Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D


Potpourri Archives

News, Notices, Bouquets and Brickbats

Read With Appreciation

Ronald Dworkin, "The Threat to Patriotism," The New York Review, February 28, 2002.  
Briefer version in The Guardian and Smirking Chimp, March 9, 2002. 

"What has al-Qaeda done to our Constitution, and to our national standards of fairness and decency?  Since September 11, the government has enacted legislation, adopted policies, and threatened procedures that are not consistent with our established laws and values and would have been unthinkable before."

Bernard Weiner: "An Open Letter to Democrats and Progressives: Focusing the Anger," The Smirking Chimp.

David Talbot, "Axis of Stupidity," Salon, February 14, 2002.

"Bush utters the word 'evil' the way child does when it first dawns on him that there is darkness and danger in the world, and only his goodness and courage stand in its way.  His axis-of-evil war cry ... reminds us that this is a man who entered the 2000 presidential race in midlife with the barest, most homespun grasp of the world beyond America's border."

The Nation, January 7/14, 2002: "The Big Media" -- Theme for the entire issue.  

This is an issue to keep for your files.  Numerous fine articles, but we especially enjoyed Mark Crispin Miller's, "What's Wrong With This Picture?,"    Forget "the myth of the liberal media."  Face up to "the myth of the free press" and "the myth of the marketplace of ideas."

Gore Vidal, "Times Cries Eke!  Buries Al Gore," The Nation, December 17, 2001.  
            Don't miss this one!)

David Talbot, "Democracy Held Hostage," Salon.com.  9/29/01.  "We are fighting for freedom -- including the right to vigorously debate.  But the war fever crowd wants us all to march in step.

Stanley Hoffmann, "On the War," The New York Review, November 1, 2001.

Worthy Websites

The National Whistleblowers Center (www.whistleblowers.org).  Late in February, we saw a C-SPAN broadcast of a panel of whistleblowers, sponsored by this organization.  Very provocative and disturbing.  

Urban Legends ( www.snopes2.com/index.html ) .  A terrific collection of "urban legends" from many sources and in numerous categories, identified as to their likely veracity.   Highly recommended!

Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities ( www.businessleaders.org ).  Yes, there are a few savvy businesspersons who are well aware that there is no prosperity on a ruined planet, and that a nation's economic health is based upon just distributions and cooperative effort.  Here is a good place to find them.

World Policy Institute ( www.worldpolicy.org ).  A fine liberal "think tank" (yes, there are a few -- a very few), centered at the New School University in New York City.  We ran across this one on CSPAN.

"Green Gas?"

Petroleum is the leading consumer-purchased source of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions.  (Coal, primarily from electric power generating plants, produces more greenhouse gases).  Since most of us cannot avoid using at least some gasoline for vehicle fuel, what is the eco-conscious driver to do?  

The question has long been on our mind, and now the Sierra Club publication, Sierra, offers us some guidance -- sort of.  In a recent issue of Sierra ("Pick Your Poison"), the leading gasoline retailers are profiled, according to their refining records, their stance on global warming, their record of environmental and human rights abuses, and their "green initiatives."  The authors do not "rank" the brands, leaving that task to the reader who must then assign his or her own "weight" to the four factors.

While we urge our readers to examine the article for themselves, here, for what it is worth, is our conclusion.  Highest marks go to Sunoco, which, unfortunately, is not sold in our region (California).  However, Tosco scores well, and is available under the "Circle K" and "76" brands.  Unfortunately, Tosco is expected to be purchased soon by Phillips Petroleum, which has a poor environmental record.

Of the "majors," British Petroleum (AMOCO and ARCO) appears to be the "least bad" -- I can't bring myself to say "the best." 

"Selective purchasing" by an appreciable number of eco-sensitive and informed customers just might steer some of these corporate giants toward environmentally responsible behavior.

Higher Education, Inc.

"The Kept University" by Eval Press and Jennifer Washburn, in the March 2000 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.  The title-page blurb" reads, "commercially sponsored research is putting at risk the paramount value of higher education -- disinterested inquiry.  Even more alarming..., universities themselves are behaving more and more like for-profit companies."  In response, the authors conclude, the universities should establish "new guidelines designed to preserve academic freedom in all their interactions with industry."  They continue:

These could include forbidding professors from having direct financial ties to the companies sponsoring their research; banning universities themselves from investing in these companies; prohibiting publication delays of more than thirty to sixty days and any other editorial constraints; and minimizing proprietary restrictions on basic research tools.  In addition, universities could no more to make the case of preserving public support for higher education while refusing to tailor either the research agenda of the curriculum to the needs of industry.  "The best reason for supporting the college and the university," [Richard] Hofstadter wrote, "lies not in the services they can perform, vital though such services may be, but in the values they represent.  The ultimate criterion of the place of higher learning in America will be the extent to which tit is esteemed not as a necessary instrument of external ends, but as an end in itself."

