Visionary Science, Ethics, Law and Action in the Public Interest

Guardianship of Future Generations

The Precautionary Principle

What is Future Generation Guardianship?

People who live today have the sacred right and obligation to protect the commonwealth of the Earth and the common health of people and all our relations for many generations to come.

Future Generation Guardianship is one way to do that. It is a new twist on an ancient idea. It’s the Seventh Generation Principle of the Iroquois linked to the active role of guardianship.

Read the Bemidji Statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship to see how this idea was expressed in 2006, based on a collaboration with Indigenous people.

Guardians of future generations take specific responsibility for our common future. Future Generation Guardianship can become law and personal practice. Communities, religious groups, and organizations can take specific responsibilities for the wellbeing of future generations. We can all become guardians in our own backyards.

The Precautionary Principle

The Women’s Congress for Future Generations project 

For ongoing local events in the Midwest held and co-sponsored by the Women’s Congress for Future Generations project, visit our local chapter, Future First

A Women’s Congress for Future Generations gathered in Moab, Utah September 27th-30th, 2012, to celebrate and express our gratitude for the Earth’s wondrous bounty, and to fulfill the special responsibility that women hold as the first environment for future generations.

At the Moab Congress, we mapped possibilities and pathways toward achieving whole health and justice in this generation and for all generations to come. Inspired by our environmental foremothers, our hope was to craft a dynamic articulation of the pressing rights Future Generations have to a livable world and the responsibilities of present generations to uphold those rights. Our labors yielded a living affirmation of these rights and responsibilities in word, art, music, and story.

A Second Women’s Congress was held on November 7–9, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We held an essential conversation among women about environmental, economic and social equity/justice that leads to a growing movement for shifting a world view toward the interconnectedness of all things, and taking action on behalf of all people and our planet. We sought to mobilize a movement of women going forward, fueling actions to shift cultural and political conversations toward a worldview that recognizes the interdependence of all things. Many materials fed into and flowed out of that gathering including:

Summary of the 2014 Women’s Congress and the work going forward.

An Owl Economy

Heartland and Headwaters template for action strategizing

A Declaration of The Rights of All Waters

Which was joined with the 2012 Declaration to create Declaration of Rights for Future Generations and of the Rights Held by All Waters.

The Precautionary PrincipleThe Law of Future Generations 

A set of Legal Principles for Mining, Fracking, and Pipelines for defending our communities and future generations.

Carolyn Raffensperger’s “cutting edge law and justice” article in the Kosmos journal:
“We will stand together as guardians of the future. We will tend and nurture the tree of life for generations to come.”

Rights of Future Generations Bibliography  The Resources for the Legal Rights of Future Generations to Inherit a Livable Earth is a comprehensive overview of Future Generation policies that can be adopted at any level of government.  They are intended as tools for communities to use in their efforts to protect the environment for Future Generations.

Law for Future Generations—SEHN/Harvard Project

Two reports by SEHN and the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School show how we can use old and new law to protect future generations. The product of two-and-a-half years of research, these reports address three questions:

1. How do we formally assert that future generations have a right to a habitable planet?

2. What legal and social relationships can embody our duty to preserve our children’s only home, the Earth?

3. What institutions can we create to make those relationships real and effective?

Models for Protecting the Environment for Future Generations
October 2008 describes how ombudsmen, guardians, and other legal instruments could help guarantee a habitable planet for future humans.

Model State Constitutional Provision and Model Statute
November 2008 provides actual blueprint laws that states and tribes can use to implement these instruments and fulfill the ethical mandate to guarantee a livable world for future generations.

Read Tim Montague’s review and summary of Models for Protecting the Environment for Future Generations report, How to Protect the Future.

Other important supplemental reading for the Law of Future Generations 

Carolyn Raffensperger speaking at TEDx Maui, on future generations, the precautionary principle, hope and grace.
Youtube video

The Principles of Perpetual Care: The Giant Mine, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Carolyn Raffensperger, Principal author
How can you make wise choices about toxic sites?

