Carolyn Raffensperger on Establishing Community Rights to Transform Environmental and Public Health Decision-Making

April 15, 2014
10:00 am US Eastern Time

Slides & Resources

Speaker presentation slides:

Free, Prior and Informed Consent: A Right of Communities - Download the PDF

Additional resources of interest:

Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN) - Visit the website

The Cumulative Impacts Project (co-hosted by CHE and SEHN) - Visit the website

SEHN blog: 17 Premises of Free, Prior and Informed Consent as Rights of Communities

The Networker, Jan/Feb 2012: Democracy Through Informed Consent

Principles of Perpetual Care: The Giant Mine, Yellowknife, Northwest Territory - Download the PDF

SEHN blog: We Withdraw Our Consent

Listen to Recording

The idea of free, prior and informed consent is deeply embedded in the science and research establishment. No experiments can be undertaken on a human subject without their free, prior and informed consent. This right is being extended to communities as a matter of international law. Communities have a right to give or withhold their consent to extractive or polluting industries. The idea that government obtains its legitimacy from the consent of the governed is deeply embedded in US political theory, beginning with the Declaration of Independence. Imagine creating new institutions and mechanisms for communities to exercise their right to free prior and informed consent.  

This community right of consent has the possibility of significantly altering how environmental decisions are made. Public health, with its moral authority, its experience with consent as an ethical matter, and its work with community-based research is in a unique position to lead the way in developing new mechanisms for communities to exercise their right to free, prior and informed consent.

This working group call featured a presentation by Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN) and co-coordinator of the Cumulative Impacts Working Group, on the community right of free, prior, and informed consent and how it might transform public health and environmental decision making.

Featured Speaker

CarolynRaffenspergerCarolyn Raffensperger, MA, JD, is Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. In 1982 she left a career as an archaeologist in the desert Southwest to join the environmental movement. She first worked for the Sierra Club where she addressed an array of environmental issues, including forest management, river protection, pesticide pollutants, and disposal of radioactive waste. She began working for SEHN in December 1994. As an environmental lawyer she specializes in the fundamental changes in law and policy necessary for the protection and restoration of public health and the environment.

Carolyn is co-editor of Precautionary Tools for Reshaping Environmental Policy published by M.I.T. Press (2006) and Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle, published by Island Press (1999). Together, these volumes are the most comprehensive exploration to date of the history, theory, and implementation of the precautionary principle. Carolyn coined the term "ecological medicine" to encompass the broad notions that both health and healing are entwined with the natural world. She has served on editorial review boards for several environmental and sustainable agriculture journals, and on USEPA and National Research Council committees. She wrote a bimonthly column for the Environmental Law Institute's journal Environmental Forum from 1999 until 2008.

The call was moderated by Elise Miller, MEd, Director, CHE.