Monday, June 21, 2010

Against Equality

Interesting blog post at Practical Ethics. A sample:
Equality is an ideal born of the vice of envy, one of the seven deadly sins. But equality has no intrinsic value and panders to our vicious nature to be envious of others. Levelling down is absurd. And why level up if we can raise everyone, improving all of their lives instead of just some? To reduce people’s envy of others, when their own lives are good and better? That is no reason.
Read more at Practical Ethics.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How long should our exam essays be?

I've taken the liberty of posting a link to the googlebooks pages for Sin Boldly! Dr. Dave's Guide to Writing the College Paper.

Scroll down to the section on pages 4-5 about format and length:

Hope this helps. In terms of our exam, I should think that the "content" essays ought to be somewhere in the ballpark of 3-5 pages each, whereas the critical evaluation essay about climate policy might go somewhat longer, say 5-8 pages. But again, your mileage may vary . . . "Long enough to reach the ground," as Abe Lincoln would say.

thanks everybody.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Climate Change and Justice

"Must-read" essay by Mike Hulme about climate change controversies at the RSA Journal website. In particular, his claim that climate change has become an all-explaining metaphor for the future place of humans in nature:

But climate change has come to signify far more than the physical ramifications of human disturbance to the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and its energy balance. Climate change has become as much a social phenomenon as it is a physical one. Arguments about the causes and consequences of climate change – and the solutions to it – have become nothing less than arguments about some of the most intractable social, ethical and political disputes of our era: the endurance of chronic poverty in a world of riches; the nature of the social contract between state and citizen; the cultural authority of scientific knowledge; and the role of technology in delivering social goods. Climate change has become a metaphor for the imagined future of human life and civilisation on Earth.

Here's also what Hulme has to say about how the climate change topic is framed in "lesser developed" countries:
The different meanings that can be attached to the idea of climate change are illustrated well by considering ways in which the issue is framed in India. For many in this country, the key concerns are how to secure financial reparations for environmental damage caused by northern nations through the proxy of climate and how to use climate change to advance the development of the 500 million people living in absolute poverty. This framing of climate change is very different from that which prevails in much western discourse and implies a very different set of international and domestic policy prescriptions. The issue is less about how to reverse a two-degree temperature change, how to save polar bears or how to avoid metaphorical tipping points than it is about how to secure hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in basic human welfare.
The idea of nations using climate change as a means of improving basic human welfare sheds a different kind of light on the social justice aspects of the issue. That Hulme describes India's actions as an attempt to "secure financial reparations" makes the essay especially relevant given next week's concluding topic.

The entire essay is well worth reading.

Economic and policy analysis of wind power

I'm having trouble locating the exact factoid of "total annual U.S. wind output equals output of one medium-sized coal-fired power plant," but I'll keep looking. In the meantime, here is a fairly thorough economic analysis of wind power at . Highlights relevant to some of our discussion this morning include:
Often, the most favorable locations for wind farms also happen to be the current location of particularly spectacular views in relatively unspoiled areas. Wind farms that produce only a fraction of the energy of a conventional power plant require 100 times the acreage. For instance:

Two of the biggest wind "farms" in Europe have 159 turbines and cover thousands of acres; but together they take a year to produce less than four days' output from a single 2,000 MW conventional power station - which takes up 100 times fewer acres.

A proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast would produce only 450 MW of power but require 130 towers and more than 24 square miles of ocean.

A wind farm occupying 192,000 acres - 300 square miles - would produce the same amount of energy as a 1000 MW nuclear plant (which has less than 1700 acres, or 2.65 square miles, within its security perimeter fence), or as a 1000 MW coal powered plant taking up 1950 acres, 3.05 square miles, for all of its associated infrastructure.

Also, wind power requires the continued existence of conventional power plans for storage and backup:
Because of intermittency problems, wind farms need conventional power plants to supplement the power they do supply. Bringing a conventional power plant on line to supply power is not as simple as turning on a switch; therefore most "redundant" fossil fuel power stations must run, even if at reduced levels, continuously. Accordingly, very little fossil-fired electricity will be displaced and few emissions will be avoided because fossil-fueled units (operating at less than their peak capacity and efficiency or operating in "spinning reserve" mode - which means they are emitting more pollution per energy produced than if operating at peak efficiency, imagine a car idling near train tracks in case the power goes out) must be kept immediately available to supply electricity when the output from wind turbines drop because wind speed slows or falls below minimums required to power the turbines. Kilowatt-hours produced by wind turbines cannot be assumed displace the emissions associated with an equal number of kWh from fossil-fueled generating units. Combined with the pollutants emitted and CO2 released in the manufacture and maintenance of wind towers and their associated infrastructure, substituting wind power for fossil fuels does not improve air quality very much.
So these are tough issues. Hard to say what is the "best" policy outcome in this case. But clearly here is a case where real-life aesthetics problems come into sharp focus.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Immigration laws in the news

Off of today's BBC newsfeed:

Arizona's governor has signed into law an immigration bill seen as one of the toughest in the US, despite strong criticism by President Barack Obama.

The bill signed by Governor Jan Brewer will require state police to question people about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion".

The bill - which takes effect in 90 days - also makes it a crime under state law to be in the US illegally.

President Obama has described the law in the US border state as "misguided".

Obama's warning

Gov Brewer signed the bill into law live on television, saying it "protects every Arizona citizen".

We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation
Jan Brewer Arizona governor

She said the measure would strengthen border controls in the state, which borders Mexico.

The governor also said she had to act because the federal government had failed to tackle illegal immigration.

"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."

President Obama said he had instructed the Justice Department to examine if the bill was legal.

He also said Washington should consider enacting immigration reform at the federal level.

"That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe," Mr Obama said.

Civil rights groups have said they will mount a legal challenge to have the law overthrown on the grounds that it paves the way for widespread discrimination against Hispanics.

One group, the National Council of La Raza, said the bill would turn Hispanics, regardless of their legal status, into suspects in their own communities.

Supporters of the bill say it will help bring illegal immigration under control in Arizona.

The state is the main entry point for undocumented immigrants into the US.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roots of Resistance: Eco-media for Eco-justice Vol. 1

just released for earth day!

<a href="">Warrior Skit by Eco-Justice Media-Making for Sustainable Communities</a>

Monday, April 19, 2010

Environmental Justice Lecture TONIGHT!

I just found out about an Environmental Justice lecture that's going on tonight. The speaker is Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. She will be speaking about her community organizing work surrounding the toxic waste in Love Canal (near Niagara Falls) in the late 1970s, which helped to start the environmental justice movement. The event starts at 7PM in Warren 131. Refreshments will be provided!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Immigration policy and misanthropy

Hey gang,
that movie I couldn't remember the title of yesterday is The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, directed by Tommy Lee Jones. With Barry Pepper as the "hero." Excellent film.

Among the other tidbits on the IMDB website: "Director/Actor Jones gave each cast member a copy of Albert Camus's The Stranger to read so that they would understand alienation, a big theme in both the novel and the film."

The trailer:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming...

So I was reading this article by Daniel Gilbert (a Prof from Harvard) for my Social Psych class and I couldn't help but think of our E. J. class. I hope you guys enjoy it (hah!)

