Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Lecture Topics

Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

A Dim View of Libertarianism

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

The Ecology Project

For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

Notes from the Brink
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Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession




Short Takes

Brief Observations on Politics and Economics


Yes, yes, we know that politicians lie to us. It’s part of the job description.

Even so, we can still be amazed when the lies are transparent and obvious to the most modest intelligence. Bad enough that the politicians are mendacious. Still worse when they take us to be fools.

Three cases-in-point:

The Shrub’s behavior on September 11. When told of the hit on the World Trade Center, Bush paused briefly, and then resumed his reading of "The Lazy Caterpillar" to the children. First things first! (And who can forget that idiotic expression on his face when Andrew Card told him the news). Later, Bush said that he saw the first impact on TV – hours before a tape of that event was located and broadcast. But let that pass.

Now here’s the capper: When the kids finally let him go, Bush boarded Air Force One and commenced a meandering journey to Mississippi, and thence a bunker in Nebraska. And why didn’t he go straight toward Washington, DC? Because, we were told, the White House and (get this!) Air Fore One had been targeted!

Aw, c’mon, give us a break!

Bin Laden’s sneaky messages. Condy Rice "requested" that the Osama bin Laden tapes not be shown on TV. The networks all complied without a note of dissent or a moment of hesitation.

And why? Because, we were told, OBL might be sending "secret messages" to his troops in the USA. Never mind that he could do so without difficulty through the internet, or that his entire message was available, in the original Arabic, through Al Jazeera TV, available to anyone in the US with an old-fashioned "large dish" receiver.

Yet we are asked to imagine OBL saying, upon hearing of Condi’s edict, "Curses! Now we can’t send any more messages to our Al Qaeda cells. I guess we’ll have to shut down the whole operation now. Oh, those clever Americans!"

"Kenny-Boy WHO?"   In a clumsy attempt to dodge the Enron scandal, Bush claimed first that Enron CEO Ken Lay supported his opponent, Ann Richards, in the 1994 Governor's race, and then that he only became acquainted with Lay after that election.  In fact, as the record clearly shows, while Lay gave a token pittance to Richards' campaign, he gave at least eight times as much to the Bush effort in 1994.  Lay's contributions to Bush's political campaigns go back as far as Bush's run for Congress in 1978.   Again, its in the public record, which Bush somehow hopes and expects that we will all overlook.

The GOP spins, and the media accept uncritically, the slander that Al Gore is a pathological liar -- claiming he invented the internet (he never said that), claiming he "discovered" Love Canal (he never said that), lying about a school incident in Florida (which was in fact true), etc.  (See The Hijacked Election, this site).  Yet Bush's bonafide whoppers are deemed unworthy of press commentary, much less criticism.  Whereupon the media proceeds full speed with their promulgation of a cult of personality that Stalin would envy.

Doesn’t anybody give a damn?

Are You Worried Yet?

Look at the broad definition of "terrorist" [George Bush] has established for himself [in his military order of November 13].  He can get you if "there is reason to believe" (and Bush would be the one doing the believing) you have "engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit, acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation thereof, that have caused, threaten to cause, or have as their aim to cause, injury to or adverse effects on the United States, its citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy."  And if there's reason to believe that you "knowingly harbored" such a person, you're also toast.

But the order does not precisely define these "acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation thereof."  Conceivably, non-U.S. citizens who are protesting the U. S. war on Afghanistan, or demonstrating against the World Bank and IMF, or objecting to sanctions on Iraq could be labeled terrorists, since Bush may say he has "reason to believe" the are aiming to affect U. S. foreign policy in an adverse way.  He has given himself the  power to arbitrarily apprehend, try, convict, and execute any number of people.

Editorial Comment, The Progressive
January 8, 2002

...In [Nazi] Germany some legal court procedures were observed -- for non-Jews.  In our country [the Soviet Union] people were executed immediately after a fifteen-minute meeting of a troika summary court. And sometimes without one.  My uncle was executed on December 20, 1937, and his sentence was passed on December 31.  I've read dozens of cases dealing with members of the Comintern, colleagues of my father.  All of them had fifteen-minute trials followed by execution.  there was an amazing resemblance between the two punitive bureaucracies -- the SS and the NKVD -- both in how they were above the law and how their officials were selected.

