor of desktop
nanofactories, culminating in the 2004 publication by Chris Phoenix
and Eric Drexler of "Safe exponential manufacturing" (Nanotechnology
15 869-872)

Altmann's introduction includes a concise (12 pages) but thorough
summary of previous writing on the potential military use of
nanotechnology -- from Engines of Creation in 1986 through two 2002
articles in the journal Disarmament Diplomacy. Chapter 2 is an
overview of nanotechnology (through 2003) that manages to be
simultaneously concise, comprehensive, easy to follow for someone with
modest technical background, and of sufficient depth to enable
understanding the key ideas. The coverage of MNT includes distinct but
associated futuristic concepts, including super-human artificial
intelligence, eradication of disease and aging, and merging of humans
and robots. The approach that Altmann takes toward MNT "is guided by
the precautionary principle: those concepts that do not obviously run
counter to the laws of nature will be taken seriously as principal
possibilities." Altmann's overview also includes the visionary
concepts associated with the convergence of nano-, bio-, information,
and cognitive sciences and technology (see Update 49 article)
championed by the US National Science Foundation and Dept. of
Commerce.

Military R&D efforts in NT are the topic of chapter 3. US DoD efforts
are covered in considerable detail, illustrating the immense depth and
breath of current US military NT. Several tables list the titles of
numerous specific projects. The military NT R&D efforts of other
countries are sketched very briefly, either because they are much
smaller than the US effort, or much less open, or both. Altmann
estimates that US investment in military NT R&D currently (2003)
exceeds that of the rest of the world combined by a factor of 4 to 10.
However, several nations, particularly China and Russia, have the
capacity to rapidly develop military NT R&D applications. Altmann
identifies factors that could enhance mutual suspicion and thus, in
the absence of international constraints, lead to an NT arms race.

Potential military applications of nanotechnology (both NT and MNT)
are described in chapter 4. Numerous specific NT applications
(including devices for computation and communication, software and
artificial intelligence, nanostructured materials for vehicles and
improved armor, autonomous combat vehicles, sensors, incremental
improvements in conventional weapons, etc.) are identified in time
frames ranging from 5 to 20 years.

Altmann's consideration of the potential military uses of MNT draws on
Mark Gubrud's work, presented at the 1997 Fifth Foresight Conference
on Molecular Nanotechnology. First of all, a mature molecular
manufacturing base, perhaps including advanced artificial intelligence
systems for engineering design, would provide for rapid, inexpensive
stockpiling of the highest quality conventional weapons. Further, the
potential for self-replicating weapons and for full automation of
weapons production and deployment by artificial intelligence adds
qualitatively new dimensions to warfare. Swarms of microscopic
vehicles could attack infrastructure and weapons. Such machines could
certainly also attack human beings, either with extreme precision or
as non-specific weapons of mass destruction. The production of nuclear
weapons would be greatly facilitated. Perhaps the most troubling
danger is strategic instability caused by arms races, weakening
conventional deterrence, and enhancing first strike advantage.

The remainder of the book focuses on preventive arms control,
beginning with the precedents provided by conventional arms control
treaties, and by limitations on civilian R&D for the sake of health,
safety, environmental, and ethical considerations. Altmann's
philosophy on regulation derives from the "precautionary principle",
which maintains that "limits should not have to wait for full
indisputable evidence, but should already be applied if there are
reasonable grounds for concerns about potential dangers to
environmental, human, animal or plant health". Altmann also points out
that "in general adequately verified arms limitations are much cheaper
than military preparations for mutual armed conflict." Ideally
regulations and verification would prohibit dangerous military
applications but not impede useful applications. Reasons why this
distinction might be difficult to make in practice are surveyed.

Applying these general considerations to NT and MNT, Altmann is
particularly concerned about the development by the military of
distributed sensors for use on the battlefield. Specifically he
advocates complete bans on self-contained sensor systems smaller than
3 to 5 cm, small arms and munitions that contain no metal, and
missiles smaller than 20 to 50 cm. Likely to arouse objections is
Altmann's "demand for a moratorium on implants and other body
manipulations that are not directly medically motivated." This
moratorium would include civilian as well as military use and would
last at least 10 years. Altmann also wants to prohibit "armed, mobile,
systems without crew", which would prohibit not only military robots
but the current US Predator drone Hellfire missile combination. Both
military and civilian use of mini- and micro-robots would also be
banned. For MNT Altmann advocates first determining feasibility and
time frames, and then studying appropriate limits and verification
means for both civilian and military applications.

In his conclusion, Altmann offers the hope that the rapid advance of
technology, especially NT and MNT, may lead nations to conclude that
"security can no longer be reliably ensured by national armed forces,"
and this realization would be a catalyst for strengthening
international institutions and international law.

Military Nanotechnology provides an excellent beginning to addressing
a very difficult problem -- avoiding a nanotechnology arms race.
However, it is likely that much more work remains to be done before
the outline of a workable solution becomes visible. Because
nanotechnology is deeply anchored in molecular technology essential to
the civilian economy and has many far-reaching implications, it is not
clear to what extent military applications can be limited without
unacceptable restrictions on core technologies. Altmann makes
reasonable proposals for how to draw this line with respect to NT, but
does not address this crucial issue with respect to MNT.