Published on Sunday, July 2, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times
If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming
Why we're more scared of gay marriage and terrorism than a much deadlier threat.
by Daniel Gilbert
No one seems to care about the upcoming attack on the World Trade Center site. Why? Because it won't involve villains with box cutters. Instead, it will involve melting ice sheets that swell the oceans and turn that particular block of lower Manhattan into an aquarium. 

The odds of this happening in the next few decades are better than the odds that a disgruntled Saudi will sneak onto an airplane and detonate a shoe bomb. And yet our government will spend billions of dollars this year to prevent global terrorism and … well, essentially nothing to prevent global warming. 

Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster? Because the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features — features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks. 

First, global warming lacks a mustache. No, really. We are social mammals whose brains are highly specialized for thinking about others. Understanding what others are up to — what they know and want, what they are doing and planning — has been so crucial to the survival of our species that our brains have developed an obsession with all things human. We think about people and their intentions; talk about them; look for and remember them. 

That's why we worry more about anthrax (with an annual death toll of roughly zero) than influenza (with an annual death toll of a quarter-million to a half-million people). Influenza is a natural accident, anthrax is an intentional action, and the smallest action captures our attention in a way that the largest accident doesn't. If two airplanes had been hit by lightning and crashed into a New York skyscraper, few of us would be able to name the date on which it happened.

Global warming isn't trying to kill us, and that's a shame. If climate change had been visited on us by a brutal dictator or an evil empire, the war on warming would be this nation's top priority.

The second reason why global warming doesn't put our brains on orange alert is that it doesn't violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn't cause our blood to boil (at least not figuratively) because it doesn't force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive. When people feel insulted or disgusted, they generally do something about it, such as whacking each other over the head, or voting. Moral emotions are the brain's call to action.

Although all human societies have moral rules about food and sex, none has a moral rule about atmospheric chemistry. And so we are outraged about every breach of protocol except Kyoto. Yes, global warming is bad, but it doesn't make us feel nauseated or angry or disgraced, and thus we don't feel compelled to rail against it as we do against other momentous threats to our species, such as flag burning. The fact is that if climate change were caused by gay sex, or by the practice of eating kittens, millions of protesters would be massing in the streets.

The third reason why global warming doesn't trigger our concern is that we see it as a threat to our futures — not our afternoons. Like all animals, people are quick to respond to clear and present danger, which is why it takes us just a few milliseconds to duck when a wayward baseball comes speeding toward our eyes. 

The brain is a beautifully engineered get-out-of-the-way machine that constantly scans the environment for things out of whose way it should right now get. That's what brains did for several hundred million years — and then, just a few million years ago, the mammalian brain learned a new trick: to predict the timing and location of dangers before they actually happened. 

Our ability to duck that which is not yet coming is one of the brain's most stunning innovations, and we wouldn't have dental floss or 401(k) plans without it. But this innovation is in the early stages of development. The application that allows us to respond to visible baseballs is ancient and reliable, but the add-on utility that allows us to respond to threats that loom in an unseen future is still in beta testing. 

We haven't quite gotten the knack of treating the future like the present it will soon become because we've only been practicing for a few million years. If global warming took out an eye every now and then, OSHA would regulate it into nonexistence.

There is a fourth reason why we just can't seem to get worked up about global warming. The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to changes in light, sound, temperature, pressure, size, weight and just about everything else. But if the rate of change is slow enough, the change will go undetected. If the low hum of a refrigerator were to increase in pitch over the course of several weeks, the appliance could be singing soprano by the end of the month and no one would be the wiser. 

Because we barely notice changes that happen gradually, we accept gradual changes that we would reject if they happened abruptly. The density of Los Angeles traffic has increased dramatically in the last few decades, and citizens have tolerated it with only the obligatory grumbling. Had that change happened on a single day last summer, Angelenos would have shut down the city, called in the National Guard and lynched every politician they could get their hands on.

Environmentalists despair that global warming is happening so fast. In fact, it isn't happening fast enough. If President Bush could jump in a time machine and experience a single day in 2056, he'd return to the present shocked and awed, prepared to do anything it took to solve the problem.. 

The human brain is a remarkable device that was designed to rise to special occasions. We are the progeny of people who hunted and gathered, whose lives were brief and whose greatest threat was a man with a stick. When terrorists attack, we respond with crushing force and firm resolve, just as our ancestors would have. Global warming is a deadly threat precisely because it fails to trip the brain's alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.

It remains to be seen whether we can learn to rise to new occasions. 

Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of "Stumbling on Happiness," published in May by Knopf.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How going green may make us mean

This item is almost too much of a coincidence given what we were discussing in class this morning:

How going green may make you mean

Ethical consumers less likely to be kind and more likely to steal, study finds
Organic food in Waitrose, Holloway Road
A consumer of 'ethical' products such as organic food might be more inclined to cheat and steal, the study found. Photograph: David Sillitoe/Guardian
When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to "green" type.
According to a study, when people feel they have been morally virtuous by saving the planet through their purchases of organic baby food, for example, it leads to the "licensing [of] selfish and morally questionable behaviour", otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics".
Do Green Products Make Us Better People is published in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science. Its authors, Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, argue that people who wear what they call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. "Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours," they write.
The pair found that those in their study who bought green products appeared less willing to share with others a set amount of money than those who bought conventional products. When the green consumers were given the chance to boost their money by cheating on a computer game and then given the opportunity to lie about it – in other words, steal – they did, while the conventional consumers did not. Later, in an honour system in which participants were asked to take money from an envelope to pay themselves their spoils, the greens were six times more likely to steal than the conventionals.
Mazar and Zhong said their study showed that just as exposure to pictures of exclusive restaurants can improve table manners but may not lead to an overall improvement in behaviour, "green products do not necessarily make for better people". They added that one motivation for carrying out the study was that, despite the "stream of research focusing on identifying the 'green consumer'", there was a lack of understanding into "how green consumption fits into people's global sense of responsibility and morality and [how it] affects behaviours outside the consumption domain".
The pair said their findings surprised them, having thought that just as "exposure to the Apple logo increased creativity", according to a recent study, "given that green products are manifestations of high ethical standards and humanitarian considerations, mere exposure" to them would "activate norms of social responsibility and ethical conduct".

Dieter Frey, a social psychologist at the University of Munich, said the findings fitted patterns of human behaviour. "At the moment in which you have proven your credentials in a particular area, you tend to allow yourself to stray elsewhere," he said.
This study has already gotten some attention from philosophers and ethicists, for example by Julian Savulescu at the Practical Ethics blog.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dramatic decline of male births in indigenous communities tied to industrial pollution

from Indian Country Today
original at:

Dramatic decline of male births in indigenous communities tied to industrial pollution
By Terri Hansen, Today correspondent

A strange reality exists in at least one indigenous community – babies that should be born boys are instead, born girls.

Research in 2007 showing skewed birth ratios in the villages of northern Greenland exposed earlier studies that found indigenous mothers living in the northern most reaches of the Arctic Circle were giving birth to daughters.

The studies linked the skewed sex ratios with human exposures to PCBs and other persistent organic chemicals.

Following a report that some Arctic indigenous communities are among the most exposed populations to persistent toxic substances, the Indigenous Peoples Organization initiated the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program Programme in 2004.

