Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Arguing for Deep Ecology (Fox Reading)

After our discussion on Tuesday, I was thinking about that one sentence in the Fox reading: “the material standard of living should be drastically reduced and the quality of life, in the sense of basic satisfaction in the depths of one’s heart or soul, should be maintained or increased” (Fox 1984). I still can’t say that I have a definitive understanding of Fox’s interpretation of the “material standard;” based on the context, however, such standard reflects this idea that a select group of people are intruding and damaging nature through excess consumption. And because everything is interconnected in Fox’s perspective, what someone does in one part of the world affects how an animal/a person lives in another. “The world simply is not divided up into independently existing subjects and objects, nor is there any bifurcation in reality between the human and non-human realms” (Fox 1984). With all this in mind, I was wondering why Fox never directly addressed this notion about how our adherence to the material standard and consumption principles affects those in other parts of the world, which live by a sustainable standard. I think it would make for a good contrast, at least strategically for his argument.

As a side note, in this article about global warming, Living Beyond Our means: Natural Assets and Human Well-Being, there’s a quote that mimics what I’m suggesting: “negative impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on poorest parts of the world…but the buildup of greenhouse gasses has come overwhelmingly from richer populations.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The "Dreaded Comparison" on The Daily Show

A week or two ago we discussed the "dreaded comparison" of animal rights and human slavery. Here is a clip from Jon Stewart's show that explores the tensions inherent in that analogy.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

What are continents?

as regards our conversation earlier about whether ecosystems are "real" . . . or whether species exist . . . or whether many of our other world-organizing concepts make sense, here we have a video that asks the question, "What are continents?"


Darwin Days

This is the event I mentioned in class. All the fun stuff is still left, so you should join in. Hope to see you at one of the events.

Here is a list of the events.

Feb. 12, "The Present and Future of Climate Change," lecture by Thomas Lovejoy, president of The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment and founder of the PBS program "Nature," 5 p.m., Kaufmann Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall.

Feb. 13, "Adaption and Extinction in the Wake of Climate Change," panel discussion chaired by Robert Ross with panelists Warren Allmon, Gregory Dietl, Charles Greene and Drew Harvell, 5 p.m., 158 Goldwin Smith Hall.

Feb. 14, "Climate Change and Our Gardens, Farms and Natural Landscapes," panel discussion chaired by David Wolfe with panelists Jonathan Comstock, Larry Chase and Joseph Yavitt, 5 p.m., 162 Goldwin Smith Hall.

Feb. 15, "Climate Change Past and Present": Thomas Cronin, geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, will illustrate the application of paleoclimate records to contemporary challenges in climate change research, 5 p.m., Kaufmann Auditorium, Goldwin Smith.

Feb. 15, Darwin Trivia Night, for those 21 and older, 8 p.m., Big Red Barn.

Feb. 16, "Local Climate Change's Effect on Hop Production," lecture with Steve Miller, New York state's first hop specialist followed by a beer tasting, 6 p.m., Big Red Barn.

Feb. 17, "Adapt Your Tail Off!" a party to ring in Darwin's birthday in evolutionary style. Evolve yourself a pair of wings, antlers, claws or a tail and wish Charles a happy birthday. Prizes for most advanced, most primitive and "you tried your best!" costumes. Free, 7-11 p.m., Big Red Barn.

Feb. 18, Darwin Days' Family Day, Museum of the Earth, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Masai persistence hunt

Here is a video of a Masai "persistence hunt," where the animal is pursued and hunted until it collapses from exhaustion, and then the hunter closes in and kills the animal.

I think one could make a moral argument that the loss of such a cultural activity--along with the attendant human knowledge and skills that it requires--would be a tragic cultural loss in many ways. Here is one example where the philosophical arguments of animal rights, environmental ethics, and cultural preservation collide.

It is interesting to note that in Australia--which resembles the Anglo-American philosophical "scene"--aboriginal rights and customs have been assiduously protected and honored. Not perfectly, I suppose, but on an institutional scale that I believe isn't found in many other countries.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Order bias

Even with insects, we have a biased view towards different orders.

Friday, February 3, 2012

More arguments by analogy to slavery

In the "hard to make this stuff up" category: an article today in The Guardian titled "Once, men abused slaves. Now we abuse fossil fuels." Here's an excerpt:

In 2005, while teaching history at a French university, I was struck by the general disbelief among students that rational and sensitive human beings could ever hold others in bondage. Slavery was so obviously evil that slave-holders could only have been barbarians. My students could not entertain the idea that some slave-owners could have been genuinely blind to the harm they were doing.