Carolyn Raffensperger, Principal author
Rebecca Gasior Altman, Senior advisor
Nancy Myers, Editor
Rhiannon Chants Hanson, Sounding board
Joan Kuyek, Researcher and author of companion paper on case studies
Charlotte Babicki, Plain Language Executive Summary
Kevin O’Reilly, Reviewer
Prepared for Alternatives North for submission to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, December 2011

What is the Problem?
How can you make wise choices about toxic sites? Here, we are talking about the long-term care of an abandoned gold mine (Giant Mine) near Yellowknife, NWT, Canada.

Giant Mine opened in 1948 and closed in 2004. It produced over 23,000 kg of gold. It also gave us a vast wasteland of arsenic trioxide. The mine contains 237,000 tonnes of arsenic dust that can melt in water. It has already poisoned lakes and creeks in the area.

How Long Does It Last?
Contamination lasts a long, long time. It could be toxic for 250,000 years or even more. How can you even imagine such a long time? The pyramids in Egypt were built only 5,000 years ago.

How Can We Plan for Such a Long Time?
We don’t know how to plan for 250,000 years. Instead, the aim of care at places like Giant Mine should be to protect people, other living things, soil, and water for as long as we can. We must try to protect the Earth from any more harm.

How Does This Report Help?
The five rules in this report can help people who have to make decisions about long-term care. They should help us do our best to stop the creation of more sites that need care forever.

The Theory and Practice of Perpetual Care of Contaminated Sites
July 2011 – Joan Kuyek, D.S.W.

In fall 2010, Alternatives North hired Dr. Joan Kuyek to do a study. Giant Mine in Yellowknife, Canada, has 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide to take care of. There is a plan to freeze this arsenic, so it can’t leak out and hurt the people and the land. For the Environmental Assessment of this plan, Alternatives North asked for a study of how contaminants are managed in other places.

Legal Guardians of Future Generations: A Roadmap
March/April 2009 This issue of the SEHN Networker describes the role of legal guardians and how cities can use this office. It includes a description of the Harvard/SEHN reports.

Legal Guardians of Future Generations
April 21, 2008 – This presentation by Carolyn Raffensperger to the University of Iowa Law School outlines the basis for a new role in government bodies from city councils to the US Attorney General’s office: the legal guardian of future generations. Power Point.

Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Law of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and International Justice
Vermont Journal of Environmental Law 2008

A paper by University of Vermont/University of Iowa legal scholar Burns Weston.

Guardian Job Description
October 4, 2007 – How a government body can structure a legal guardianship for future generations. Word document.

Model State NEPA for the 21st Century
October 4, 2007 – States can begin now to rewrite their comprehensive environmental protection acts in ways that will protect future generations. This issue of the SEHN Networker tells how.

Stories to Mend the Night-Songs to Mend the Soul.

A House Concert by Ilene Evans hosted by Carolyn Raffensperger.

Join us by conference call for an hour of song and story

The evening of Tuesday, October 3rd

8-9 pm eastern, 7-8 pm central, 6-7 pm mountain, 5-6 pm pacific

Featuring 2012 & 2014 Women’s Congress presenter:

Storyteller, Ilene Evans

A storytelling program to lift the spirits and focus the fires of resilience and renewal.

Hosted by Carolyn Raffensperger

Ilene sings the songs of resistance to shore up the soul and kindle the come-uppance spirit. She will tell us the stories we need to hear as the news of the day dull, enrages and sends the spirit whirling. It is the heart that must stay strong. It is the heart which must be sustained when all else is lost, or in danger. The heart carries us forward in the darkest night and the longest struggle. The gates of hell cannot prevail against a heart filled with love.

Ms. Ilene Evans is an inspired storyteller, performer and scholar who weaves music, poetry, dance and drama, to bring history alive. Ms. Evans creates and presents theater programs and workshops/seminars that inform, educate and entertain audiences young and old. She has toured extensively across the US and internationally with her historical and original works.

Ms. Evans is the co-founder of Voices from the Earth ( )a non-profit arts organization.

Ms. Evans portrays significant women of color who changed the world: Harriet Tubman, Coralie Franklin Cook, Memphis Tennessee Garrison, Ethel Waters, Eslanda Robeson and Bessie Coleman. Ms. Evans also offers a suite of spoken word, poetry, song and dance performances and workshops/seminars tailored for national and international audiences.