Their assessment concluded, “Any threat to continued consumption of their foods, including chemical contamination, is not only a potential threat to the health of the individual, but also to the social structures and entire cultural identity of these indigenous peoples.”

Toxic pollutants travel from industrialized countries and accumulate in the marine food chain of the Arctic region, and in the traditional diet of indigenous peoples. Blood levels of such pollutants as PCBs and mercury were several times higher in residents of Arctic Canada and Greenland than measured in residents of industrialized areas of North America.

Perhaps an even darker legacy of the industrial contamination are the pollutants targeting pre-born boys in Canada on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, an Aanishinaabek community, turning them into girls.

Normally there are 106 boy births for every 100 girls. The higher ratio is nature’s way of compensating for males more likely to perish hunting and in conflicts. For years, scientists have reported declines in male births worldwide.

Most startling is the sharp drop of boys among the Aamjiwnaang Anishinaabek: “A greater rate of change than has been reported previously anywhere,” said a 2005 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

It’s the kind of attention this tiny community of 850 never wanted. In the beginning, they could not conceive what was happening in their community.

Their pain and questions began in 2002, when biologist Michael Gilbertson found elevated levels of PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals on the reserve. Gilbertson asked if they had more girls than boy children.

Tribal members were first baffled, and then aghast as they realized that they had enough girls for three baseball teams, but not enough boys for even one team.

Anger soon turned to action.

Ron Plain grew up in Aamjiwnaang; he is a calm steady man, not the type you’d peg as an activist.

An accidental catalyst release from nearby Imperial Oil in 2002 changed all that. Imperial workers sampled and cleaned Aamjiwnaang homes, even their cars, inside and out. Don’t worry, they told Plain, stirring up dust as they cleaned. “The dust won’t hurt you.”

Plain did worry. Unconvinced, he asked, “If it’s harmful to our houses and cars, what’s it doing to our lungs and our bodies?”

Imperial Oil offered $300 to each homeowner if they agreed to waive any damages and legal counsel, and many accepted their offer. Imperial paid $125,000 in fines. Plain and other tribal members meanwhile organized their own environmental investigative committee.

The Aamjiwnaang’s investigation team uncovered studies done of their lands years before. A 1986 scientific report by the University of Windsor showed that mercury, a neurotoxin, was present on their reserve at a 100 times greater amount than the Severe Effect Level set by the Canadian government.

When next Sun Oil – now Suncor – announced they planned to build the largest ethanol plant in Canada right across the street from the tribal community, Plain and other members of the tribal environment committee, closed their roads. For six weeks, Sun Oil trucks could not get through.

“We won,” Plain said. “They agreed not to put the plant in. We shut down a multimillion dollar industry.” But their battles have only begun, he said.

The Anishinaabek have occupied their lands at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron for centuries, long before the discovery of oil and the boom oil rush. Today, their land, dubbed “Chemical Valley,” at the border between Ontario and Michigan just south of Sarnia, Ontario, lies in the shadow of Canada’s largest concentration of petrochemical and manufacturing facilities. Their land adjoins the St. Clair River Area of Concern, so designated because of its long history of air and water pollution.

Two reports in 2007 are a dramatic indictment of the industry’s impact on the Aamjiwnaang community. “Exposing Canada’s Chemical Valley,” identifies 62 facilities in Canada and the U.S. that have made the area Ontario’s worst air pollution hotspot.

“What is particularly striking about the air pollution in the Sarnia area is the immense quantity of toxic chemicals emitted,” Ecojustice Canada senior scientist and report author Dr. Elaine McDonald said in an accompanying statement.

“There is growing evidence that the health of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation members and the local environment has been severely compromised.”

Findings from researchers at Ontario’s IntrAmericas Centre for Environment and Health confirm that in some Canadian communities, more girls than boys are born. The cause of the phenomenon is airborne pollutants called dioxins that can alter normal sex ratios, even when the source of the pollution is kilometers away.

Industry representatives did not respond to the Ecojustice Canada report. After a period of silence industry-funded Sarnia-Lambton Environmental Association’s Dean Edwardson told reporters, “We want an open and transparent process. … something that is scientifically valid, peer-reviewed and is meaningful.” He said their industry would pay for such a study.

Plain said that’s a smokescreen, since there already is a scientifically valid, peer-reviewed study. “The 2005 study was reviewed by top scientists and was published in the highly regarded scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.”

Edwardson countered, saying data released from the County of Lambton Community Health Services Department shows birth ratios of the Sarnia-Lambton area are similar to those for the rest of Ontario. To that, Plain said, “For years, we have been asking the County of Lambton for a research program establishing the birth ratios by affected regions as opposed to the blanket wide study where those farthest from the plume are blended into the ratio.” So far, the county has refused Aamjiwnaang’s request.

The findings by Ecojustice Canada reveal pollutants are having significant impacts on the Anishinaabek cultural lifeways, affecting hunting, fishing, medicine gathering and ceremonial activities.

The Aamjiwnaang environmental team said chemical releases and spills remain the community’s primary concern. But ask tribal members their biggest concern? They’ll tell you it’s fear.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Utility Monsters and other bad people

Just a brief followup to the "utility monster" issue raised in class today, the wiki entry on Utility Monster provides the basic overview. We'll likely have more to say about this when we read Parfit. fyi.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Relating to Environmental Justice, I found a New York Times Article "Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Foiling EPA"

The article can be found at:

Below is an excerpt:

"Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.

Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.

The Clean Water Act was intended to end dangerous water pollution by regulating every major polluter. But today, regulators may be unable to prosecute as many as half of the nation’s largest known polluters because officials lack jurisdiction or because proving jurisdiction would be overwhelmingly difficult or time consuming, according to midlevel officials."

Australian nuclear waste debate

from today's BBC news feed:

Aborigines debate nuclear plan
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Aboriginal groups are to gather at a public meeting to debate controversial plans to build Australia's first nuclear waste dump on tribal land.

The federal government has identified a remote cattle station north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory as a likely site.

The proposal has caused deep divisions within the indigenous community.

Ministers have indicated that the nuclear dump would not be built if landowners opposed it.

In the next six years nuclear waste that Australia sent to Europe for reprocessing will be returned.


But officials in Canberra have yet to decide where to put it.

Muckaty Station, an isolated property 120 km (75 miles) from Tennant Creek, has been chosen as a possible site.

Local Aborigines have offered to sell the land for $11m (£7.3m), a move that has infuriated other indigenous groups in the area, who worry about the health and environmental implications.

Some also object on cultural grounds that something some see as odious could be inflicted on sacred tribal country.

These conflicting views are expected to collide at a public meeting in Tennant Creek, an old gold-mining town south of Darwin.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says the plan to build a radioactive waste dump in the region has become extremely divisive.

"It already risks setting families against families and the government has not bothered to try to and bring the whole community along. They have picked off a handful of people, got some signatures and now they are going to try and force it through," Mr Ludlum said.

"We have had a small 10 MW research reactor operating in Australia since the late fifties. The industry and the government never bothered to investigate waste storage scenarios.

"So, now in 2010 they are now desperately casting around for an Aboriginal community who will take that legacy waste from the last few decades," he said.

Australia's federal government said that Muckaty Station would be subject to thorough scientific and environmental assessments.

Critics believe that recent earthquakes in that part of the Northern Territory have raised questions about the safety of the site.

