Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Darwinia Theory of beauty-awesome video

TED collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate Denis Dutton's provocative theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.

About Denis Dutton

Denis Dutton is a philosophy professor and the editor of Arts & Letters Daily. In his book The Art Instinct, he suggests that humans are hard-wired to seek beauty. Full bio and more links

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Economics of "Sustainable" Development

Our discussion on Thursday raised a lot of questions about whether "sustainable development" — a term frequently touted by big environmental NGOs — is possible. From a Western perspective where we have the luxury of caring about conservation, so to speak, partnering conservation with development in third-world countries rich in natural resources is a laudable goal. A host of problems arise, however ...
  • How are people expected to care about the environment when it interferes with putting food on the table?
  • What good do conservation and development projects do if they simply replace one short-term neo-colonial industry (like logging, for example .. 2011 is the UN's International Year of Forests, and forest conservation is a big issue currently) with another in the form of an NGO?
  • NGO resources don't last forever. How can we make sure that conservation practices are sustained without falling into cultural imperialism or paternalism?
  • and many more.
No one has the answer to all these problems, as was made abundantly clear in class, but the World Bank is taking an interesting approach. Currently, they are trying to redefine the metrics by which development is measured. Instead of basing development status on GDP alone, "intangibles" like environmental and cultural capital are being taken into account and assigned a quantitative value. Here's a report on a new World Bank publication:

In 2005, the total economic value of natural assets was $44 trillion worldwide, or $7,000 per person on average while “intangible” capital accounted for the greatest component of total wealth–worth a massive $540 trillion worldwide in 2005.

The Changing Wealth of Nations – a follow-up publication to the 2006 book, Where is the Wealth of Nations? – extends the principles of wealth accounting to include dimensions that go beyond the standard Gross Domestic Product calculations undertaken by finance ministries. It presents, for the first time, a set of “wealth accounts” for over 150 countries for 1995, 2000, and 2005 which allows a longer-term assessment of global, regional and country performance in building wealth.


The book finds that intangible capital growth contributed close to 100% of the increase in total wealth in Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe and Central Asia from 1995 to 2005. This share was 80% in South Asia and 72% in Latin America and Caribbean.

It is the quality of institutions that enhances a country’s capacity to provide economic benefits,” said co-author Kirk Hamilton from the World Bank’s Development Economics group. “When a country has strong institutions that reaffirm the rule of law, ensure government accountability and help control corruption, investment follows and grows.”

The quality of institutions is especially important for the good stewardship of natural capital, the book concludes.

The use of the word "stewardship" and the (perhaps impractical, as Jordan pointed out Thursday) focus on education aside, if a major problem with sustainable development is money, would the resource valuation approach — partnered with community education and government regulation — help? This is a pretty hotly debated concept in the development world, from what I understand. Though the World Bank's literature is relatively new, there's a wide range of research on the field of environmental economics (perhaps some of you have tapped into it for other courses). There is clearly a sea change necessary for natural capital to hold actual development value; I'm nowhere near qualified enough to pass judgement, but I wonder if it would be possible in practice, and how helpful it would be for the implementation of conservation goals.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Benatar's Better Never to Have Been

We've had some discussion about this book, thought some of you might be interested to see this:

Call for Papers: Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been

Special Issue of the South African Journal of Philosophy, one of the most long-standing philosophy journals in Africa, accredited by the ISI

Guest Editor: Thaddeus Metz (Humanities Research Professor at the University of Johannesburg)

Invited Contributors: David Boonin (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder) and Saul Smilansky (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa)

Professor David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been (Oxford, 2006) is the most intricate and careful exposition and defence of anti-natalism. Benatar argues, on the basis of purportedly uncontroversial premises, for a variety of surprising and radical conclusions about the disvalue of our lives and our moral duties in light of it. Benatar argues that no matter how much happiness people might experience during their lives, it would always have been better for them never to have been created. And from the claim that human life is never worth starting Benatar further concludes that it is almost always immoral to procreate and that abortion in the early stages of pregnancy is morally required.