$15  Register here!

**National conference call format. Details will be sent for the conference call code after you register.

January 2017 Networker: Hope and Politics

Networker, Volume 22 (1) January, 2017


Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark


A letter from Executive Director, Carolyn Raffensperger


Dear Friend,

Late last year, around the time of the November election in the U.S., I learned the name of a young man from a North Dakota Tribe. Translated, his name meant “Male Hope”. I was intensely curious about how hope could be gendered. His parents explained to me that hope is nuanced. Men hope to be able to fulfill their unique responsibilities to the family and community. Women have other responsibilities and so Female Hope is the constellation of prayer, duty and action directed at the future that is uniquely in the domain of women.


Women are gathering January 21st to rally and raise their voices in the public square to give voice to that Hope that forms the women’s constellation. We are rallying to show that the incoming government does not have the consent of the governed. We do not consent to have the environment destroyed. We do not consent to having our bodies treated as if they belonged to someone else. We do not consent to having our neighbor’s lives destroyed because of medical debt. We do not consent to privileging oil companies’ plunder of our drinking water and agricultural lands. We do not consent to the theft of the future from our grandchildren.


Consent of the governed is required for legitimate government. The alternatives to consent are anarchy or dictatorship. The basis of consent is respect. Respect is honoring the autonomy and dignity of the person. Taking away our authority over our bodies, taking away our ability to care for our children, our neighborhoods, and the Earth is to deny our autonomy and dignity.


How we treat women is a microcosm of how we treat all that is sacred—children, the Earth, the elderly, the future. Given the threats to what we hold sacred by the incoming administration, we must do two things, block actions that threaten our ability to care for our own bodies, each other and the Earth as well as to invent new legal ideas and policies that further our sacred responsibility to take this kind of care.


The Women’s March will give voice to the “hell no’s” —Hell no you can’t take away the funding for Planned Parenthood. Hell no you can’t give away our climate and water to the fossil fuel industry. Hell no you can’t squander our children’s inheritance of the commons.” But as every mother of a two year old knows, “no” is insufficient. We are also searching for and inventing the big “yeses”. Yes to new legal ideas and policies starting with the basic question of, what is the primary role of government?


Some years ago, several groups came together and convened the Women’s Congress for Future Generations in order to give women a voice in policy and to advance the basic notion that not only did women have a right to be at the policy table, but we were claiming a responsibility to be there since we are the first environment for future generations as well as recognizing that women are fractals of the Earth—we are water. We are earth. We are hosts to living things. This is the basis for the distinctive hopes we bring to the policy table.


Basic policies that emerged from the Women’s Congress assert that government has a primary responsibility to be the trustee of the commons—all the things we share—for present and future generations. All of us have a right to equal access to these commons. Government must care for the commons in such a way that it protects the basic necessities for our survival and well being—air, water, climate, nature, public parks and art, roads and bridges wildlife.


Imagine a world where our federal and state government actually saw itself as the trustee of these things and treated each person and community with dignity, honoring their right to consent. This is the basis of our Women’s Hope and why I will rally with my sisters and brothers on the 21st. We hope for justice. We hope for a caring economy. We hope that our grandmothers and granddaughters will be treated with respect. This is our responsibility. We will not stand down. We are honing the axe.

Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director

Upcoming Events

2017 Women’s Congress for Future Generations

November 2-5, 2017

Minneapolis, MN

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Guardianship: A Critical Responsibility for Our Time

February 10-11, 2017

Saint Paul, MN


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Giving Update

Thanks to YOU, we exceeded our year-end fund raising goal! Your generosity inspires us every day. This work has never been more important. 

Give a gift to support our work today!