The Australian Greens have said that radioactive waste should be stored at the country's only nuclear facility on the outskirts of Sydney.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/03/03 05:38:12 GMT


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Our mistake: the yardstick of per-capita income

Here is an article from New Internationalist on poverty

The discovery of poverty
How 'the poor' were invented by the West... How the development idea was rescued
from its first crisis... The vital difference between frugality and destitution.

I could have kicked myself afterwards. Yet my remark had seemed the most natural thing on earth at the time. It was six months after Mexico City's catastrophic earthquake in 1985 and I had spent the whole day walking around Tepito, a dilapidated quarter inhabited by ordinary people but threatened by land speculators. I had expected ruins and resignation, decay and squalor, but the visit had made me think again: there was a proud neighbourly spirit, vigorous building activity and a flourishing shadow economy.

But at the end of the day the remark slipped out: 'It's all very well but, when it comes down to it, these people are still terribly poor.' Promptly, one of my companions stiffened: 'No somos pobres, somos Tepitanos!' (We are not poor people, we are Tepitans). What a reprimand! Why had I made such an offensive remark? I had to admit to myself in embarrassment that, quite involuntarily, the clich├ęs of development philosophy had triggered my reaction.

Peter Singer: The Right to Be Rich or Poor

Here is a link to Peter Singer's 1975 review of Nozick's book. In it, Singer does a great job of articulating what the fundamental issues are in the debate between Rawls and Nozick; and, as a utilitarian, Singer leaves open the possibility that utilitarianism is still the best political philosophy for achieving social justice and a well-ordered society. An excerpt:

Nozick describes Rawls's view as an "undeniably great advance over utilitarianism." From his standpoint that is a reasonable estimate. Rawls's theory is a half-way house between utilitarianism and Nozick's own position. But if having gone half-way with Rawls we are forced by the logic of our position to go all the way with Nozick, it could be that we went wrong when we started out. None of the arguments Nozick uses against Rawls is decisive when invoked against a utilitarian position. Utilitarianism gives a clear and plausible defense not merely of progressive taxation, welfare payments, and other methods of redistribution, but also of the general right of the state to perform useful functions beyond the protection of its citizens from force and fraud. Utilitarianism also provides an argument in defense of the claim behind Williams's argument for equality—that society should, so far as its resources allow, provide for the most important needs of its members.

Nor do we have to go all the way with the utilitarians to be in a position to advocate state-directed redistribution of income. The problem of whether we can accept a utilitarian account of noneconomic rights like the right to freedom of speech or freedom of worship need not be raised here, for Nozick's argument is mainly addressed to economic rights. We can deal with property in a utilitarian manner, rejecting the doctrine of an intrinsic right to property, without necessarily rejecting the idea that there are some intrinsic rights against the state. For the remainder of this discussion, though I shall talk simply of "utilitarianism," it will be this limited economic utilitarianism to which I am referring.

Nozick, aware that utilitarianism is a more fundamental rival to his position than other conceptions of justice, tries to get it out of the way in the first part of the book, when discussing the moral background of his theory. The discussion is sketchy, however, and falls below the level of the later sections. Nowhere is utilitarianism fully and systematically confronted. Nozick mentions some well-known objections but, with one exception, does not pursue the replies that utilitarians have made when these objections have been raised in the past.

The exception is interesting. In opposition to the view, which utilitarians have held, that the only things that are good or bad in themselves are states of consciousness, or conscious experiences (pleasant or happy ones being good, painful or miserable ones bad), Nozick asks us to imagine that we can build an "experience machine" which would give us the satisfactions of a wonderful life—any life we'd like—while we float in a tank with electrodes plugged into our brains.

If we had such a machine, Nozick says, we would choose not to use it—and this shows that things other than experience matter to us. In anticipation of the reply that we would not use the machine because, as good utilitarians, we would be concerned about other people's (and other animals') experiences as well as our own, Nozick makes the further assumption that everyone is able to plug into one of these machines. This means that we cannot give point to our lives by improving the experiences of other beings; the experience machine gives everyone who wants them the best possible experiences anyway. Nevertheless, Nozick says, we would not plug in, and this is because in addition to wanting to have certain experiences we want to do certain things and be a certain sort of person. We desire to live in contact with reality, and this no machine can do for us.

The entire essay is well worth reading.

Rawls versus Nozick

A nice blog post from Jefferson's Wall. Note the first question for Rawls.

Philosophy: John Rawls vs. Robert Nozick

posted Saturday, 17 May 2008

In contemporary political philosophy Robert Nozick's “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (libertarianism) is usually juxtaposed with John Rawls' "A Theory of Justice" (social welfare liberalism) to represent the full spectrum of possibilities for contemporary liberal democracies.

John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice.” Rawls' presents an account of justice in the form of two principles: (1) liberty principle= people’s “equal basic liberties” — such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience (religion), and the right to vote — should be maximized, and (2) difference principle= inequalities in social and economic goods are acceptable only if they promote the welfare of the “least advantaged” members of society. Rawls writes in the social contract tradition. He seeks to define equilibrium points that, when accumulated, form a civil system characterized by what he calls "justice as fairness." To get there he deploys an argument whereby people in an "original position" (state of nature), make decisions (legislate laws) behind a "veil of ignorance" (of their place in the society-- rich or poor) using a reasoning technique he calls "reflective equilibrium." It goes something like: behind the veil of ignorance, with no knowledge of their own places in civil society, Rawls posits that reasonable people will default to social and economic positions that maximize the prospects for the worst off-- feed and house the poor in case you happen to become one. It's much like the prisoner's dilemma in game theory. By his own words Rawls = “left-liberalism”.

Robert Nozick, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia,” libertarian response to Rawls which argues that only a “minimal state” devoted to the enforcement of contracts and protecting people against crimes like assault, robbery, fraud can be morally justified. Nozick suggests that “the fundamental question of political philosophy” is not how government should be organized but “whether there should be any state at all,” he is close to John Locke in that government is legitimate only to the degree that it promotes greater security for life, liberty, and property than would exist in a chaotic, pre-political “state of nature.” Nozick concludes, however, that the need for security justifies only a minimal, or “night-watchman,” state, since it cannot be demonstrated that citizens will attain any more security through extensive governmental intervention. (Nozick p.25-27)

" ...the state may not use its coercive apparatus for the purpose of getting some citizens to aid others, or in order to prohibit activities to people for their own good or protection." (Nozick Preface p.ix)


  1. The primary difference between the two is in the treatment of the legitimacy of governmental redistribution of wealth (and even on that issue Nozick eventually flinches -- see #1 below). In place of Rawls’s “difference principle,” Nozick espouses an “entitlement theory” of justice, according to which individual holdings of various social and economic goods are justified only if they derive from just acquisitions or (voluntary) transfers. No safety nets allowed (acquisitions from social programs are not just because they are funded through the involuntary transfer of wealth via taxation and are therefore taboo). No accommodations for free-riders should be made. Problem: Nozick never spells out the criteria of just acquisition.
  • Nozick critique of Rawls’s rationale for his difference principle: it's implausible to claim that merely because all members of a society benefit from social cooperation, the less-advantaged ones are automatically entitled to a share in the earnings of their more successful peers.
  1. Both theories jump off with a sweeping statement of the primacy of justice — Nozick more or less retained Rawls’s first principle (liberty) while rejecting the second (difference). But...
  2. Regarding governmental redistribution of wealth, Nozick seems to admit that his entitlement theory is insufficient to refute demands for a redistributionist state; surely some collective holdings were acquired via some original act of unjust conquest, right?. In response Nozick agrees that a Rawls-like difference principle is morally acceptable after all, what he terms “rectification,” on the premise that those currently least-well-off have the highest probability of being descended from previous victims of injustice. (Nozick p.152-153, 230-231)
  3. Both shared a view of political philosophy as an exercise in the production of abstract theories, with little regard for the practical grounding of justice in human nature (i.e., of conformity with the likely demands of actual human beings). Therefore both theories rate a society's success by how closely it's laws and procedures adhere to the model rather than whether those laws produce morally maximized outcomes. Both clearly followed Immanuel Kant's dictum, “let justice triumph, even if the world perishes by it.”

