[Journal Article] Public Engagement with Biotechnologies Offers Lessons for the Governance of Geoengineering Research and Beyond
In this paper, we reflect on our involvement in one of the first major research projects in the emerging area of geoengineering (the deliberate intervention in the planetary climate). The project, Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE), proposed an outdoor experiment that attracted substantial public scrutiny despite a strong consensus that the experiment posed no direct environmental risk. A programme of stakeholder engagement took place that sought a deep understanding of the views about the proposed experiment. The lessons from this experiment build on insights from public engagement with the biosciences and biotechnology. In particular, we see the importance of questions of context and purpose for scientific research. This has important implications for the governance of geoengineering research. Efforts to detach areas of research from public scrutiny by using thresholds, whether these are drawn at a particular level of environmental effect or at the doors of a laboratory, will encounter problems of public credibility. Geoengineering is unavoidably entangled in a political discussion that scientists should seek to understand and engage with.
The progress of biotechnology brings the potential for ever more intimate and disruptive interventions into human bodies and the natural environment. As previous papers in this series have described, there have been various attempts, especially in the last decade, to improve engagement between scientists and public groups on issues involving biotechnology . Engagement exercises, whether with particular non-science stakeholders or members of the general public, reveal layers of societal concern with these technologies. There is typically concern with the eventual downstream risks and the ethical implications of technologies. But these things are hard to assess in advance due to the profound uncertainty that surrounds emerging technology. Public engagement typically also reveals a set of “upstream” concerns.
When brought into dialogue about emerging technologies, before it is clear what the risks are likely to be, members of the public will typically express concern about the trajectory of technological pathways. A report of one large public dialogue exercise on Synthetic Biology drew out five questions for scientists that characterised public concerns about this nascent technology:
- What is the purpose?
- Why do you want to do it?
- What are you going to gain from it?
- What else is it going to do?
- How do you know you are right?
These questions get to the heart of the politics of emerging technologies and the foundations of public trust in scientific research. Conventional technology assessment considers the downstream products of research and innovation with a focus on technological risk and ethics. More recent anticipatory governance approaches, such as “constructive technology assessment” , “real-time technology assessment” , and “responsible innovation” , attempt to broaden the debate to include consideration of the processes and purposes of research, in line with the five questions above. Such approaches emphasise the importance of democratic deliberation in “opening up” the technological options and trajectories for appraisal. Geoengineering in general and the SPICE project in particular have become important test cases for this new mode of governance .
- New Study: ‘Geoengineering to Cause Drought Worldwide’ (intellihub.com)
- Retooling the Planet: The False Promise of Geoengineering (resilience.org)
- We Don’t Geoengineer the Planet But We Have to Continue! (freeasthysweetmountainair.wordpress.com)
- Playing God: 4 Geoengineering Projects Doomed To Fail While Polluting The Earth (wakingtimes.com)
- Climate Change and Geoengineering (therebel.org)
- Strange Bedfellows? Climate Change Denial and Support for Geoengineering (yaleclimatemediaforum.org)
From Failure to Listen -Gene-Environment Interactions Simplified, January 26, 2013
I have many theories on how to empower communities but understanding the genetic-environmental interplay is key. Frameworks that simplify these complex interactions can have a powerful impact in explaining the pivotal role of early childhood development and education in building healthy foundations.
The first five years are the most important, those are the years when important brain circuits develop (like roots from a tree) or some circuits remain dormant or die. Although the ability to learn continues way into “old age;” the stronger the circuits developed the more pertinent they become in guiding our behavior. These are the years we develop the foundation on which we build our identities.
The formative years begin at birth as our bodies grow and our brain develop. This is the time to make the greatest impact; ‘Pay now or pay a lot more later!’
For us to survive as a country or a society, children need to become the center of our policies. We need to bring back communities by sharing a common vision, and pooling our resources to help those in the community.
The individualistic thinking of me and my accomplishments ignores that we live in a connected world not a vacuum. We are responsible for each other’s accomplishments and faults. There is a larger collective sense that we are all part of and we should tap into more often.
Here is an example of Gene and Environment Simplified:
Society composed of many smaller communities, which are dynamic with each member belonging to many communities, moving in and out of a variety of communities.