If you’d like to mail a check, please send to:
Science & Environmental Health Network
P.O. Box 50733
Eugene, OR 97405

New Networker on (Mythic)Models for Protecting Environmental Health and Future Generations

SEHN Networker Volume 21 (2) February, 2016SEHN logo
(Mythic)Models for Protecting Environmental Health and Future Generations


The Archetypes, the work, and the journey

“If you could ask Dante where he got the idea of life as a road, or Rilke where he found the notion that time is a destroyer, they might have said the metaphors were hewn from their minds, or drawn from a stock of poetic imagery. Their readers might have said the imagery had origins more divine, perhaps even diabolical. But neither poets nor readers would have said the metaphors were designed…Can metaphors be designed? I’m here to tell you that they can, and are.”
Michael Erard, author and linguist


An El Niño was first explained to me using a bathtub; the Pacific Ocean basin’s water sloshing back and forth. My professors used a bathtub analogy to communicate climate equilibrium and the Earth’s energy budget.


The word doesn’t have much power in and of itself. It gains power by suggesting one thing belongs to another. An ocean is within our grasp – we can see through a hundred different eyes, from the point of view of a giant, an atom, the oldest tree. Locked up in a word are possibly game-changing ideas.


SEHN has been at the forefront of developing game-changing ideas, and finding words that express those ideas and challenge status quo concepts which are harmful. As Executive Director, Carolyn Raffensperger put it, “When I look for good policy ideas I want them to have a mythic power, a legal hook and an ecological coherence.”


Over the years, SEHN has initiated several policies based on the rights of future generations. One of those policies was that governments at any level could designate a legal guardian for future generations.


The bridge between the metaphor and public policy is the archetype. A word like Guardian carries in it a mythic figure and power, as well as a response contained in the word. The Precautionary Principle recognizes inherent scientific uncertainty and ways of acting in the face of uncertainty to prevent harm. It gains new traction when it can be told through Guardian language.


Other SEHN ideas like ecological medicine or the ecological framework carry truths, that we are what we breathe and drink, and what’s put on our skin; that we are part of a complex system.


These concepts frame more interesting questions: how does oil become more valuable than water? What is the true basis of a healthy system? How does an Owl economy compare to a Bull and Bear economy? In this way an idea can have the power to create new policies and rearrange the way we go about working and living together.


That is why ideas – and the words used to give ideas power – matter. The idea that government prioritizes the economy leads to principles like ‘oil is more valuable than water’. In Flint, MI the decision to switch water supplies was made by people who failed to ask the right questions, and then failed to heed early warnings. The costs of this mistake are huge. We at SEHN would argue that these decisions are unethical and misuse science.


Flint is symptomatic of a larger problem of cumulative neglect of the role that the environment has on public health. SEHN’s role is to counter this neglect with ideas that put public and environmental wellbeing and integrity front and center. In this narrative, the free market, capital and private property are not the primary goals or processes of democracy.


If we decide instead to prioritize clean air, healthy kids, environmental health, biodiversity, we start to think about laws and governance differently. Flint is the tale of so many places.


In this month’s Networker we share some of the ways ideas like Guardian, Sentinel, Elder, and Storyteller – the urge to protect and prevent — are being translated into organizing strategies, research agendas, and principles of law.


Last, we want to give you an update on the SEHN finances as we begin 2016. Over the years our funding was primarily from foundations but our support has gradually shifted to be mostly from individual donors. We are learning as we go and want to thank you for your contributions to SEHN. We are in better shape than we have been in several years heading into 2016, thanks to you. What we pledge to you is that we will do our best to bring SEHN’s unique strengths and contributions to sponsor clean water, a stable climate, environmental justice and health in the coming year.
In good health,


Kaitlin Butler
Program Director, SEHN


Connect with SEHN on Facebook and Twitter


Survey: Checking in with our Readers

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Grassroots Organizing

Iowa Utility Board Deliberations on Dakota Access Bakken Pipeline

Iowa is the last hold-out. The Bakken pipeline is the largest proposed pipeline project in the country pipeline farmlandand slated to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day. SEHN intervened on behalf of future generations, the first time they have been represented in an administrative proceeding in this country. Follow the Coalition’s activities here.

Bakken pipeline OK looks likely in Iowa, say foes, supporters
“Carolyn Raffensperger…said it appears likely the board will approve the project, but with certain conditions. Her organization has proposed that if the pipeline permit is granted and an oil spill of more than 100 barrels occurs, the pipeline should be shut and its state permit revoked…Right now the company says ‘It can’t spill”.”

