Science & Environmental Health Network

Science, Ethics and Action in the Public Interest
Science & Environmental Health Network - Precautionary Principle: Guardianship 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 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.

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

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

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 Provisions & 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.

Supplemental Reading

Principles of Perpetual Care:  The Giant Mine, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories 
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.

Climate Change and Intergenerational 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.

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