On a similar theme, David Noble writes in "Digital Diploma Mills:"

. . .  at the very outset of this new age of higher education, the lines have already been drawn in the struggle which will ultimately determine its shape.  On the one side university administrators and their myriad commercial partners, on the other those who constitute the core relation of education: students and teachers... It is no accident, then, that the high-tech transformation of higher education is being initiated an implemented from the top down, either without any student and faculty involvement in the decision-making or despite it.

Ironically, this protest against the "digitilization of learning" can be acquired immediately, through the internet.  We highly recommend it.  (Digital Diploma Mills, David Noble).


"Sustainability" -- Some Reflections

Comments prepared for a workshop
sponsored by the Lake Superior Bi-National Forum
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan/Ontario, January, 1995

The concept of "sustainability" is deceptively simple on the surface: i.e., "more of the same, indefinitely into the future." A closer look reveals several fundamental problems in the concept. Even so, a theory of "sustainability" is essential to viable environmental policy.

Anticipatory critiques and rebuttals:

  • While indigenous cultures (e.g., Native Americans) provide valuable lessons in sustainable adaptation to the natural environment, it is neither possible nor desirable to abandon all advantages to civilized life to return to conditions to pre-industrial life. Our numbers are too great, and our technology has so transformed the Earth that "we can not go home again."

  • "Cornucopian economists" such as Herman Kahn and Julian Simon reject the concept of "sustainability" on the grounds that there is no practical limit to the capacity of human beings to solve emerging environmental problems, and that natural resources "are not finite in any economic sense" (Simon). Accordingly, it is claimed that growth and progress can be perpetual, without any concern for maintaining a supporting resource base. This position is totally untenable in the face of basic physical and ecological principles. Even so, "cornucopian economics" is the prevailing model of politicians and policy-makers today.  (See "Perilous Optimism," this site).

  • The popular concept of "sustainable development" — a compromise between environmentalism ("sustainable") and commerce ("development") — may be oxymoronic. If "development" means perpetual grown in resource consumption and population, then such "development" can not be sustained. Instead, "development" must be conceived as qualitative change. conjoined with quantitative diminution of resource use and waste disposal..

"Sustainability," then, must be regarded as "perpetual qualitative improvement within limits defined by fundamental physical and biotic principles."

This concept bears the following implications:

  • Consumption of depletable resources (e.g., fossil fuels) is acceptable only if the consequences (e.g., pollution) are monitored and compensated for, and if research is directed to finding and utilizing sustainable replacements (e.g., solar energy).

  • Resource policy should be directed to the eventual use of "interest-bearing resources" which sustain human populations on surplus production, while maintaining an undepleted "capital" of productivity. (The prime example, of course, is the sustenance of indigenous peoples in the Amazon rain forest, or the great plains of North America)

  • "Development" must be understood to mean qualitative improvement rather than quantitative growth.

  • A sustainable economy must be conservative, first in the medical sense — "first do no harm," and then as an application of "Commoner's Law" — "nature knows best." Incidentally, such an economy stands in stark contrast to the exploitative, free-market economic politics which adopts the label of "conservatism." From the perspective of physical-biotic principles, such so-called "conservatism" is in fact, radically destructive.

  • If we elect to combine enduring advantages of civilized life with a sustainable economy, then we are committed to the maintenance of an appropriate "knowledge base." This means that scientific research, archiving, and education must be generously supported. But scientific knowledge, and knowledge combined with humane values ("wisdom"), must take precedence over application (technology). We must, in short, "look" and evaluate before we "leap."

  • If democratic institutions are to be sustained in this "sustainable" civilized condition, then "education" must be understood to include such informal but pervasive sources of attitudes and (mis)information as the public mass-media, as well as the emerging telecommunication technologies. These media are currently dominated by commercial interests which are driving the unsustainable consumptive and egocentric life-styles of the so-called "free-market economies." Unless and until alternative and sustainable life-styles are exemplified and celebrated in the public media, there is little prospect for ecologically rational reform and progress toward a sustainable global community.

Copyright 1995, by Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .