Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
www.igc.org/gadfly

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Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

 

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For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

NO MO PO MO
    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

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Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession
"

 

 

 

PUBLIC SPEAKING TOPICS


Abstracts of topics follows this list

(Speaking Fee: $500 per diem, Plus Travel and Expenses)


This list of speaking topics, which has been spectacularly unproductive of results, is long overdue for a revision -- a neglect which I intend to remedy soon. (EP, 9/2009)


Environmental Ethics:

Reconstructing Ecology

On the Rights of Future Generations

Holes in the Cornucopia

With Liberty and Justice for Some

In Search of Sustainable Values

What is the Future Worth Today? 

The Foundations of Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic

Are We Capable of an Ecological Morality?\

Environmental Responsibility: The Burden of Progress

Environmental Policy-Making by the Numbers

The Value of Wilderness and Other Useless Things

Public Policy:

On Civic Friendship

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Armageddon.

The Rights and Wrongs of Animal Liberation

Critical Thinking, and the Duty to be Rational.

 


ABSTRACTS

Reconstructing Ecology

Answers recent attacks on such cherished ecological concepts as "stability," "equilibrium," "integrity" and "community," by such biologists as Michael Soule, Daniel Botkin, and by the philosopher Mark Sagoff. Granted, many "classical ecologists" have overstated these concepts. However, the opposing account of nature as a chaotic "hodgepodge" of coexisting species is indefensible. Evolution presupposes order, stability, and symbiosis among species, albeit within a condition of constant change. Ecological theory is falsifiable and predictive, and employs valid classification schemes. Finally, normative terms such as "ecosystemic health" and "integrity" are meaningful.

 

On the Rights of Future Generations

The "rights," at time-present, of future persons have been dismissed on the grounds that future persons are non-actual, indeterminate as individuals, and incapable of making claims against present persons.   I reply that these arguments correctly refute some categories of moral rights of future generations, namely so-called active rights to choose to do, or refrain from doing, certain things.  However, future generations have passive rights claims (e.g., of non-malfeasance) upon the present generation.  Some policy implications of this conclusion.

 

Holes in the Cornucopia

Secure in their confidence in neo-classical economic theory, many economists believe that human ingenuity combined with the profit motive can overcome any and all future environmental problems, and that human population and consumption can grow forever. In the words of a principle defender of this view, Julian Simon, ""There is no reason to believe that at any given moment in the future the available quantity of any natural resource or service at present prices will be much smaller than it is now, or non-existent...We now have in our hands in our libraries, really the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years... We [are] able to go on increasing forever." Although this optimistic view is overwhelmingly rejected by informed scientific opinion, it should nonetheless be taken very seriously for the simple reason that the political-economic paradigm of endless resources and constant growth dominates the thinking of those who establish and implement governmental and corporate policies throughout the developed world.  Nonetheless, "cornucopism" is fundamentally flawed, in that (a) it disregards fundamental scientific facts about ecology and other environmental sciences, (b) it regards nature as a mechanical rather than a systemic order, (c) it disregards the economic significance of "biological services," and (d) it totally ignores the significance of the fundamental physical principle of entropy.

 

With Liberty and Justice for Some

A critique of libertarianism, with particular attention to libertarian policies regarding environmental pollution. Libertarians argue that the natural environment will be best protected if it is privatized, and if environmental degradation and pollution are regarded as "assaults" upon the lives, liberty and property of free and equal citizens, best dealt with in courts of law. History discloses why unrestricted free markets and individual rights are inadequate to the task of protecting the natural environment. Prominent among these reasons are: (a) unregulated privatism leads to "the tragedy of the commons" -- personal gain at the externalized cost of degrading such natural resources as the common atmosphere, oceans, nutrient cycles, wildlife, etc. (b) Libertarians regard politically and morally well-ordered social orders as "free gifts" to which nothing is owed (e.g. in taxation) for their maintenance. (c) The libertarian solution is reactive rather than proactive, and "an ounce of (environmental) prevention is worth a pound of cure." (d) Rather than eliminating "big government interference," the libertarian solution of "courts and torts" presupposes an equally large and intrusive judicial (and thus governmental) apparatus. (e) In cases of "contributory assaults" and "statistical casualties," claims for environmental damages proven beyond reasonable doubt can nonetheless fail in courts of law. These considerations, for example, have allowed the tobacco companies to win every injury case brought against them. (f) Under the libertarian scheme "equal justice under law" is abolished, as overwhelming advantage accrues to the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the unrepresented -- the poor, non-human animals, the very young and old, and future generations.

In Search of Sustainable Values

Neo-classical economic theory, and in particular its application to public policy-making cost -benefit analysis, interprets social values in economic terms put bluntly, in terms of money. In the words of two economists, "the benefit of any good or service is simply it value to a consumer," and "anything that can be valued instrumentally... can in principle be handled by economics, be it friendship or love." Despite the considerable attraction to policy makers of the monetization of values, this theory and practice has pernicious results. Most of all, it strips all values of their moral quality, it devalues civic loyalty, and it discounts long-term commitment to the welfare of the natural environment and future generations.

 

What is the Future Worth Today?

Can we truly care about the remote future, inhabited by individuals who will live long after we have departed, with values we likely do not share? If we do care, how is this possible? And yet, since we can knowingly and significantly affect the future for better or for worse, how can we evade responsibility for our legacy to future generations? I argue that to the degree which we "trash" nature and future, we morally and emotionally impoverish ourselves. Thus, in a strange and paradoxical sense, future generations can psychologically "reward" us for our provision in their behalf. The presentation closes with policy recommendations in behalf of future generations, and by implication in behalf or ourselves.

