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SEHN - Statements

SEHN - Statements Icicle Creek Statement On The Precautionary Principle
And Ecosystems

December 7, 2001

Human society in the twenty-first century bears a large responsibility to the Earth and its living systems. Our goal is to bring human activities into harmony with nature so that the Earth may continue to support all species with natural abundance and diversity.

We acknowledge our kinship with nature and our dependence on robust, vibrant, ecosystems. We acknowledge there are limits to our ability to understand or control the natural world of which we are part.

We acknowledge that for millennia, human activities have caused significant changes in our environment. However, the magnitude of changes in recent decades, especially the destruction of habitats, species, and ecosystem functioning, is unprecedented in human history and signals accelerating decline in many living systems. We recognize our obligation to protect and restore, where possible, the health and integrity of ecosystems.

As a modest but urgent step toward restoring a respectful, viable relationship between humans and the rest of nature, we advocate the precautionary principle as a primary guide:

When an activity or condition raises credible threats of harm to ecosystems, precautionary measures should be taken, even if cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established.
The precautionary principle obliges us to:

Observe. We must be alert to early manifestations of both harm and recovery through careful observation, rigorous science, and the eyes of a vigilant public.

Foresee. We must increase and exercise our abilities to predict harmful and beneficial consequences of human activities undertaken for all purposes. This includes applying scientific understanding of the character and functioning of ecosystems as well as the wisdom of long human experience and diverse cultural knowledge.

Act. With awareness comes the responsibility to foster recovery and health and to avoid harm.

Precautionary action related to ecosystems includes, broadly:

Care. Adopting forms of activity that are harmonious with the health and integrity of ecosystems represents our commitment to the thriving of future generations of humans and other species.

Creativity. We must learn to ask, habitually, whether harmful activities are necessary and to seek less destructive, more graceful ways of fulfilling human needs for survival and well-being.

Courage. When it becomes clear that business-as-usual is resulting in irrevocable harm, we must have the courage to make major changes. According to the circumstances, great restraint or bold experimentation may be necessary.

Restraint. Among the choices we must consider in any circumstance is to curtail exploitive human activity, restore natural processes and let nature heal itself.

Restoration. When possible, we must undertake the restoration of damaged ecosystems, acknowledging that such activities require care and foresight, and sometimes risk harm. We must proceed on the basis of our best knowledge and aim for long-term restoration success rather than short-term convenience or profit.

Participation. Decisions regarding ecosystem health and restoration must be reached through open, informed, and democratic processes that consider potentially affected parties, including, in absentia, future generations of humans and other species.

Flexibility. Because ecosystems are more complex than we can know, our relationship with nature must be a conversation. We must conduct all activities with both humility and courage, studying effects and making appropriate adaptations.


Institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only.
Kristen Blann, Conservation Biology Graduate Program, University of Minnesota-St. Paul
Len Broberg, Environmental Studies Program, University of Montana
Karen Cairns, nurse/public health and environmental educator
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council
Paul Dayton, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California
Michael Earle, Green Group in the European Parliament, Belgium
Tim Gerrodette, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, California
Louis Guillette Jr., Zoology Department, University of Florida
Eric Higgs, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Canada
Marion Hourdequin, Duke University
Terrie Klinger, University of Washington
Gretchen Lambert, University of Washington Fridays Harbor Laboratory
Peter Landres, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, Montana
Jim Lichatowich, salmon consultant and author
Kent Loftin, civil engineer consulting on water resources
Nancy Myers, Science and Environmental Health Network
Cara Nelson, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington
Joshua O'Brien, Ecology and Evolution graduate program, University of California, Davis
Mary O'Brien, Science and Environmental Health Network
Makoto Omori, Makoto Omori, Akajima Marine Science Laboratory, Japan
Stephen Packard, National Audubon Society
Vivian Parker, Resource Policy Analyst, California Indian Basketweavers Association
Carolyn Raffensperger, Science and Environmental Health Network
Ted Schettler, Science and Environmental Health Network
Boyce Thorne-Miller, Ocean Advocates, Maryland
Martin Willison, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia


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