The landscape surrounding my house is very similar to society. Individual sections represent communities and each group of plants represent neighborhoods where each plant reflects race, culture and our unique characteristic. There are obvious differences between plants and humans but early preventive interventions are most cost-effective for both….
- It Pays to Invest in Early Education Says a Nobel Economist Who Boosts Kids’ IQ (pbs.org)
- Genomic data are growing, but what do we really know? (eurekalert.org)
- Childhood trauma leaves mark on DNA of some victims: Gene-environment interaction causes lifelong dysregulation of stress hormones (bipolarblue.wordpress.com)
Environmental Health Ethics illuminates the conflicts between protecting the environment and promoting human health. In this study, David B. Resnik develops a method for making ethical decisions on environmental health issues. He applies this method to various issues, including pesticide use, antibiotic resistance, nutrition policy, vegetarianism, urban development, occupational safety, disaster preparedness, and global climate change. Resnik provides readers with the scientific and technical background necessary to understand these issues. He explains that environmental health controversies cannot simply be reduced to humanity versus environment and explores the ways in which human values and concerns – health, economic development, rights, and justice – interact with environmental protection.
Features• Develops a method for ethical decision-making for environmental health controversies which incorporates insights from traditional ethical theories and environmental ethics
• Covers a wide range of timely and important issues, ranging from pesticide use to global warming
• Provides a description of the relevant background information accessible to an audience of educated non-specialists
- Downloads Environmental Stressors in Health and Disease book (ybiuqfb.typepad.com)
- Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice (Urban and Industrial Environments) e-book downloads (ymiorip.typepad.com)
- Tulane gets $18.7M for environmental health (miamiherald.com)
- Nano-pesticides: Solution or threat for a cleaner and greener agriculture? (eurekalert.org)
- Sewage Sludge Management: From the Past to Our Century (Environmental Health Physical, Chemical and Biological Factors) ebook (qysaubye.typepad.com)
- Dirty Soil and Diabetes: Anniston’s Toxic Legacy (climatecentral.org)
- Dade W. Moeller Publishes Fourth Edition of Environmental Health Textbook (prweb.com)
- Nano-pesticides: Solution or Threat for a Cleaner and Greener Agriculture? (merid.org)
- Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: No Beba el Agua–Don’t Drink the Water (newamericamedia.org)
- Research identifies specific bacteria linked to indoor water-damage and mold (eurekalert.org)
- UI center awarded $7.9 million grant for investigating environmental heath effects (thegazette.com)
- Good news on using recycled sewage treatment plant water for irrigating crops (eurekalert.org)
Population Action International advocates for women and families to have access to contraception in order to improve their health, reduce poverty and protect their environment. Our research and advocacy strengthen U.S. and international assistance for family planning. We work with local and national leaders in developing countries to improve their reproductive health care programs and policies. PAI shows how these programs are critical to global concerns, such as preventing HIV, combating the effects of environmental degradation and climate change, and strengthening national security.
Each topic has resources in at least several of these publication types
- Blog posts
- Policy and Issue Briefs
- Advocacy Guides
- Data and Maps
Related articles (just about all viewpoints are included below, these related articles are for informational purposes only, some may not reflect my personal opinions)
- Population and Family Planning at the UN Climate Negotiations (sierraclub.typepad.com)
- Climate Change Activists Need To Talk About Population Too (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com)
- Seven Billion People & Women’s Rights: What is the Connection? (forbes.com)
- Stemming population growth is a cheap way to limit climate change (guardian.co.uk)
- Family planning: Contraception is just the beginning (vanguardngr.com)
- World needs family planning access as population nears 7B (cbc.ca)
- The Ethics of Birth Control. Part 4 (waltbrite.wordpress.com)
- Catholics and Contraception (biltrix.com)
- Dot Earth Blog: 7 Billion and Beyond (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com)
From the 28 January 2012 blog item
There’s power in numbers. That was the consensus in the workshops I visited this Friday at the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission’s Data Day in Boston.
The name “Data Day” may not conjure up visions of dramatic reversals of public policy. But the community advocates and data experts at the conference knew otherwise. Here are two stories they told about how data can change how we judge people and situations – both socially and legally.