 

Foundations of Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic

Aldo Leopold gave the world a unique and timely view of humanity's place in, and responsibility to, the nature which produced and which sustains our species. He did so with extraordinary eloquence, and from the perspective of a distinguished life scientist. But while Leopold's "Land Ethic" is one of the founding documents of modern environmental ethics, it is not, strictly speaking, a philosophical work. This presentation is a philosopher's attempt to identify and to assess the fundamental concepts and assumptions of Leopold's Land Ethic.

 

Are We Capable of an Ecological Morality?

The environmental movement proclaims and ethic of responsibility toward nature and the remote future. However, such an ethic assumes a capacity to recognize and to make the sacrifices required to meet these responsibilities: "ought implies can." Unfortunately, there is abundant evidence today that most individuals and institutions have extraordinary capacities to evade their responsibilities as members of the ecological community of the planet. Nonetheless, I argue that, in theory at least, human beings can care enough about their planet and the future of their species, to act in a morally appropriate manner toward both. However, such a realization requires an heroic commitment by political and social institutions, along with virtuoso feats of moral education. At the moment, the prospects are not promising. Even so, I propose a program to morally arm ourselves and our fellow citizens to meet our planetary responsibilities.

 

Environmental Responsibility: The Burden of Progress

The advancement of human knowledge through the sciences, and of human capacity through technology, have brought us to a time in our history at which we can no longer deny responsibility to nature or to the future. Technology has made both nature and the future vulnerable to our policies and activities, and science has made us aware of these vulnerabilities. And with capacity, choice, and knowledge along with anticipated impacts upon the rights and welfare of present and future persons, necessarily comes moral responsibility. Even so, many scientists, scholars, technologists, and even public policy-makers, attempt to evade evaluation, and thus responsibility, by claiming that their disciplines are "objective" and "value-free." The most troubling aspect of this claim is that it is a "half-truth," and the that truthful half is based on quite correct assumptions. The remaining half and its troubling implications are given close, critical scrutiny.

 

Environmental Policy-Making by the Numbers

To a significant degree, public policy-making has been captured by "green-eyeshade" cost-accountants and economists who propose to settle policy decisions "by the numbers" -- that is to say, by quantifying values in monetary terms, then comparing the cash gains and losses in the alternative options. This method has the apparent advantage of being "objective," in that it reflects the manifest values of the citizens, and as such the method is regarded by its proponents as "value neutral." In rebuttal, I will argue that, rather than being "value-free," standard "cost-benefit policy analysis" presupposes an ethical theory that is not only controversial, but contrary to fundamental ethical and political principles of our civilization.

 

The Value of Wilderness and Other Useless Things

Defenders of Wilderness have often made the grave tactical error of "playing by the opponent's rules." The "opponents," in this case are the so-called "anthropocentrists" who hold that the only justification in preserving wilderness is its value to human beings, and that, conversely, whenever such land is found to be more "useful" if it is developed, the wilderness should "yield" to human needs. While, the preservationist is, of course, entitled to defend wilderness in terms of it's "uses" and values to human beings, he all too often feels constrained to limit his arguments to such anthropocentric values. If he does, he will likely lose the debate. Some "non-anthropocentric" arguments for wilderness preservation are offered -- arguments which suggest that, paradoxically, to the degree to which wilderness is regarded as valuable in itself, to that degree it may become valuable to us.

On Civic Friendship

Though the United States is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation-state, it does not suffer from the tribal turmoil found in other countries with diverse populations. We enjoy domestic tranquility because we share fundamental concepts of justice a "civic friendship." However, our "well-ordered society" is being eroded by a competing conception, that of "the private society" composed of autonomous, self-serving individuals. The contrast between these competing conceptions of society, which roughly define what are popularly called, respectively, "liberalism" and "conservatism," is exemplified in most of the public and political issues of the moment. 


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Armageddon.

How lucky it is that we are all alive today! The ideological fixations and institutional imperatives of the Cold War bred a collective irrationality which led both sides perilously close to mutual annihilation -- all in the name, paradoxically, of "national defense." The means of "deterrence" became itself a far greater threat than the hypothetical aggression which it was designed to deter. In defense of this claim, particular attention is given to the "Korean Airline Incident" of 1983. Only with the end of the "Cold War" can we begin to face the fact, and the implications, of our collective irrationality.


The Rights and Wrongs of Animal Liberation

Much of the program of the "animal liberation movement" is morally commendable. The treatment of our fellow creatures at many scientific laboratories and at industrialized farms, demands moral concern and remedial action. However, "animal liberation," like all movements devoted to a single principle, flirts with a fanaticism which shouts down qualifications and reservations from competing moral concerns. In this case, the attempt of animal rights advocates to elevate the moral status of non-human species, succeeds instead in devaluing humanity. And their attempts to devise an "environmental ethic" ignore fundamental ecological principles as they focus, not on the integrity of ecosystems, but on the welfare of the constituent individuals of those systems.

 

Critical Thinking, and the Duty to be Rational.

It is generally assumed that critical intelligence is an essential component of education, and a significant requirement for the maintenance of a free society and a democratic government. Yet numerous fortunes have been gained, and elective offices won, on the assumption (in the words of H. L. Mencken) that "nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public." In fact, the low intellectual sales-resistance of our students and our fellow citizens is not only a national embarrassment, it is a threat to our free institutions. But it is a condition which can be remedied by proven methods of education and principles of rational thinking. Given the stakes, it is the clear responsibility of the educator, and the informed citizen, to teach, to promote and to practice critical thinking.

 


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 .