As one example Altmann explicitly rejects the position taken in the
Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology [he references
version 3.7 (June 2000); current version (April 2006)] that "While
a 100% effective ban [of core MNT technologies] could, in theory,
avoid the potential risks of certain forms of molecular
nanotechnology, a 99.99% effective ban could result in development and
deployment by the 0.01% that evaded and ignored the ban." Altmann
labels this approach "clearly flawed" (p. 11). His reasons for this
judgment make sense with respect to military applications of MNT but
do not address the fact that the Foresight Guidelines concern the core
MNT technologies that are already aggressively being developed in
thousands of laboratories in dozens of nations.

Perhaps the most debatable aspect of Altmann's analysis is his
dismissal of effective nanotechnology-enabled countermeasures to
nanotechnology-enabled threats. Compare his conclusion with the
argument advanced by J. Storrs Hall in Nanofuture that open
development by mainstream populations will provide defenses against
nanotechnology-based threats (see "Anticipating advanced
nanotechnology
" in this issue).

For an initial discussion of the issues raised by Military
Nanotechnology, see the Nanodot post "Facing up to military
nanotechnology
."

Copyright 1986-2007 Foresight Institute

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From: Harvard Political Review Online, Nov. 16, 2007
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AN ISSUE FOR THE CENTER-RIGHT

European conservatives take the lead in environmental policy

By Abigail Schiff

If European countries are any guide, the next big thing in
conservative politics may well be environmentalism. As Europe becomes
more environmentally conscious, its center-right politicians have
adapted environmentalism and have made it conform to the logic of
capitalism. Conservative leaders from England's David Cameron to
France's Nicolas Sarkozy have followed German Chancellor Angela
Merkel's lead to make environmental protection a priority of the
center-right. Market-based environmental policy has become a hallmark
of the new Europe, and an important part of its leaders' success, both
at home and internationally.

Proceed With Caution

The European emphasis on environmentalism is imbedded in the legal
foundation of the European Union. The precautionary principle,
codified in the European Union's 1992 Maastricht Treaty, states that
if an action or policy may have negative effects on the environment,
even if these effects are not fully scientifically proven, the burden
of proof falls on the advocates of the risky action. Recent
environmental disasters such as flooding in England and widespread
fires in Greece this past summer have heightened public consciousness
of the fragility of the natural environment. As the Maastricht Treaty
indicates, the European Union has made environmental issues a greater
priority in an effort to secure the future of its bloc and establish
its leadership on an important global issue.

New Conservatism for the New Europe

Market environmentalism is gaining ground in Europe, as conservative
politicians realize that environmental consciousness can be the key to
the economic and popular success of their governments. Many European
governments have adapted a market-based system of environmentalism
based on the Kyoto "cap and trade" policy, culminating in the 2005 EU
emissions trading scheme, which allows companies to buy and sell
permits to produce greenhouse gases. Daniele Cesano, a fellow at the
Kennedy School of Government, said in an interview with the HPR that
the market-based model is attractive for two reasons: "Based on the
United States's experience, it has proved to be more cost-effective to
have carbon trade, and it is also easier to be sold to voters,
although it results in the same cost to taxpayers in the form of
increases in costs of energy."

European leaders have also found that action on green issues can be
parlayed into political and diplomatic capital. According to Sheila
Jasanoff, the Pforzheimer professor of science and technology studies
at Harvard, a government's increased attention to environmental policy
shows "what kind of world citizen you're going to be," and brings
international goodwill. This, in turn, affects everything from trading
relationships to interactions between heads of state. At least since
Margaret Thatcher took a pioneering interest in the environment,
politicians have used environmental policy to strengthen their popular
image.

Following Merkel's Lead

Leading the current movement of center-right environmentalism is
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has won acclaim for her strong
environmental advocacy. The German minister for the environment from
1994 to 1998, she was only narrowly elected as Chancellor on a
platform of conservative reform. Once in office, working with an
unsteady coalition government, she turned her energies towards
environmental policy. She advocated for the European carbon-trading
scheme, made diplomatic advances to the United States, and became a
spokeswoman for the European environmental movement. She has since
benefited from approval ratings over 70 percent. Germany has likewise
benefited from international goodwill and from economic success based
on environmentally friendly products, which now make up 19 percent of
German exports.

Other European governments have followed her example and leveraged
environmentalism as a policy issue. Former British Prime Minister Tony
Blair developed an image of environmental leadership in order to
differentiate himself from his allies in the United States. French
President Nicolas Sarkozy has continued his country's established
energy policy by focusing on nuclear power, and has also used calls
for environmental action to offset his pro-American slant. All of
these politicians have used environmentalism for their own ends, but
also for the good of their country's economy and international
standing.

Politicians elsewhere might do well to learn from the leaders of
Europe. As environmental challenges increasingly dominate the global
political agenda, conservatives worldwide may not be able to cede this
issue to the left. Moving forward, the center-right could find that
promotion of the precautionary principle will save more than the
global environment -- it could also save their jobs.