WHOtv coverage, capturing some of Carolyn Raffensperger’s statements
“What you need to do is defend the interest and the ability of future generations to eat, drink water, and have healthy lives”


Elders speak for Climate Justice in Utah

SEHN has joined the Keep It In The Ground campaign, a call to the President to stop new federal elders rising blm auction utahleasing of fossil fuels and to keep our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

SEHN’s Program Director, Kaitlin Butler’s statements appear in some of the press coverage. Listen to her interviews with Radio Active and KZMU Moab (archiving soon).

A new movement partnership
SEHN’s program director Kaitlin Butler has been working on behalf of SEHN with Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice on climate justice issues in Utah on actions to withdraw consent to the Bureau of Land Management’s competitive oil and gas lease sales of public land, as part of the national Keep It In the Ground campaign.

National media coverage
Utah actions have gained national media attention. Google reports 140 articles the day after the protest. Read some of SEHN’s statements for the day-of press release and following the auction. In addition to the 100+ community members peacefully protesting the auction, national headlines focused on author and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who purchased over 1,700 acres in parcels (see Democracy Now, TIME). When asked if she was a legitimate bidder, Williams responded, “You cannot define our definition of energy,” Tempest Williams said. The energy development we are interested in is fueling the movement of Keep It in the Ground.”



A Story of Health coverA Story of Health Wins Excellence in Communications Award by the CDC

The National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have honored A Story of Health multimedia eBook/continuing education course with an “Excellence in Communications” award.


SEHN’s Carolyn Raffensperger Keynote for 13th Annual Indigenous Farming Conference: The Power to Healcorn

March 3-6th 2016
Maplelag Resort Callaway, MN
Registration now open!


Keynote, Becoming Guardians of Future Generations:
How will future generations tell the stories of this generation as we faced dire threats to climate, water and food? Ancient ideas like care for the seventh generation can be forged into new policies that will enable us to become beloved ancestors. This will require innovation, vision and creativity as well as the wisdom of past. We begin that journey now.


Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America

New Publication! Order the Book Fracture from Ice Cube Press. Chapters from SEHN’s Carolyn fracture coverRaffensperger and Board Member Angie Carter, along with a chorus of renowned contributors.

Watch the book’s trailer.

“This book bears witness to hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America brings together the voices of more than fifty writers exploring the complexities of fracking through first-hand experience, investigative journalism, story-telling, and verse. At a time when politics and profits inhibit our ability to have meaningful discussions about the hazards of fracking, these creative perspectives are needed to ignite the national conversation about how we can live with more compassion toward Earth.”


In Case you Missed it

Is a Health Study the Answer for Your Community? A Guide for Making Informed Decisions
Listen to Science Director Ted Schettler and Board Member Madeleine Scammell, along with Sylvia Broude and former SEHN Board Member Stephen Lester on this CHE Partnership Call.

Using the Precautionary Principle to Change the World
A special edition of Green Street Radio featuring Carolyn Raffensperger on WBAI 99.5 FM, New York.
An archive of the interview posting on their website soon.

From our Bird’s Eye View, You Rock
SEHN’s January Networker

Standing with Future Generations – Join Us!

SEHN logoStanding with Future Generations – Join Us!

SEHN, December 2015


As you read this, dear friend of SEHN, something remarkable is happening in a small town in Iowa. A lawyer and witnesses will present testimony opposing a large, crude oil pipeline that will cross the Heartland.


What makes these witnesses so unique is that they will be representing future generations.


The Science & Environmental Health Network was granted intervener status in the hearing before the Iowa Utility Board that will determine whether Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, receives a permit to site a Bakken crude oil pipeline from North Dakota, across South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois.


Why is this such a big deal?


The Bakken Pipeline rivals the Keystone XL pipeline and is designed to replace Keystone. If the Bakken pipeline is permitted, all that it will require to carry tar sands from Canada is a short connector from northern North Dakota over the border.


We’re engaging in this struggle in Iowa but it is one that has ramifications far beyond the state. It is our best hope to keep some of the dirtiest oil in the ground and to protect future generations from contaminated water and a chaotic climate.