Some Practical Questions for Rawls:

  1. Does your system promote free-riders?
  2. Does the Leveling of society stifle competition, initiative and creative thinking?
  3. Does your system foster interest group politics?
  4. Is your state vulnerable to excessive taxation?
  5. Is your state vulnerable to excessive bureaucracy?
  6. Does accountability become increasingly difficult as your state grows?
  7. Does your state require universal health care?

Some Practical Questions for Nozick:

  1. Your libertarianism, which compares income taxation to forced labor, fails to acknowledge the need for a guarantee of some baseline level of social security and educational benefits to all citizens. Can you somehow still ensure the continued loyalty of the poor to the state?
  2. No federally insured bank deposits (FDIC)?
  3. No public works - Federal Highway System for example?
  4. No food and drug inspection?
  5. What about the tendency toward concentration of wealth & monopolies?
  6. No pollution regulations?
  7. No enforceable labor laws - 40 hr work week for example?
  8. Is polygamy allowed?
  9. Are addictive drugs allowed?
  10. Is prostitution allowed?
  11. No seatbelts laws, mileage standards or speed limits?
  12. No workplace safety regulations or workers compensation laws?
  13. No MediCare?
Read The Liberal Imagination of Frederick Douglass for an excellent discussion on the state of liberalism in America today.


Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Robert Nozick. Basic Books. 1974

A Theory of Justice. John Rawls. Harvard University Press. 1971

We'll get to the question of "should surfers be fed" on Thursday.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

CNN news report

an article on Environmental Justice in Louisiana from yesterday's CNN newsfeed.

Toxic towns: People of Mossville 'are like an experiment'

By David S. Martin, CNN Medical Senior Producer
  • For decades, Mossville residents have complained about health problems
  • Community suspects 14 chemical plants play a role in cancer and diseases in area
  • Group asked for relocation of residents, free health clinic and lower emissions

Coming soon on CNN: Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates pollution and health in Mossville, Louisiana, and across the country.

Westlake, Louisiana (CNN) -- Gather current and former Mossville, Louisiana, residents in a room and you're likely to hear a litany of health problems and a list of friends and relatives who died young.

"I got cancer. My dad had cancer. In fact, he died of cancer. It's a lot of people in this area who died of cancer," says Herman Singleton Jr., 51, who also lost two uncles and an aunt to cancer.

Singleton and many others in this predominantly African-American community in southwest Louisiana suspect the 14 chemical plants nearby have played a role in the cancer and other diseases they say have ravaged the area.

For decades, Mossville residents have complained about their health problems to industry, and to state and federal agencies. Now with a new Environmental Protection Agency administrator outspoken about her commitment to environmental justice, expectations are growing.

"I'm pretty hopeful now," say Debra Ramirez, 55, who grew up in Mossville and who lost a sister at 45 of sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease. "I do see her trying to do the right thing."

Lisa Jackson, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the first African-American administrator of the EPA, this year listed environmental justice as one of her seven priorities.

And the EPA held a meeting in Mossville last month formally kicking off a study designed to see if the community qualifies as a Superfund site, reserved for the most polluted places in the United States. Superfund site designation would bring federal funding for cleaning up Mossville.

Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), the local environmental group, has asked government and industry to relocate residents who want to leave, offer a free health clinic and lower emissions from the plants. Superfund relocates residents only as a last resort.

"There are people that are getting sick; there are people who are dying because of what is happening in our community. These chemicals are killing us. They will destroy Mossville if nothing happens," says Dorothy Felix of MEAN.

Thousands of pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and vinyl chloride are released from the facilities near Mossville each year, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory.

Chemical boom

The industrial boom began in and around Mossville during World War II. Vinyl chloride makers, refineries, a coal-fired energy plant and chemical plants now operate in what was once rural country, rich in agriculture, fishing and hunting.

Robert Bullard, author of "Dumping in Dixie," says it's no surprise industry chose Mossvillle, an unincorporated community founded by African Americans in the 1790s.

"What happens is zoning becomes very political, and what happens is people with power, with lawyers and elected officials who can fight for them and make decisions for them, oftentimes will get things placed away from them and placed in locations where other people live" Bullard says.

Without the power, Bullard says, African-Americans have borne the brunt of living near industry, landfills and hazardous facilities.

"African Americans are more than 79 percent more likely to live in communities where there are dangerous facilities that pose health threats," says Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

Bullard says Jackson has breathed new life into environmental justice since she took office last year. During the previous eight years, he says, "environmental justice was non-existent or invisible."

Mossville fears

Over time, Mossville residents became worried emissions from the plants were affecting their health.

Those fears heightened in 1998 when the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry tested the blood of 28 Mossville residents and found dioxin levels three times the national average.

Dioxins are carcinogens. Volcanoes and forest fires create dioxins naturally. They are also released during vinyl chloride production, at waste incinerators and by wood processing facilities.

Residents were retested for dioxins in 2001, with similar results, but in 2006 the agency concluded that residents did not face a health risk, an assessment echoed by local industry.

"The emissions from the plants are within the standards set by the various agencies, and they are of a level that they have no ill effects on the local community," says Larry DeRoussel, executive director of the Lake Area Industry Alliance.

DeRoussel speaks for local industry. CNN invited all 14 companies to speak on camera. None of them accepted; some said interviewing DeRoussel would suffice.

DeRoussel points to statistics showing the cancer rate in Calcasieu Parish, the local county, is not significantly higher than the state average.

But Wilma Subra, a chemist from New Iberia, Louisiana, who has worked with Mossville residents, says the statistics are misleading because the parish covers such a large area, more than 1,000 square miles, and more than 180,000 residents. Mossville is a tiny fraction of that, with about 375 homes adjacent to the chemical plants.

"The people of Mossville are like an experiment. They know that they have high levels of dioxin in their blood, and they're allowed to continue to live there and be exposed," says Subra, recipient of the MacArthur genius grant in 1999 for her environmental work with communities.

After the EPA announced its Superfund investigation, Felix says she's hopeful for the first time in years Mossville will be saved.