Contributions are sought for an issue of the South African Journal of Philosophy devoted to several facets of anti-natalism and of Benatar’s treatment of it in particular. These include, but are not restricted to, the following:

•      Precisely where is Benatar’s argument for anti-natalism most questionable? How does it compare with other arguments for anti-natalism? Do they share common premises or strategies? Which is the most defensible?

•      Is it plausible to hold anti-natalism without pro-mortalism, viz., the view that we should commit suicide?

•      Under what conditions might one be justified in creating a person whose life is not worth starting in terms of her well-being? Can it be right to create such a person for the sake of helping others? How might considerations of human dignity figure into a justification for creating her?

•      If a child is always worse off for having been created, what are the moral responsibilities of her parents with respect to her? Is compensation owed, and, if so, what kind and how much?

•      If the typical human life is indeed a net harm, how should the state get involved? Should it facilitate wrongful life suits, or discourage procreation?

•      From what standpoint is it appropriate to appraise the quality of our lives? Standpoints range from the most subjective, that of an individual, to that of ‘the universe’, the most objective viewpoint available. Is there a principled way to determine where on the scale is suitable?

Deadline for submissions: 15 October 2011. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically to Thaddeus Metz ( Those whose papers are selected for inclusion in the special issue will be invited to participate in a workshop with Professor Benatar, to be held at the University of Johannesburg on 23-24 November 2011.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Sniff, Therefore I Am.

Our discussions of consciousness and animal rights have come and gone, but lately I have been reading more from Peter Singer. I was pleasantly surprised to see this link from NPR on my facebook wall. Not entirely relevant to our current material, but I thought it was worth sharing.

- Tod

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This is very good. Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute have just written a very thought-provoking essay titled, ”The Long Death of Environmentalism.” Here's a brief summary of the context:
Last week Breakthrough co-founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus returned to Yale University for a retrospective on their seminal 2004 essay, “The Death of Environmentalism.” In their speech they argued that the critical work of rethinking green politics was cut short by fantasies about green jobs and “An Inconvenient Truth.” The latter backfired — more Americans started to believe news of global warming was being exaggerated after the movie came out — the former made false promises that could not be realized by cap and trade. What is an earnest green who cares about global warming to do now? In this speech, Nordhaus and Shellenberger reflect on what went so badly awry, and offer 12 Theses for a post-environmental approach to climate change.
The entire essay is worth reading, but here is an excerpt: their “Twelve Theses for a Post-Environmental Movement.”

Twelve Theses for a Post-Environmental Movement
Today, the need to remake ecological politics is clearly more urgent than ever. That will require that we actually learn from our failures and let those lessons become the underlying assumptions for a new, post-environmental climate movement.

First, more, better, or louder climate science will not drive the transformation of the global energy economy. The resources necessary to make such a transformation will not be forthcoming in pursuit of climate benefits that are uncertain and far off in the future. Many greens have imagined that as the evidence of climate change becomes ever clearer, the case for action will become stronger. But the reality is that the more our understanding of the full complexity of the climate system advances, the greater the uncertainties about the impacts of climate change and the attribution of those impacts to anthropogenic activities will become. This is not because the evidence for anthropogenic warming will become weaker. It will in fact become stronger. But our understanding of how that warming impacts the climate system at regional and local scales will become harder to characterize, not easier.
Second, we need to stop trying to scare the pants off of the American public. Doing so has demonstrably backfired. Climate skepticism is on the rise, every snow storm is the subject of partisan rancor, and we are no closer to acting in any meaningful way to address climate change. Skepticism about climate science has been motivated by concerns about the remedies that greens have proposed. The solution is not more climate science but rather a different set of remedies.
Third, the most successful actions will not be justified for environmental reasons. The only two countries to significantly decarbonize their energy supplies — France and Sweden — did so for energy security reasons in response to oil price shocks, not for environmental reasons. Many conservatives who are skeptical of claims made by climate campaigners believe it’s a bad idea to send half a trillion or so a year abroad for foreign imported oil, which brings with it a whole host of threats to national and energy security. Others simply see three million current air pollution deaths a year as a far higher priority. We should put shared solutions at the center of our politics, not our view of the science.
Fourth, we need to stop imagining that we will solve global warming through behavior changes. There are no doubt many good reasons for those of us with enough affluence and control over the material circumstances of our lives to turn away from accumulative consumption. But we should not imagine this to be a climate strategy.