While some organizations have brought court cases on behalf of children in climate change lawsuits, this is the first time that future generations have been represented in an executive branch hearing. This is the kind of groundbreaking, system changing work that defines SEHN.


But we need your help. SEHN works with communities and coalitions through the exchange of new ideas and points of intervention rather than currency. Every dollar that you give will go to amplify the voice of future generations and help SEHN resist dirty fossil fuels from destroying the future.


Will you stand with us?


As you well know, the Bakken pipeline is not the only environmental threat to our health and wellbeing as individuals and communities. Every day we at SEHN are working to bring new scientific and legal strategies to bear in struggles for environmental health and economic justice and to develop new frameworks that will change the rules of the game.

  • We’re bringing together coalitions like the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, a collection of diverse interests all committed to stopping environmentally disastrous development in their community.
  • We’re working with a coalition of groups in the upper Midwest to determine how to use innovative scientific tools like biomonitoring to combat toxic agricultural pesticide use.
  • Our climate change program is participating in local efforts to foster more dialogue about the impacts from energy extraction, as well as working with local organizers to block the expansion of dirty energy extraction in Utah. (Did you know that the U.S. has its own tar sands project? Environmentalists stopped the Keystone pipeline, which would have carried Canadian tar sand oil into the U.S. Now we have to stop the mining of tar sands in Utah.)
  • And we’re building on the tremendous work of the 2014 Women’s Congress by bringing together study groups of committed community activists like yourself to test the “Women’s Congress Companion for Political Change”, a community guide to legal principles that reframe the debates on mining, fracking, drilling, and pipelines.


Please. We need your financial contributions to continue doing this work. Whatever you have to share with us, will be used wisely on behalf of environmental sanity.


Thank you. Thank you for two things. Thank you for what you are doing in your own sphere that we might not know about. There is so much good work going on and we know that you are part of it.


And thank you, thank you, thank you for the support and dollars you can share with us.


For future generations,


Carolyn Raffensperger
Executive Director



Thanks for sharing in this challenging, important work. If you prefer to send a check, please send it to:

SEHN, PO Box 50733, Eugene, OR 97405.

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November Networker — Grassroots Organizing: The Roads Home

SEHN Networker Volume 20 (9) November, 2015SEHN logo
Grassroots Organizing: The Roads Home

Confronting the Hydra

Dear Reader,

We have so much to share this month. The Keystone XL pipeline victory was huge. What an incredible moment in the transition away from fossil fuels. We celebrate the groundswell of people who came together to make that happen. Many of us were part of that fight.

But like the mythic Hydra, permits to frack gas, mine tar sands, and build more pipelines just keep coming; for every one proposal stopped, another two spring up in its place. State borders do not bind the impacts from these projects.

The Dakota Access Pipeline Project (the red line on NRDC’s map) would cross four states carrying fracked oil from the Bakken oil reserves to Patoka, Illinois, giving access by rail or pipeline to carry the Bakken crude to the Gulf Coast for refinement and export. The pipeline would be 1,134 miles long, 30 inch in diameter, 24 to 48 inches underground, and would transport 570,000 barrels daily (similar to the now-vetoed Keystone XL pipeline in brown).

The Upland Pipeline (the blue line) would be an extension of the Bakken pipeline and connect it to the tar sands in Canada, thus making the two pipelines essentially a Keystone XL bait and switch. A lot of superb organizing here in the U.S. has focused on stopping the construction of new oil infrastructure for transporting more of Canada’s tar sands crude from Alberta to the U.S.

What many people do not realize is that we have our very own tar sands (and oil shale) right here in the U.S. In fact, the oft overlooked state of Utah has the largest oil shale deposits in the world — with estimated barrels of oil far exceeding Saudi Arabia’s known oil reserves. And the first U.S. tar sands mines are being built right now, making Utah ground zero for the fight against tar sands and oil shale production here.