- Assistant Professor Gia Barboza of Northeastern University did a pilot study demonstrating that employing young people could reverse trends toward illegal and violent behavior. Lack of job opportunities correlates with depression and aggression. “This job kept me off the street,” said one of her interviewees. Barboza told news@Northeastern that “when you think about the long-term costs associated with incarceration, it’s much more efficient to fund organizations that employ these youth and provide them with skills that help them achieve their long-term goals.” This conclusion could apply to green jobs programs.
- Derrick Jackson, a columnist at the Boston Globe, said that data can bring “sanity” to public policy about justice and the environment. For example, he said, data helped to eliminate a double standard in sentencing urban and suburban young people who used cocaine. He said environmentalists should tell stories about climate change using data and use these stories to drive policy changes.
There are many ways environmental organizations can use data to change conversations. The Knight Foundation funded a data-sharing project which bridged divides between environmental justice groups. Projects like this one can yield local stories for both traditional and social media. What chemicals are in your neighborhood’s backyard?
Although the EPA’s approach to reporting potential flooding may seem dry, reports on climate change indicators in the United States can also provide story ideas for journalists. If climate change produces floods or disrupts the growing season, superimposing those maps on maps of crop production could yield interesting results – especially for crops grown in low-lying areas. In some states, the answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” may be very different in a few years from what it is today.
- New Data-Driven Methods For Understanding Climate Change (chimalaya.org)
- Research reveals new data-driven methods for understanding climate change (physorg.com)
A new research program funded by the National Institutes of Health will explore the role that a changing climate has on human health. Led by NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the program will research the risk factors that make people more vulnerable to heat exposure; changing weather patterns; changes in environmental exposures, such as air pollution and toxic chemicals; and the negative effects of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.
In addition to better understanding the direct and indirect human health risks in the United States and globally, one of the program’s goals is to determine which populations will be more susceptible and vulnerable to diseases exacerbated by climate change. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and those living in urban or coastal areas and storm centers may be at elevated risk. This program will also help to develop data, methods, and models to support health impact predictions.
“Governments and policy makers need to know what the health effects from climate change are and who is most at risk,” said John Balbus, M.D., NIEHS senior advisor for public health and lead for NIEHS’ efforts on climate change. “The research from this program will help guide public health interventions, to ultimately prevent harm to the most vulnerable people.”
The funding program is an outgrowth of two previous efforts led by NIH. A December 2009 workshop, sponsored by a trans-NIH working group, brought leaders in the field together to begin identifying priorities for NIH climate change research. NIH then led the ad hoc Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health in developing an outline of research needs, which are described in a report available atwww.niehs.nih.gov/climatereport.
Personalized medicine centers on being able to predict the risk of disease or response to a drug based on a person’s genetic makeup. But a study by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that, for most common diseases, genes alone only tell part of the story.
That’s because the environment interacts with DNA in ways that are difficult to predict, even in simple organisms like single-celled yeast, their research shows.
“The effects of a person’s genes – and, therefore, their risk of disease – are greatly influenced by their environment,” says senior author Barak Cohen, PhD, a geneticist at Washington University School of Medicine. “So, if personalized medicine is going to work, we need to find a way to measure a human’s environment.”
The new research raises many questions: what is a human’s environment and how can it be measured? Is the environment a person lived in during childhood important or the environment he lives in now?
Cohen suspects that any environment that matters is likely to leave a measurable molecular signature. For example, eating a lot of fatty foods raises triglycerides; smoking raises nicotine levels; and eating high-fat, high-sugar foods raises blood sugar levels, which increases the risk of diabetes. The key, he says, is to figure out what are good metabolic readouts of the environment and factor those into statistical models that assess genetic susceptibility to disease or response to medication.
“Measuring the environment becomes crucial when we try to understand how it interacts with genetics,” Cohen says. “Having a particular genetic variant may not have much of an effect but combined with a person’s environment, it may have a huge effect.”
Cohen says he’s not hopeless when it comes to personalized medicine. As scientists conduct ever-larger studies to identify rare and common variants underlying diseases such as cancer, diabetes and schizophrenia, they will be more likely to uncover variants that have larger effects on disease. Even then, however, a person’s environment will be important, he adds.