What most greens mean when they suggest that we need to fundamentally change our way of life isn’t so fundamental at all. They mostly mean that we need to stop crass consumerism, live in denser cities, and use public transit. And while there are many reasons to recommend each of these particular remedies, none will have much impact upon the trajectory of global emissions. That’s because much of the world already lives in dense cities- more and more of us every day. Relatively few of us globally today have the means to consume crassly, or even own an automobile.

Global development and urbanization are salutary trends – for they bring with them the opportunity for billions of us to live longer, healthier, and freer lives. But these trends also suggest that the green obsession with moralizing against profligate American lifestyles is entirely irrelevant to the future disposition of the global climate, or much anything else that really matters to the big ecological challenges that we will face in the coming century. More and more of the world will adopt the very living patterns that greens have so long valorized. And as they do they will use vastly more energy and resources, not less.
Fifth, we have to stop treating climate change as if it were a traditional pollution problem. As we noted in our book, climate change is as different from past pollution problems as nuclear warfare is from gang violence. Climate change will not be solved with end-of-pipe solutions, like smokestack scrubbers and sewage treatment plants that worked for past pollution problems. Rather it will require us to rebuild the entire global energy system with technologies that we mostly don’t have today in any form that could conceivably scale to meet that challenge.
Sixth, we will not regulate or price our way to a clean energy economy. Regulatory and pricing solutions tend to succeed when we have good, low cost alternatives to the activities which we are attempting to discourage or eliminate. We dealt with acid rain once we had access to low sulfur coal from the western United States and reached an international agreement to phase out CFCs only once DuPont demonstrated that they could produce a cheap alternative at scale.

Greens have, in recent years, substituted the almighty Market, in the form of a response to a carbon price signal, for their past faith in command and control regulations. But the substitution problem is largely the same. Without cheap technologies, carbon prices will need to be prohibitively high to drive a quick transition to low carbon energy.
Seventh, we need to acknowledge that the so-called “soft energy path” is a dead end. The notion that the nation might meet its future energy needs through renewable energy and low cost energy efficiency has defined virtually all environmental energy proposals since the 1960s, and was codified into dogma by anti-nuclear activist turned efficiency consultant, Amory Lovins, in his 1976 Foreign Affairs article. Lovins claimed that efficiency would allow America to dramatically reduce its total energy use and that renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power were ready to replace fossil fuels.

But the reality is that for centuries, the global economy has used ever more energy, even as it has used energy ever more efficiently and renewable energy, which Lovins and others were claiming even as early as the late 1970′s was cheaper than fossil energy, remains expensive and difficult to scale. Renewables still cost vastly more than fossil based energy, even before we calculate the costs associated with storing and transmitting intermittent forms of energy. Wind energy, according to the latest EIA estimates, still costs 50% more than coal or gas. Solar costs three to five times as much. In the end, what the soft energy path has given us is coal-fired power plants, mountaintop removal, global warming, and an economy that uses 50% more energy, not solar panels and wind farms.
Eighth, we will not internalize the full costs of fossil fuels, even if we are able to agree upon what they actually are. Like the climate science upon which they are based, economic models that attempt to model the social costs of carbon emissions are endlessly disputable. Don’t like the result? Change the estimated climate sensitivity, the damage exponent, the social discount rate, or any number of other assumptions until you arrive at one you do like. The degree that we do internalize the cost of carbon will be determined by the tolerance within specific political economies for policies that increase energy costs.
Ninth, we will need to make clean energy technologies much cheaper in order to decarbonize the global energy economy. Clean energy technologies, where they have been deployed at all, still require vast public subsidies in order to be commercially viable. This is simply not a recipe for bringing those technologies to scale. Subsidizing more of the same old technologies will bring down their cost incrementally, but not enough to displace fossil fuels at a rate sufficient to have much impact on emissions. There will be no significant action to address global warming, no meaningful caps or other regulatory frameworks, and no global agreement to limit emissions until the alternatives to fossil fuels are much better and cheaper. This will require technological innovation on a vast scale and will require sustained state support for radical innovation through large investments in basic science, research and development, demonstration, and commercialization of new energy technologies.
Tenth, we are going to have to get over our suspicion of technology, especially nuclear power. There is no credible path to reducing global carbon emissions without an enormous expansion of nuclear power. It is the only low carbon technology we have today with the demonstrated capability to generate large quantities of centrally generated electric power. It is the low carbon of technology of choice for much of the rest of the world. Even uber-green nations, like Germany and Sweden, have reversed plans to phase out nuclear power as they have begun to reconcile their energy needs with their climate commitments.
Eleventh, we will need to embrace again the role of the state as a direct provider of public goods. The modern environmental movement, borne of the new left rejection of social authority of all sorts, has embraced the notion of state regulation and even creation of private markets while largely rejecting the generative role of the state. In the modern environmental imagination, government promotion of technology – whether nuclear power, the green revolution, synfuels, or ethanol – almost always ends badly.