"This is the first time I've had a little hope in EPA," Felix says.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sierra Club, Marcellus Shale, Fairness

From this morning's NPR broadcast . . . . The national Sierra Club sees natural gas development of the Marcellus Shale as one part of an overall strategy to reduce carbon emissions of coal burning. The report this morning includes interviews with local activists who oppose the drilling because of concerns about fracking and who are upset at the group's national leadership:
"Some local chapters of environmental groups find themselves battling their national leadership over issues like natural gas. The national groups see natural gas as a less-harmful alternative to coal. But local groups fear the damage that gas production could bring to their fresh water and landscapes."
Listen to the whole thing and read the transcript at:

The part of the interview that caught MY eye (transcript excerpt included below) was the following exchange with the Executive Director of the Sierra Club who criticizes the apparent NIMBY attitude of the local Sierra Club chapter's anti-fracking stance:

Mr. CARL POPE (Executive Director, Sierra Club): Well, it has caused friction and it's going to cause friction.

SHOGREN: Pope says the Sierra Club's leadership decided it had to come up with a practical prescription for how the country could slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. POPE: There are people who don't agree with the policy, because they think the Sierra Club's role should just be to oppose anything that has any environmental consequences. They don't think our role should be to say, okay, here's where we think we should get our energy.

SHOGREN: Pope says creating electricity from natural gas creates much less of the air pollution that makes people sick than coal does, and drilling for natural gas doesn't damage the land nearly as much as mountaintop coal mining has in Appalachia. It's destroyed peaks, forests and streams there. That's why the Sierra Club is promoting natural gas.

Mr. POPE: We see it as the cleanest of the fossil fuels.

SHOGREN: He's not surprised by the reaction of Sierra Club members who live above the Marcellus field.

Mr. POPE: What's happening with the new discoveries of natural gas is that parts of the country that historically didn't pay any environmental bill for energy production because they didn't produce energy are going to start paying a bigger share of the bill and people don't like that.

I think this last statement by Pope is fascinating. In essence he is making a type of justice argument that New York state (and elsewhere) energy consumers have not previously paid the full environmental price for decades of their energy use. Now, he argues, it's time for people living in the Marcellus shale region to "ante up," so to speak--in other words, it's only fair that people at the local level may have to bear the burden of environmental development that yields national and international benefits.

Thoughts? does Pope's argument make sense within an environmental justice perspective? within a Rawlsian fairness perspective?

By the way, the comments section accompanying the transcript are even more fascinating.

Opposition to democracy

Ran across the following graphic while doing some digging on the theme of "democracy." This map accompanies the wikipedia entry on democracy under the section of "Opposition to Democracy."

The caption reads:
"This is one attempted measurement of democracy called the Polity IV data series. This map shows the data presented in the polity IV data series report as of 2003. The lightest countries get a perfect score of 10, while the darkest countries (Saudi Arabia and Qatar), considered the least democratic, score -10."
I had no idea there even was a Polity IV data series. . . .

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Superstition evades "justice"... for now

The superstitions of the world are only as valuable as they are not harmful. China is full of cultural superstition that is both poetic and asinine. The plight of the tiger is the example I wish to offer up for discussion in connection with a previous post about cultural imperialism and the superstitious views that condone eradicating homosexuals. As you will see both are indiscriminately killed by certain societies because of superstition.

The superstition and unfounded beliefs in Asia have led to the almost complete demise of one species all because a people have been ingrained with a false idea that ingesting a tiger will give you its power and strength. The tiger bone wine is thought to be the elixir of life, and tiger penis soup is a supposed aphrodesiac. Eyeballs are thought to cure convulsions; whiskers are thought to protect against bullets. Sitting on a tiger skin can prevent fevers caused by evil spirits, and the list goes on and on.

Should the "world" intervene to stop this blind massacre? Jim posted earlier about the possibility of cultural imperialism with regard to the anti-homosexual legislation in Uganda and Obama's condemnation of the idea. The very notion that this act of condemnation is a form of cultural imperialism is absolutely absurd and aligns Obama's activism with a term that is considered pejorative. The idea that homosexuals should be killed was supplanted into the minds of the Ugandans by homophobic priests and chaucerian frauds. These priests of the U.S. are the perpetrators of the worst kind of "cultural" imperialism, religion.

Obama's subtle condemnation of the hideous acts in Uganda is a necessary step to stop an evil that is being done in the name of superstition. Any act that causes harm under the guise of any and all superstitions should be condemned, and those credulous victims should be brought back to the world of reason.

Thus I wish to state that it is just as necessary and obligatory to condemn the slaughter of gays as is the slaughter of tigers becuase both are founded in ridiculous superstition and myth that causes nothing but harm, and has deluded millions of people with false promises and pseudoscience.

Is the article below cultural imperialism? Are we stepping on the feet of traditional chinese medicine? Do we owe any respect to cultures based in superstition that cause actual death in the name of religion or tradition? Ofcourse NOT!

On the Brink of Extinction: Call to Close Cruel and Inhumane Tiger Farms
Written by Jace Shoemaker-Galloway

Published on January 28th, 2010

Officials from 13 nations are meeting to discuss conservation efforts to save the endangered tiger. Officials from countries where tigers still roam - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam - are taking part in the Asia Ministerial Conference (AMC) on Tiger Conservation. The conference runs from January 27 to January 30, 2010, in Thailand.

The World Bank and Global Tiger Initiative are urging the closing of tiger farms. Tiger farms, located primarily in China, also exist in other parts of the world. Despite a 1993 ban on the domestic tiger trade in China, the demand for tiger parts is still high and tiger farms continue to thrive. The domestic tiger trade harvests skin, bones, organs and other body parts often used in traditional medicines or as aphrodisiacs.

Private tiger farm investors have been putting heavy pressure on the government to lift the ban. While farm owners claim that tiger farms help reduce the illegal trade of tiger parts, others disagree. Many believe that tiger farms are not only cruel and inhumane, but actually encourage the illegal trade. Despite the plea from tiger farm investors, China recently announced the country will ensure stricter regulation and monitoring of the captive breeding farms and stricter enforcement on the illegal trade.

Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, tigers, Panthera tigris, are the largest of all cats. Sadly, three subspecies have become extinct – the Bali, the Caspian and Javan. At the beginning of the 20th century, it is estimated 100,000 wild tigers existed. Sadly, the numbers have dropped dramatically due to poaching and loss of habitat. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it is estimated that as few as 3,200 tigers exist in the wild today. It is believed that more than 5,000 tigers are living in captivity in farms in China. In other words, it is estimated that more tigers live in captivity on tiger farms in China than exist in the wild.

Warning: Disturbing Video:
While the Year of the Tiger begins on February 14th, we must work quickly to save these magnificent creatures from extinction.

Climate Scientists Behaving Badly (series)

Just ran across the following series of articles by Nick Shackel on the recent controversy over climate scientists' internal documents being leaked to the press and evidence that scientists have not been completely honest in their pronouncements about climate change.


"Global warming hawks claim the moral high-ground, claim to speak for what is right against grubby self-interest. It behooves those who take the high ground to behave well themselves. Do they?

"Data and email exchanges between climate scientists have been stolen from the servers at University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and published online. Whether the data or content of these emails tell us anything about global warming is not an issue I am concerned with. Nor, for that matter, am I concerned with bad behaviour in the sense of global warming hawks being rude about global warming skeptics. The bad behaviour of interest is epistemic bad behaviour, and on this matter I think the emails tell us quite a lot. Furthermore, the Climatic Research Unit is one of the world’s leading players and so the behaviour of its members tells us something about the epistemic state of climate science.