At the same time, I was reading a book on climate change which noted how today's machinery – almost exclusively powered by fossil fuels like coal and oil – does the same work that used to be done by slaves and servants. "Energy slaves" now do our laundry, cook our food, transport us, entertain us, and do most of the hard work needed for our survival.

Intriguing similarities between slavery and our current dependence on fossil-fuel-powered machines struck me: both perform roughly the same functions in society (doing the hard and dirty work that no one wants to do), both were considered for a long time to be acceptable by the majority and both came to be increasingly challenged as the harm they caused became more visible.

You can read the rest of the article here.

The article has already generated a fair amount of commentary and criticism. Keith Kloor's blog post, "A Tortured Analogy," at Collide-a-scape is particularly good.

Thoughts, comments?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

new book by Tovar Cerulli, The Mindful Carnivore

here's a video on the book I mentioned in class this morning. I'd be curious if any of you end up reading it and hearing what you think. thanks.

Insulin and Animal Rights

Since we are discussing animal rights today and next week, I couldn't resist at least mentioning a rather thorny  hiccup in the animal rights agenda: life sustaining medications that were originally discovered through animal testing. What can one say about medications like insulin, without which I personally would have been extinct some years ago? (Personal disclosure: I am a type 1 diabetic and require insulin to live). Some of you may be less familiar with the history of insulin and its original discovery. Below is an excerpt from an article written by Deepinder Brar here:

The biggest breakthrough came in 1921 when Frederick Banting and Charles Best conducted a series of experiments one summer in the laboratory of J.J. R. Macleod at the University of Toronto. Like Minkowski and von Mering, they showed that removing the pancreas from dogs made them diabetic.
Then they went a step further and painstakingly took fluid from healthy dogs' Islets of Langerhans, injected it into the diabetic dogs and restored them to normalcy - for as long as they had the extract.With the help of a biochemist colleague named J. B. Collip, they were then able to extract a reasonably pure formula of insulin from the pancreas of cattle from slaughterhouses.
In January, 1922, a diabetic teenager in a Toronto hospital named Leonard Thompson became the first person to receive an injection of insulin. He improved dramatically, and the news about insulin spread around the world like wildfire. For their work, Banting and Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine the very next year, in 1923. Banting shared his part of the prize money with Best, and Macleod shared his with Collip.
So what to make of this? I shudder to think of the pain inflicted on all of the animals used for their pancreases in order that I and so many other diabetics might live, but at the end of the day I am grateful that it happened. How could I not be? What other cures for terminal illnesses might be found through animal testing alone? I'm not saying I'm pro-animal testing per se, but it is certainly difficult to feel authentic in extolling an animal rights ethic while simultaneously relying on something borne from such a brutal reliance upon animal lives.

Milking the Rhino

For any of you who have a Netflix streaming account, I would recommend an evening watching a documentary called "Milking the Rhino."  It chronicles the tenuous relationship between indigenous African villagers and the conservation land they live adjacent to in both Kenya and Namibia.

"This penetrating look at the pros and cons of wildlife conservation among the Himba of Namibia and the Maasai of Kenya reveals that Western-style game reserves and eco-lodges seldom consider the impact such approaches have on local inhabitants. Filmmaker David E. Simpson offers a look at an emerging new paradigm: "community-based conservation," which seeks to give indigenous people a voice in the way wildlife is both used and preserved." 

Some of the issues that arise:

-Wild animals (especially rhinos) can be very dangerous animals and at times pose a threat to villagers in communities adjacent to the conservation areas. Should the communities be able to kill a rhino that has killed some of their own (people and/or cattle), or should they be forced to abstain and have no recourse to this threat?

-In Namibia, the government has given villagers ownership of the laws which govern how they must deal with wild animals in their areas. On a co-op basis, they decide quotas of how many animals may be killed per month, and it is believed that this forces the villagers to respect their resource and to therefore better protect it. How might an animal rights argument treat this?

-In Africa, eco-tourism is a major incentive to preserve wilderness and its accompanying animal life. However, the fencing in of lands that once belonged to indigenous peoples hurts them by cutting them off from a resource they once lived off of in a sustainable way. How might one resolve the incompatible desires to preserve wilderness and to allow a culture its own life-sustaining resource in a land where resources are famously scarce? Who wins, people or wilderness? If people, who should have the more favorable access to wilderness resources: tourists and developers or indigenous populations?