There is a key difference between the Keystone XL pipeline and projects like the Bakken pipeline or the tar sands mining in Utah. In the battle over Keystone, there was an agency and a President to target. These other projects are more diffuse. Decisions are happening in county and utilities board hearings. Organizers are tasked with navigating a disjointed and broken regulatory system that’s been created out of the tangled web of private, local, and state interests. It’s difficult to create a coordinated and effective defense of the land.

How then do we fight against this fossil fuel beast, with its many bureaucratic heads, fed on antiquated subsidies and carefully tended by corporations and the status quo?

We change the rules of the game.

In the face of such stiff-necked, rubber-stamping officials, the climate justice movement is beginning to organize like the pipelines themselves — locally and also as an interconnected, transnational front with a common agenda to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Recognizing that the game is rigged, communities are looking for different ways to intervene in the decision making process. This is where SEHN comes in.

SEHN is participating in grassroots coalitions from the West Coast to the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest, bringing new strategies and analysis to support local efforts to stop noxious facilities of all sorts. We have developed legal principles and community tools designed to stop climate change at its source – energy extraction. These principles break open points of intervention to better protect public health and the environment, and put civic engagement back into the hands of community members who are the true stakeholders of the land, water, and air they wish to protect.

How is SEHN changing the rules of the game? This month for the first time, future generations will be represented in an executive branch hearing. SEHN is doing this; we are intervening on behalf of Future Generations.

But we do more than just work out legal frameworks. We are joining the legal frameworks with the grassroots organizing — the principles emerge from those engagements to better serve local needs. Together with the strength of advocates across regions, we are facing the Hydra. And we’re changing the narrative.

These issues are complicated, and they are affecting our environmental and public health. As Science Director Ted Schettler pointed out at SEHN’s recent event in St. Paul on the Ecology of Breast Cancer, “it can result in throwing up your hands and feeling a lot of despair.” But, he says, “there’s a lot of good news [too]…there’s actually reason to think we can take this theoretical complexity and say, “what I can do on the ground, in my community, next week” to try and address this problem.” Advocates like SEHN’s board member Angie Carter are also welcoming the complexity and working with communities to break open the space for activism by finding the shared values across community stories. In our conversation she captures SEHN’s own belief in the power of community: “community is what’s so powerful to me — communities that have the power to help shape their future.” We are not just the consumers of a system, “we are the makers of it”.

We participate in community conversations about environmental health because, as Carolyn Raffensperger put it at the recent event in St. Paul, “the work of SEHN is to prevent suffering…if we can prevent suffering than we will do so.” And we participate in grassroots coalitions with the assumption that if we can stop a multi-state pipeline in one jurisdiction, we can possibly stop the whole pipeline; and if we can stop one pipeline, we are more likely to shut down tar sands and fracking for gas and oil. If we can shut down a tar sands mine or fracking operation, then we are one step closer to avoiding climate catastrophe.

The work is hard. But people are rising up on behalf of their communities, for environmental health, and for future generations; something beautiful is growing.


Kaitlin Butler
Program Director, SEHN

P.S. None of this work would be possible without your support. Please consider donating to SEHN today!

Connect with SEHN on Facebook and Twitter


We’re Making History
Intervening on Behalf of Future Generations

In Iowa: Bakken Pipeline Hearings with Iowa Utilities Board
November 12 – December 3


With Rejection of Keystone XL Pipeline, Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition calls for immediate rejection of proposed Bakken Pipeline 


“The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition (BPRC) and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) celebrate the State Department and President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone Pipeline. This decision demonstrates political courage and environmental wisdom by recognizing that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. There is no safe way to transport these hazardous chemicals, whether it is by rail or by pipeline. For this reason, it is time to reject similar pipelines proposed to transport oil from the region of North Dakota and Alberta Canada.”

Follow the Coalition’s activities here.

SEHN Intervenes on Behalf of Future Generations in Upcoming Evidentiary Hearing

SEHN’s Carolyn Raffensperger will testify at the upcoming evidentiary hearing that begins Nov. 16th with the Iowa Utilities FullSizeRender (1)Board. This hearing is important because the Bakken Pipeline is designed to replace Keystone XL (read more). It is also unique because,for the first time, future generations will be represented in an executive branch hearing. SEHN has been granted intervenor status to intervene on behalf of future generations. Read Carolyn’s testimony here.
Visit SEHN’s website for more testimonies.