Never mind that virtually the entire history of American industrialization and technological innovation is the story of government investments in the development and commercialization of new technologies. Think of a transformative technology over the last century – computers, the Internet, pharmaceutical drugs, jet turbines, cellular telephones, nuclear power – and what you will find is government investing in those technologies at a scale that private firms simply cannot replicate.
Twelveth, big is beautiful. The rising economies of the developing world will continue to develop whether we want them to or not. The solution to the ecological crises wrought by modernity, technology, and progress will be more modernity, technology, and progress. The solutions to the ecological challenges faced by a planet of 6 billion going on 9 billion will not be decentralized energy technologies like solar panels, small scale organic agriculture, and a drawing of unenforceable boundaries around what remains of our ecological inheritance, be it the rainforests of the Amazon or the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Rather, these solutions will be: large central station power technologies that can meet the energy needs of billions of people increasingly living in the dense mega-cities of the global south without emitting carbon dioxide, further intensification of industrial scale agriculture to meet the nutritional needs of a population that is not only growing but eating higher up the food chain, and a whole suite of new agricultural, desalinization and other technologies for gardening planet Earth that might allow us not only to pull back from forests and other threatened ecosystems but also to create new ones.
I'd be curious to hear your thoughts--in some ways these authors are offering a 'response to deep ecologists.'

Friday, February 25, 2011

Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming for Years?

This is kind of hard to believe . . . amazing that they fund this kind of research.

Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming for Years?

An excerpt:

Charles Q. Choi

for National Geographic News

Published February 22, 2011

Even a regional nuclear war could spark "unprecedented" global cooling and reduce rainfall for years, according to U.S. government computer models.

Widespread famine and disease would likely follow, experts speculate.

During the Cold War a nuclear exchange between superpowers—such as the one feared for years between the United States and the former Soviet Union—was predicted to cause a "nuclear winter."

In that scenario hundreds of nuclear explosions spark huge fires, whose smoke, dust, and ash blot out the sun for weeks amid a backdrop of dangerous radiation levels. Much of humanity eventually dies of starvation and disease.

Today, with the United States the only standing superpower, nuclear winter is little more than a nightmare. But nuclear war remains a very real threat—for instance, between developing-world nuclear powers, such as India and Pakistan.

To see what climate effects such a regional nuclear conflict might have, scientists from NASA and other institutions modeled a war involving a hundred Hiroshima-level bombs, each packing the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT—just 0.03 percent of the world's current nuclear arsenal. (See a National Geographic magazine feature on weapons of mass destruction.)

The researchers predicted the resulting fires would kick up roughly five million metric tons of black carbon into the upper part of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the Earth's atmosphere.