Elena Bonner (widow of Andrei Sakharov)
Accepting the Hannah Arendt Award
New York Review of Books, March 8, 2001


Reflections on 9/11

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, 
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(W. B. Yeats).

Like most of you, I am sure, since September 11, I have lived from day to day with the feeling that there is some cold stone in the pit of my stomach – in a mixed state of sadness, rage and dread. 

Every time I see again images of those guided-missile airliners, and those blazing and collapsing towers, some primitive defensive mechanism within my psyche attempts to demote that TV screen to a scene in a Bruce Willis movie. It won't do.  It all really happened, and wishing can not erase it from history or memory.  And I simply can not banish from my mind a contemplation of the unspeakable horror faced by those innocent passengers in the final minutes of their lives, immediately followed by the agony of those doomed souls on the upper floors of the towers.

The rough estimate of fatalities is about three thousand. An abstract number, and qua abstraction, another opportunity for emotional numbing. But now the remorseless media are introducing us to us a sequence of persons included in that sum. In the coverage of the memorial service at "Ground Zero" the camera panned over the audience of surviving relatives, and their photos of their lost fathers, mothers, and children. And now, there are those interviews with the survivors. The numbers are transformed into a sequence of lives – individual and irreplaceable clusters of loves, hopes, aspirations, loyalties, faith – cut short in an instant. It is too much to bear.

What kind of evil, twisted, hateful individuals could possibly contemplate, much less carry out, such an atrocity? Words fail. "You miserable, rotten, bastards! May you burn in Hell for a thousand eternities." Does it help to utter such words? No, not really.

Those who aimed the aircraft-bombs are forever beyond our justice and our vengeance. But who financed them, and who planned these atrocities? To whom are we to direct our justified rage? We do not know for certain, but surely not the Afghans who are likewise victims of the fanatics who oppress them. To his credit, George Bush has taken pains to disassociate the religion of Islam from culpability, and we agree, albeit with some qualifications.  (See the final section of our November editorial, "Warriors of the Lord").

And so there remains among most of us a huge fund of free-floating rage, and that can be political dynamite.  Rage demands attachment to a culprit, and lacking same, can fall upon the innocent, as the Japanese-Americans were to discover soon after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

Reason and justice are also routine victims of rage. Thus we can forget that manifestly unjustified atrocities are nonetheless, not without cause and motivation, however malignant. If we are to confront and eventually defeat this evil of international terrorism, we must soberly understand and deal with those causes and motives.

Finally, for Attorney General John Ashcroft and the ninety-eight Senators who voted for the "USA PATRIOT" anti-terrorism bill, some words from  Bertrand Russell: "We hate [our enemies] because they do not allow liberty; this we feel so strongly that we have decided to imitate them." (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1950).

Time to Bring Back the Teach-Ins!

The sense of frustration is palpable!

Our blessed Republic, long the beacon of decency and liberty in the world, has become an international outlaw.  

And also a domestic outlaw.  Henry Kissinger reportedly once said that "we can't allow the Chileans to elect a Socialist President."   The Supreme Court of the United States, bestowed with the awesome responsibility of protecting our Constitutional liberties and the rule of law, has brought the Kissinger doctrine home.  They have told is, in effect, that we can't be allowed to elect a Democratic President. And so, they have put the law and the will of the people aside and have selected a President for us.  (Hyperbole?  See our "Day of Infamy" and "We Dissent").

This is the most portentous development in our body politic since the Civil War.  But don't expect the media to report it to us. 

So do we just sit helplessly on the sidelines, while the American democracy is taken from us?

Not if just a few of us (to begin with) decide to do something about it.

A generation ago, we were engaged in an immoral war, which the press hid from us in a pack of lies and (more effectively) a thick fog of triviality and irrelevancy.