"On the whole I would have to say that the attitude of the hawks towards the lay public has been high handed. They do not think we can be trusted to form our own opinions about what is happening and what should be done about it, and they think this despite the very great success they have had in convincing us that the climate is warming and that humans have caused it. One must wonder, therefore, why they have this attitude.

"Part of the answer is that they are, in a certain limited respect, right. Climate scientists are experts and we should rightly give greater weight to their testimony within the realm of their expertise. But that is only the beginning of the matter. We are not required simply to submit to experts, nor can experts expect us to become experts before we can have a view and even disagree with them. There are significant constraints on the weight we should give to expert testimony that depend on our assessment of their testimonial reliability, and since we can’t assess them on the content of their testimony we must make use of other information: information about their epistemic character and information about how reliable expertise is in particular and in general.

epistemic character

"Since Francis Bacon rejected the Idols of the Mind, science has demanded that its practitioners hold themselves to the highest standard of epistemic character. Amongst the epistemic virtues required are objectivity, impartiality, disinterestedness, restraint in not going beyond ones knowledge, fairness to opposing views, intellectual competence, imagination, originality, honest dealing in the conduct of enquiry, sincerity of testimony and honest dealing with opponents. In addition, it is essential to science qua natural philosophy that basic evidence is publicly available—hence ruling out as evidence claims that originate in special insight or revelation not granted to us all. It is this that imposes on scientists the obligation to keep records of methods and original data and make such records freely available.

"How high is the standard of epistemic character that hawks hold themselves to? I fear it is not as high as it ought to be. Even prior to the leaked emails we had evidence of failings in these virtues. The emails give yet more evidence and also show how little hold the enumerated epistemic virtues have on the professional milieu of climate science. Indeed, it appears that within climate science, epistemic vice is practised without shame, and with little awareness that the vicious practices are vicious. In part 2 I will run over that evidence."

He is up to the fifth installment, which was just posted today (Feb 20). Here are the links to each installment:


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

William Nordhaus on climate change policy

Hi everyone,
here is a link to an article by William Nordhaus about climate change policies and their economic implications. His conclusion about Kyoto:
"Climate change is a complex phenomenon, subject to great uncertainties, with changes in our knowledge occurring virtually daily. Climate change is unlikely to be catastrophic in the near term, but it has the potential for very serious damages in the long run. There are big economic stakes in designing efficient approaches to slow global warming and to ensure that the economic environment is friendly to innovation. The current international approach in the Kyoto Protocol will be economically costly and have virtually no impact on climate change. In my view, the best approach is also one that is relatively simple—internationally harmonized carbon taxes. Economists and environmentalists will undoubtedly continue to debate the proper level of the carbon price. But all who believe that this is a serious global issue can agree that the current price—zero—is too low and should be promptly corrected."
If you're really interested, you can download a prepublication copy of his book A Question of Balance (Yale University Press, 2008) from his website at -- pay attention to Chapter 9 on discounting.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bio-fuels and EJ

A number of us had an interesting conversation after class on Thursday about bio-fuels and in particular, bio-diesel. A link to the following article just got passed along on the International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) listserv, wonder what you all might think about it. The group advocates for a "future without global capitalism," and the final paragraph emphasizes an environmental justice perspective:

"In our Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions we reject the idea of mitigation and adaptation to climate change, within the existing capitalist economic structures. It is damaging the poorest and most powerless in society, not protecting them from the effects of climate change – and it is doing it without making any significant reductions in emissions. An alternative system of energy production and land ownership is urgently needed."

Anyway, here is the full piece:

Forests under threat in carbon offsets scandal

Campaigners fear a new surge of forest destruction as a result of both the reactionary Copenhagen Accord and a new European Union bio-fuels directive.

It seems that EU member states will be forced to accept palm oil grown in plantations planted on cleared forest – whether they like it or not.

The EU is committed to a target of 10% of all road transport fuel being based on renewable energy by 2020, and a new directive claims that palm oil plantations can be classified as forest, and meet so-called “sustainable standards”.

According to Rainforest Rescue, razing rainforest to plant oil palm would not count as a change in land use under the new directive, which also says that “member states may not set additional criteria of their own. They may not exclude biofuels/bioliquids on sustainability grounds where these meet the sustainability criteria laid down in the Directive”.

This is entirely in line with the Copenhagen Accord, the wrecking agreement forced through by powerful nations at last year’s climate conference.

Without a successor to Kyoto the controls on carbon off-setting (weak as they were) will become non-existent. It will lead to large-scale destruction of eco-systems and unprecedented land grabs, as spurious projects are classified as carbon offsets. There will even be carbon credits for tree and crop monocultures and GM soya, planted on cleared rainforest.

Stella Semino from Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina) states:

If these new proposals are agreed upon we will see a massive boost for crop and tree plantations alike which, in the name of ‘climate change mitigation’, will speed up the destruction of forests and other vital ecosystems, the spread of industrial agriculture, and land grabbing against small-farmers, indigenous peoples and forest communities. Industrial monocultures are already a major cause of climate change and their expansion will make it worse.

The problem is even bigger than palm oil – the whole concept of bio-fuels replacing oil is flawed because of the nature of the capitalist system and the system of private land ownership. An example is the development of new oil plants that will grow on so-called “marginal land”.

The Jatropha plant is being grown by Kijani Energy of Canada in Mozambique on land classified as marginal. This very experimental process, with an incredibly toxic plant which can harm farmers as they harvest and crush it, is already being claimed as a biol-fuel breakthrough.

It is reported that Kijani has now purchased 200,000 acres of land in the Thar province of Pakistan for Jatropha cultivation. Local people say that far from being unused land, this area belongs to them, and their centuries old livestock grazing rights are being violated.

In our Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions we reject the idea of mitigation and adaptation to climate change, within the existing capitalist economic structures. It is damaging the poorest and most powerless in society, not protecting them from the effects of climate change – and it is doing it without making any significant reductions in emissions. An alternative system of energy production and land ownership is urgently needed.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
11 February 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eco-benefits of 2012 London Olympics?

I thought the film from Jason's group on the Vancouver Olympics was fascinating. As luck has it, here's an email that came through this morning on the environmental history email list about the environmental benefits of the 2012 London Olympics! Let me know if any of you listen to the podcast.

New podcast episode: Environmental History of the 2012 Olympic site: the Lower River Lea
H-NET List for Environmental History [H-ENVIRONMENT@H-NET.MSU.EDU] on behalf of Sowards, Adam [asowards@UIDAHO.EDU]
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 9:32 AM

From: Jan Oosthoek []
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 4:09 AM
Subject: New podcast episode: Environmental History of the 2012 Olympic
site: the Lower River Lea

The latest episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast
features an interview with Jim Clifford, a doctoral student at York
University in Toronto, about the environmental and social history of
West Ham and the Lower Lea River in east London. This is the site of the
2012 Olympics. The creation of the Olympic park promises the
rehabilitation of the Lower Lea Valley by restoring its eco-system and
revitalising the community of the area. But this is only the latest
development in a long industrial history that is going as far back as
the 11th century. Clifford talks about the industrialisation of the area
and the associated pollution, attempts to clean the river and the area
up and what we can learn from past experience in the light of the
present Olympic developments.