In Utah: Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice

On Tuesday November 17, the Bureau of Land Management is planning to auction leases on over Nov 17th Elders Rising74,000 acres of Utah lands to oil and gas exploration – at a time when we desperately need to keep oil and gas reserves in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change. Elders Rising is a informal group of seniors who are concerned about the future for their children and grandchildren. Vaughn Lovejoy from Elders Rising explained “We will be there to call upon our generation, who came of age in the sixties, to reawaken and fulfill the dreams we had to create a better world. It is time for us to become true elders in its traditional and deepest sense and act as visionaries and guardians on behalf of the coming generations.” Elders Rising will be joined by the Rainforest Action Network, and WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity.
Visit the FB event page for more information.


Read one organizer’s call to the older generation to stand for a brighter future — for intergenerational justice.

For further information on why it’s so important to keep fossil fuels in the ground visit:

Mind the (COP21) Gap: Introducing Climate Countdown

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“2015 is the big year for climate change and this web-series is our way of joining the fight”
– Climate Countdown team


This December, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Paris for their 21st annual meeting. This conference is pivotal in making global agreements to avoid dangerous climate change. Yet many people do not know what the COP is or why this 21st meeting is so important.



SEHN celebrates actions that aim to bridge science with law, policy and ethics for the public. That is why we are excited to share this work from some of our allies in the climate justice movement. Visit our website to learn more.

Defending the Land, Changing the Narrative

Iowa’s Heart in the Fight to Protect the Land: A Angie CarterConversation with Angie Carter

In a conversation with Kaitlin Butler, SEHN’s board member and co-founder of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, Angie Carter, speaks about what it was like growing up during the 1980s Farm Crisis in Iowa, the impact it had on her work to capture more representative narratives, the power of story, and how she found herself helping to build a movement. Read our conversation here.


Utah’s Oil Shale Bonanza

Utah is home tPR Springs Tar Sands Mineo the largest oil shale deposits in the world. The oil locked away in the Green River Formation is three-times Saudi Arabia’s known reserves.

SEHN’s Kaitlin Butler recently attended the 35th Oil Shale Symposium in Utah. Read her article published for DeSmog Blog on Utah’s Oil Shale hopes and the industry’s “PR Problem”.



Board Member Tom Goldtooth receives Gandhi Peace Award  Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 10.48.25 AM

Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network has been awarded the Gandhi Peace Award for his incredible work in environmental and economic justice and the many environmental actions to protest destructive projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, Oak Flat, and the toxic goldmine spill earlier this year.

View his acceptance speech here.  

Exploring the Ecological Model of Health

A Successful Oct 21 Event

EcologyofBCcover.aspxOn October 21st Carolyn Raffensperger and Ted Schettler spoke to a crowd of 50+ people in St. Paul on breast cancer, scientific uncertainty, and the rise of women’s activism. The Ecology of Breast Cancer, written by Dr. Schettler, is a book exploring the origins of breast cancer and improvements in treatment outcomes using SEHN’s ecological framework of health and disease. The evening ended by talking about the idea from Wendell Berry that “health is wholeness” and that our membership in a particular community is a key determinant of our health. Conversations like these are just the beginning of our work to integrate action on climate change, the transition away from fossil fuels and creating healthy, toxic-free communities all over this country.


Watch a clip from the conversation here



CHE Partnership call: Environmental Health and Complexity: Exploring the Ecological Model of Health

Friday December 11, 2015 10:00 am Pacific/1:00 pm Eastern
RSVP for this Call

The origins of many common diseases and disorders are complex. An ecologic or eco-social framework recognizes that individuals are progressively nested within families, communities, ecosystems, and societies. This framework is not only useful as an aid to understanding the origins of complex diseases but also helps point the way toward treatment and prevention.

Join SEHN’s Science Director, Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, and Michael Lerner, PhD, President of Commonweal, as they explore the implications of the ecological framework of health as it relates to several diseases that are common in our families and communities today.

Thanks for sharing in our excitement around this challenging, important work. We welcome any comments or suggestions for future Networkers at .