In NASA climate models, this carbon then absorbed solar heat and, like a hot-air balloon, quickly lofted even higher, where the soot would take much longer to clear from the sky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What is your costs and benefits? Random thoughts on intrinsic and instrumental value

Can all intrinsic value be traced back to instrumental value? The point was brought up that everything we value can be traced back to how that value benefits us. The benefit can serve us directly (I value oak trees over oak tables) or indirectly (I want to save the Mona Lisa because other people value it), but eventually the motivation deals with how it effects my life.

To contrast this egocentric view and create some faith in intrinsic value, Professor Tantillo brought-up the example of parent-child relationships. The basis is that the child is the end in itself and not a means to an end. I am hardly qualified to talk about why people have children, but I can see that there are a long list of costs and benefits including: innate desire to pass on genetic material, child will take care of parent in long run, cost of clothes/food/education, emotional satisfaction, ext. I will say that it seems much more noble to raise a child out of intrinsic value then instrumental value. Maybe instrumental value means that the energy put in equals the benefit, whereas intrinsic value is when the energy put in is not considered lost, but part of the experience. I keep finding is that it might be admirable to raise the child on intrinsic value but people (at least initially) value the instrumental factors as part of the equation.

The problem goes back to the question of whether intrinsically something is valued because someone is there to value it or if it exists independent of a valuer. To say that something has intrinsic value independent of a valuer doesn't seem right because humans cannot not seriously consider what things would be like without a valuer, or at least without us valuers. It reminds me of the topic that we don't know what it is like to be a bat and any judgements we make on behalf of the bat are just humans trying to be bats. The reason intrinsic value comes back to instrumental value is because humans can only make choices as we see them and not from a completely unbiased view. Perhaps I connect instrumental value with being heartless and calculating and this whole post was to help me to understand that it is human to view things as instrumental value because I can't view the world without being aware of how it will effect me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I was wondering... If we were to follow a weakly anthropocentric view that emphasizes "idealized" values we as humans should strive to uphold, where would the issue of deer overpopulation stand? Would the ideal moral human kill deer to restore ecological balance, or find value in the deer that exist already and let them be? There are conflicting values between holism and individualism that both seem valid in this case.

- Aiden

More on the Auburn tree incident

This just in about the Auburn incident:
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Arrest made in Toomer's Corner incident news services

AUBURN, Ala. -- A 62-year-old Dadeville man has been arrested in connection with the poisoning of the historic Toomer's Corner oak trees at Auburn University.

Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. was arrested early Thursday morning and charged with one count of first-degree criminal mischief, a spokeswoman for the Lee County Sheriff Office said.

Auburn fans celebrated the school's BCS title in January at Toomer's Corner.

Bond was set at $50,000. If convicted, Updyke could face one to 10 years in prison.

A man claiming to be "Al from Dadeville" phoned a radio show late last month, claiming he poured herbicide around the 130-year-old oaks that are the scene of celebrations after Auburn's sports victories.

"The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn, Ala., because I live 30 miles away, and I poisoned the Toomer's trees," the caller told The Paul Finebaum Radio Show, saying he was at the Iron Bowl.

Calling himself "Al from Dadeville," he said he used Spike 80DF, also known as tebuthiuron, and the trees "definitely will die." The caller signed off with, "Roll Damn Tide."

Auburn discovered the poisoning after taking soil samples on Jan. 28, a day after "Al from Dadeville" called Finebaum's syndicated show saying he had used the herbicide on the trees.

The university said in a statement Wednesday that an herbicide commonly used to kill trees was applied "in lethal amounts" to the soil around the two trees, and that they likely can't be saved.

Auburn fans traditionally celebrate by using toilet paper to roll the Toomer's Corner trees, which are estimated to be more than 130 years old.

"We will take every step we can to save the Toomer's oaks, which have been the home of countless celebrations and a symbol of the Auburn spirit for generations of Auburn students, fans, alumni and the community," university President Jay Gogue said in a statement.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Intrinsic value

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value" may be interesting to some of you in light of this morning's class discussion: 

The related entry on "Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Properties" may also be of interest.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Hi gang,
welcome to the blog for "Applied Environmental Philosophy."  Looking forward to our discussions outside of class.