To listen to the podcast, go to the Environmental History Resources
website at:

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes at:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Upcoming Movies of Interest

Tonight!!! The Cove (Click link for more info... described as an "impassioned piece of advocacy filmmaking" and an "Eco-activist documentary"
7:15 pm Willard Straight Hall

February 24 Crude (the"epic story of one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits on the planet")
7 pm Uris Auditorium

I won't be able to make it tonight but would love to go to Crude if anyone wants to accompany me!

Monday, February 8, 2010

No Olympics on Stolen Native Land

in light of the 2010 winter olympics starting this week, check out this video made by green guerrillas youth media tech collective:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

US Military - Worst Polluter in the World?

thought i'd share this recent news. the military is exempted from most environmental regs from what i've heard. i'll do some more digging on that and see what i come up with to share. what is the responsiblity of the u.s in this case? do you buy the sovereign immunity argument?

Island residents sue U.S., saying military made them sick

By Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein,
CNN Special Investigations Unit
February 1, 2010 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)

Hermogenes Marrero, as a young U.S. Marine, was stationed on the island of Vieques nearly 40 years ago.

Vieques was one of Navy's largest firing ranges and weapons testing sites
Thousands of residents say testing has made them seriously ill
Government says under "sovereign immunity," residents have no right to sue
See how residents are coping with illnesses on "Campbell Brown" tonight 8 ET
Hear from residents of Vieques, where thousands of people say U.S. weapons testing has made them seriously ill, on tonight's "Campbell Brown," 8 ET

Vieques, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- Nearly 40 years ago, Hermogenes Marrero was a teenage U.S. Marine, stationed as a security guard on the tiny American island of Vieques, off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Marrero says he's been sick ever since. At age 57, the former Marine sergeant is nearly blind, needs an oxygen tank, has Lou Gehrig's disease and crippling back problems, and sometimes needs a wheelchair.

"I'd go out to the firing range, and sometimes I'd start bleeding automatically from my nose," he said in an interview to air on Monday night's "Campbell Brown."

"I said, 'My God, why am I bleeding?' So then I'd leave the range, and it stops. I come back, and maybe I'm vomiting now. I used to get diarrhea, pains in my stomach all the time. Headaches -- I mean, tremendous headaches. My vision, I used to get blurry."

The decorated former Marine is now the star witness in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit by more than 7,000 residents of this Caribbean island -- about three-quarters of its population -- who say that what the U.S. military did on Vieques has made them sick.

Read: Are Americans being forgotten on Vieques?

For nearly six decades, beginning right after World War II, Vieques was one of the Navy's largest firing ranges and weapons testing sites.

"Inside the base, you could feel the ground -- the ground moving," Marrero said. "You can hear the concussions. You could feel it. If you're on the range, you could feel it in your chest. That's the concussion from the explosion. It would rain, actually rain, bombs. And this would go on seven days a week."

After years of controversy and protest, the Navy left Vieques in 2003. Today, much of the base is demolished, and what's left is largely overgrown. But the lawsuit remains, and island residents want help and compensation for numerous illnesses they say they suffer.

"The people need the truth to understand what is happening to their bodies," said John Eaves Jr., the Mississippi attorney who represents the islanders in the lawsuit.

Because he no longer lives on Vieques, Marrero is not one of the plaintiffs but has given sworn testimony in the case. He said the weapons used on the island included napalm; depleted uranium, a heavy metal used in armor-piercing ammunition; and Agent Orange, the defoliant used on the Vietnamese jungles that was later linked to cancer and other illnesses in veterans.

"We used to store it in the hazardous material area," Marrero said. It was used in Vieques as a defoliant for the fence line.

The military has never acknowledged a link between Marrero's ailments and his time at Vieques, so he receives few disability or medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Neither the Navy nor the Justice Department, which is handling the government's defense, would discuss the islanders' lawsuit with CNN.

But Eaves said his clients don't believe that the military has fully disclosed the extent of the contamination on Vieques: "Like uranium was denied, then they admitted it."

Dr. John Wargo, a Yale professor who studies the effects of toxic exposures on human health, says he believes that people on the island are sick because of the Navy's bombing range.

Vieques ... is probably one of the most highly contaminated sites in the world.
--Dr. John Wargo
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Vietnam War
"Vieques, in my experience of studying toxic substances, is probably one of the most highly contaminated sites in the world," he said. "This results from the longevity of the chemical release, the bombs, the artillery shells, chemical weapons, biological weapons, fuels, diesel fuels, jet fuels, flame retardants. These have all been released on the island, some at great intensity."

Wargo is the author of a new book, "Green Intelligence," on how environments and toxic exposure affect human health. He is also expected to testify as an expert witness in the islanders' lawsuit.

He said the chemicals released by the munitions dropped on Vieques can be dangerous to human health and may well have sickened residents or veterans who served on the island.

"In my own mind, I think the islanders experienced higher levels of exposure to these substances than would be experienced in any other environment," Wargo said. "In my own belief, I think the illnesses are related to these exposures."

The effects of those chemicals could include cancer, damage to the nervous, immune and reproductive systems or birth defects, he said.

"This doesn't prove that the exposures caused those specific illnesses," Wargo added. "But it's a pretty convincing story from my perspective."

Since the Navy left the island, munitions it left behind "continue to leak, particularly from the east end of the island," Wargo said.

"My concerns are now predominantly what's happening in the coastal waters, which provide habitat for an array of fish, many species of which are often consumed by the population on the island," he said.

Scientists from the University of Georgia have documented the extent of the numerous unexploded ordinance and bombs that continue to litter the former bomb site and the surrounding waters. The leftover bombs continue to corrode, leaching dangerously high levels of carcinogens, according to researcher James Porter, associate dean of the university's Odum School of Ecology.

The Environmental Protection Agency designated parts of Vieques a Superfund toxic site in 2005, requiring the Navy to begin cleaning up its former bombing range. The service identified many thousands of unexploded munitions and set about blowing them up. But the cleanup effort has further outraged some islanders, who fear that more toxic chemicals will be released.

The U.S. government's response to their lawsuit is to invoke sovereign immunity, arguing that residents have no right to sue it. The government also disputes that the Navy's activities on Vieques made islanders ill, citing a 2003 study by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found no link.

That study, however, has been harshly criticized by numerous scientists, and the CDC is embarking on a new effort to determine whether residents may have been sickened by the contamination from the Navy range.

Asked whether his duty on the island made him sick, Marrero responds, "Of course it did."

"This is American territory. The people that live here are American," he said. "You hurt someone, you have to take care of that person. And the government's just not doing anything about it."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Inspiration while doing laundry...

Not to take attention away from Jim's post, but earlier today I was doing my laundry and was reminded of our class. I recently bought new laundry detergent by Seventh Generation. It's supposed to be much better for the environment and is not tested on animals! Anyways, as I was pouring some liquid into the cap, I caught sight of a quote on the back of the bottle...
"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." -- From The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

I was struck by this, especially because we have talked a little bit about whether or not we have an obligation to future generations to protect the environment. I know that we're going to be discussing this further, but I just wanted to throw this out there as a little preview.

Here's a link to the rest of The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy:
It's pretty long but if you're interested, check it out.

Feel free to comment!!