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The following is paraphrased by Peter Montague from the scientific Restoration of the Earth, published in 1973.


We protect the earth by deciding how much of any destructive activity the Earth (or any portion thereof) can safely absorb without harm. We call this the "assimilative capacity" of an ecosystem... or a human being...or a population of fish.

According to this assumption, scientists can reliably decide how much damage a river or the Florida Panther or a human can absorb without suffering irreversible harm. The purpose of every risk assessment is to predict the limits of this "assimilative capacity."


Once the "assimilative capacity" of a person or system is established for a particular toxicant or destructive activity, limits are imposed so that irreversible harm will not occur. These restrictions are set, river by river, forest by forest, factory by factory, chemical by chemical, everywhere on the planet, so that the total, cumulative effects do not exceed the "assimilative capacity" of the earth or any of its ecosystems or inhabitants.


WE ALREADY KNOW which substances and activities are harmful. In the case of substances or activities we never suspected of being harmful, we ought to be warned of their possible dangers by traumatic but sub-lethal (except for firemen) shocks that alert us to the danger
before the thick smoke blacks out the sun.

Plutonium and fissile products of 
radioactive Uranium in process is 
3 billion more times radioactive 
than when first mined.
In the event of an accident, the amount of plutonium-235 and by-products continually generating would extend from the earth to the moon and back within three seconds. Because of the immense amount of waste, it is important to shut down a nuclear reactor with control rods and moderators: steel beams, boron, cadmium inserted into the reactor core as soon as possible. Plutonium 235 in process is 3 million times more radioactive than fuel first mined. Modern Nuclear Reactors such as Chernoble contain enormous quantities of radioactive materials, when the pressure builds - up to a thousand times the amount released in one hiroshima-sized explosion. Just 10 per cent of the core inventory escaping into the environment would have 100 times the eventual effects of one Hiroshima sized release. The Chernoble accident showed that places as far away as 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) from the site could be environmentally affected. It also showed that the 2-km (1 mile) evacuation zone around the reactor(s) to be grossly inadequate. What is important about this book by Carolyn Raffensperger?

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. ... if you have reason to believe that your building may be on fire, do you estimate the probability that the damage will be "acceptable" and wait until you see flames shooting up into the sky? Or do you take precautionary action based on incomplete evidence?

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