I have long chafed at the way people tend to use the word ‘sustainable’: it has become a term of general approval applied to something perceived – or something being sold – as “good for the environment” and/or good for people in some vaguely defined way.
The usual “three pillars” model of sustainable development only exacerbates the problem, with its way of distinguishing technological, economic and social sustainability. The markers of “social sustainability,” for example, really just look like ordinary concerns of human welfare and equity, and it is unclear whether they are among the conditions of sustainability or among its goals.
Partly as a consequence, the Sustainable Development Goals promulgated by the United Nations come across as a grab-bag of progressive values and initiatives which, taken together and regardless of their merits, don’t add up to a coherent account of the conditions under which “sustainability” might be possible.
Continue reading “Four Essential Questions on “Sustainability”” →
Continuing the deep dive, a post from February 14, 2007.
Note that I never did post any text from the paper I wrote in my senior year at Miami. I dug it out and read it over and, as I should have anticipated, it wasn’t very good as writing.
I do remember the experience of writing it as something of a catharsis, though.
Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part two
In the wake of my experience with Objectivism, I came to mistrust all claims to certainty. This was reinforced by my continuing study of philosophy, through which I gained a growing understanding of the richness and ambiguity of human experience and the elusiveness of knowledge.
Through many years of disorientation and bafflement, I gradually came to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. By recasting myself as an environmental philosopher, using the intellectual resources of the philosophical tradition to grapple with complex issues of knowledge and value in environmental ethics and policy, I was slowly able to open up a practical domain in which I could make some (tentative) assertions and hold some (tentative) convictions. Continue reading “From the Archive: Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part two” →
As an over-the-weekend teaser for a couple of posts I’m planning for next week, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek entry from my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth, from April 7, 2014.
A longtime friend posted a link on Facebook to an article bearing the headline:
The article describes the difficulty of extracting the oil while still turning a profit, with passing mention of some of the environmental and social concerns associated with the extraction processes that might be involved.
This is not a blog post about hydraulic fracturing, per se, but a brief comment on the use of language: the headline reveals a way of framing the meaning of shale oil that cuts off any debate about the advisability of extracting the oil before it can get started.
It comes down to a matter of metaphor.
To trap something is to confine or limit it when it would otherwise move freely.
To say the oil is trapped is to suggest that oil in its natural state is free. The oil would be free, could be free, and should be free but for the damned, cruel, oppressive shale formation holding it back!
What’s proposed then is not “fracking” – such an unpleasant word, “fracking” – it’s Oil Liberation! Continue reading “From the Archive: Oil Liberation!” →
There is a long-running debate in the field of environmental ethics between Bryan Norton and J. Baird Callicott over the meaning and the legacy of the works of Aldo Leopold.
I have been a near observer of one side of this debate, as Bryan’s office was, until his retirement last year, just around the corner from mine.
To throw around a lot of technical jargon, while Callicott reads Leopold as a moral monist espousing a form of ecocentrism, Norton reads Leopold as instead seeking to foster a pluralistic pragmatism that is compatible with or encompasses the more generous varieties of anthropocentrism.
In more ordinary terms, Callicott thinks environmental ethics needs to produce a single, compelling moral theory (that’s “monism”) that includes acknowledgement that non-human living things, and especially, ecological systems have value in themselves (that’s “ecocentrism”). Continue reading “Saving St. Aldo” →
In my post of Tuesday afternoon, I made brief mention of an exercise in my environmental ethics class involving a pencil:
In my environmental ethics class, I gave each of six groups a single no. 2 pencil – a classic yellow Ticonderoga, as it happens – and asked them first to write down everything they already knew about no. 2 pencils or could find out from physically examining and using the object itself. Then I told them to go to the ‘net to find out what else they could learn.
I should put this exercise in context.
The fearful truth of the matter is that I am inventing the idea for my environmental ethics course as I teach it. Continue reading “Everyday Things” →