The Science and Environmental Health Network

Our Work

Our Work


Precautionary Principle

The Science and Environmental Health Network is working to implement the precautionary principle as a basis for environmental and public health policy. The principle and the main components of its implementation are stated this way in the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” – Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998

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.

In June 2003, the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco became the first government body in the United States to make the precautionary principle the basis for all its environmental policy.

Read Frequently Asked Questions for a quick overview of the precautionary principle or this White Paper for full background.

Understanding the Role of Science in Regulation. The Wingspread Statement and the European Union in Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 117 Number 3 March 2009.


Guardianship of future generations

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.


Ecological 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. (See – Utne, Our Planet, Our Selves)

he 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.

Read the brief statement describing ecological medicine and “The Case for Ecological Medicine”. (The Networker, Vol. 7 No. 4, October 2002)

SEHN’s science director, Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., is an authority on environmental links to reproductive and developmental disorders, neurotoxicity, and other public health problems. His books Generations at Risk: Reproductive Health and the Environment (MIT Press, 1999) and In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development (Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, 2000) describe what scientists know and suspect about environmental causes for a host of disorders from learning disabilities to cancer. They also describe the great uncertainties and the limits of science in establishing links between cause and effect


The 'environmental crisis' has happened because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of nature - Wendell Berry

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.

True Cost Clearinghouse Here you will find articles and reports documenting the economic, health, and social costs of pollution, worker exposures, and resource exploitation, as well as the underreported benefits of remediation and precautionary policies.

Both quantitative economic analyses and qualitative value analyses are included, but our emphasis is on cost of pollution rather than resource valuation.

See LINKS for more information on resource valuation and other helpful organizations and resources.

Read more about the True Cost Clearinghouse.

Law for the Ecological Age

 It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.
Aldo Leopold

Our current American legal system was designed for a different world. In the Industrial Age of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Earth’s resources seemed endless. The law was intentionally structured to promote economic activity even if it caused 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 the 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.

We welcome your feedback to moreinfo (at)