SEHN

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

Program Areas

Precautionary PrinciplePrecautionary Principle
The precautionary principle, virtually unknown here six years ago, is now a U.S. phenomenon. In December 2001 the New York Times Magazine listed the principle as one of the most influential ideas of the year, describing the intellectual, ethical, and policy framework SEHN had developed around the principle.

Ecological MedicineEcological Medicine
“Ecological medicine” is a term coined by Carolyn Raffensperger, SEHN’s executive director, in 2001 for a new field of inquiry and action to reconcile the care and health of ecosystems, populations, communities, and individuals.The health of Earth’s ecosystem is the foundation of all health. Human impact in the form of population pressure, resource abuse, economic self-interest, and inappropriate technologies is rapidly degrading the environment. This impact, in turn, is creating new patterns of human and ecosystem poverty and disease. The tension among ecosystem health, public health, and individual health is reaching a breaking point at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century.
Law for the Ecological AgeLaw for the Ecological Age
Our current American legal system was written for a different world. In the Industrial Age of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Earth’s resources seemed endless. The law evolved to support economic activity and allow environmental damage, since the benefits of economic growth were believed to outweigh the costs.As human activity has grown so tremendously, however, we have discovered the limits of the Earth. We now find that natural resources are finite. Pollution and other environmental damage are harming people and eliminating species, degrading ecological systems, and changing the global climate. In this 21st century, we are beginning to pay dearly with our health and environment for our destructive industrial practices. We see now that we are capable of destroying our only home.

At the Science & Environmental Health Network, we believe we must alter our course. Under our democratic system, the law is required to promote the public welfare, now and for future generations. To do this in our current Ecological Age, the law must be transformed to recognize that we must live within the ecological constraints of the Earth.

Our legal code should reward healthy, sustainable economic activity and treat all people and species as neighbors: integral parts of the Earth’s ecological systems. It must also honor and uphold our nation’s historic commitment to equal rights and justice for all.

We have created these web pages on Law for an Ecological Age as a resource for allies. Here you will find ideas about transforming the law to promote the long-term welfare and health of the Earth and her inhabitants–implementing the precautionary principle and environmental justice, incorporating the interests of future generations, accounting for cumulative impacts to overburdened communities, abiding by the Public Trust Doctrine, shifting the burden of proof, and more. We have also included tools that may be freely used for making change happen. 

Ethical EconomicsEthical Economics
We need new economic models for the 21st Century and future generations. We must combine enterprise with wisdom and common sense if humans are to survive on this planet.The old bull-and-bear economy is bankrupting the planet. Maybe our icon should be the owl. What would an owl economy look like?

The owl economy would be green, fair, and diversified. It would emphasize the long-term bottom line—prosperity now that can be carried into the future. It would measure wealth by the wellbeing of communities as well as individuals. It would grow social and natural capital as well as material capital. It would be grounded in the biological reality of a generous but limited planet. It would protect, restore, and enrich the commons—air, water, soil, wildlife and lands, and the shared wealth of human knowledge, cooperation, and infrastructure. Its goals would be to create jobs and beauty.

Public Interest ResearchPublic Interest Research
Several terms have been used to describe the basic idea behind Public Interest Research (PIR). For example, citizen science, civic science, engaged research, action research and public scholarship are all types of research that aim to directly benefit and involve members of public, non-academic communities.However, it is often difficult to define these types of research in ways that set them apart from all other types of research. Complex questions arise, such as: Who is the ‘public’? How do we address opposing interests among different publics? What kind of basic research is in the public interest? What kind of private research might also be in the public interest?

The papers included on this page aim to stimulate further discussion on definitions of public research. 

SEHN StatementsGuardians of Future Generations
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 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.

Developing this idea calls for everyone’s help, wisdom, and experience. 

The NetworkerThe Networker
SEHN’s newsletter, The Networker, covers political, economic, philosophical, scientific and social issues related to the environment and public health. Articles are written by SEHN staff as well as a broad diversity of contributing authors.