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Ecosystem Health

Architect William McDonough asks the question "How can we design in a way that loves all the children of all species for all time?" The Science and Environmental Health Network acknowledges and acts on the basis that we are no more and no less than the life around us. SEHN began addressing the concept of Ecosystem Health in June 2000, with a gathering of conservation biologists in Missoula, Montana. These biologists wanted to ensure support for the melding of science with public interest values and ecosystem advocacy. This meeting was followed by a two-day meeting in November 2000, which resulted in the Missoula Statement: Conservation Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty.

Excerpt from the Missoula Statement:

The conservation of ecosystems and species, a daunting task for humans, has been thwarted in part by insufficient and inappropriate use of science, particularly in the way that scientific uncertainty is reported and incorporated into decision making. Ecological systems are complex, and our understanding of them will always include scientific uncertainty. However, we assert that such uncertainty must not be used to avoid responsible ecological decision making. Failing to act today to conserve ecosystems and prevent species extinctions will have significant social and ecological costs tomorrow.

How do we apply the precautionary principle (principle of fore-caring) to the social and ecological challenges of restoration and conservation of biodiversity? For example, we know some of the consequences of toxic exposure on a developing human's intellectual functioning. What, by extension, might be the consequences of toxic exposure to the "intelligence" of a tree, or an aquatic ecosystem?

Likewise, if the precautionary principle engages ecosystem restoration via the "fore-caring" meaning of that principle, should restoration take a more central stage in the application of the precautionary principle with regard to human health issues as well? Because harm has occurred through past actions, and though there is uncertainty in how or whether pieces of ecosystems can come back together again, it is precautionary to make room for restoration.

Read Public Interest Scientist (and Missoula Statement signatory) Mary O’Brien’s Contemplating Impulse and Acting on Navels, a speech given at the international conference Taking Nature Seriously: Citizens, Science, and the Environment, held at the University of Oregon in February of 2001.