Then some genius thought of the "teach-in." -- Spontaneous gatherings, generally on campuses, of the few individuals who knew what the Hell was going on in "'Nam."  Here and there, a few drops of precious truths fell on the frozen landscape of public indifference.  Those drops grew to rivulets, then streams, then eventually a flood that swept away the wall of lies, the arrogant Texan-President, and finally ended that damnable war.  

The White House, the Media, and the corporate structure is in the hands of the usurpers.  All the progressive opposition has is The Truth.  And that may quite enough if, once again, the truth is proclaimed from campus to market-place.  It worked before, and it may work again.

"Truth, crushed to Earth, will rise again!"


"I Don' t Want Big Government in My Medicine Cabinet!"

Thus saith "Flo" in the TV ad, sponsored by the "Citizens for Better Medicare."

"Citizens. . . "?

If you can believe that "plain-folks citizens" are behind that advocacy ad, I have some patent medicine (unapproved by the FDA) I'd like to sell you.

In fact, "Citizens" is a coalition of prescription drug companies. Damned few "citizens" in evidence here. This is "Harry and Louise" Redux.

The correct completion of Flo's outburst is: "... I'd prefer to have Big Industry in my medicine cabinet." That's the only alternative to the much-derided "Big Gummint."

The inherent evil of "Big Gummint" is the one point on which all Republican politicians  can agree upon. And the point has been made with sufficient force, that most Democrats (defending the political position formerly known as "Moderate Republican") are scrambling to climb aboard that bandwagon. Opposition to Big Gummint has become common-sense conventional wisdom.

Before we thus proceed to dismantle our government, we urge some reflection. For what is the alternative to "big government"? The answer, of course, is "big commerce." Make no mistake, the good folks at Pfizer and Hoffmann LaRoche and Bristol-Meyers and such work for their stockholders and for themselves, not for us. Unlike "big government," if we don't like the way those folks are treating us, we can' t vote them out of office. We've been down this road before. Unregulated commerce gave us narcotics in our cough medicine, patent cures that did not cure, tainted food, fraudulent products, fly-by-night financial services.

The remedy? The Food and Drug Administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Trade Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission -- in short, "BIG GUMMINT!"

As that tried-and-true New England rule advises, "don't tear down a wall until you understand why it was put up."

(For more on this subject, see "Kill the Umpire,"
and "Mr. Delay Goes to Washington," this site).


You can fool some of the people all of the time, and
 you can fool all of the people some of the time,
but you can't fool Mother Nature.

The Gadfly (with homage to A. Lincoln)

Everybody is entitled to his own beliefs,
but not to his own facts.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan


If the Bush administration continues on its present course, it is certain to fail spectacularly, sooner or later. This consequences is ordained, not by public opinion, not by the ballot box, but by the circumstances of nature.

Bush's public relations geniuses and his allies in the media might together succeed in convincing every last one of us that we can carry on forever with our constantly increasing consumption of natural resources, and that we can continue to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without consequence. But they are wrong. Not because of public opinion, but because of the inexorable facts and laws of nature. Bush and Cheney's policies can not add a single cupful of raw petroleum to what now exists below the earth's surface. Bush's supporters in Congress may enact and repeal statutory laws as they wish, but they cannot repeal fundamental laws of atmospheric chemistry that have been discovered and validated by scientists throughout the world, and which tell us that global warming is certain if we continue on the present course of energy consumption. And no amount of neo-classical economic soft soap can wash away the stark fact that without buyers, there are no markets, and without markets, a national economy collapses. And this will be the eventual result if our national wealth continues to flow from the majority of us who produce the wealth to the privileged few who own it.

The Bush team is quite astonishingly and dangerously devoid of intellectual curiosity, and quite unburdened by self-doubts. In the June 18 issue of The American Prospect, Robert Reich makes the point with admirable clarity: 

The Bushies simply don't care what anyone else thinks. They feel under no compulsion to respond to facts and arguments, summoned by distinguished scientists, academicians, policy experts, or journalists that show how wrongheaded they are. They figure that if they stick to their script, reiterating the same illlogic and perpetrating the same deception, the public will come around to seeing the world their way, eventually. The overall strategy is to eschew reasoned debate ... and just keep pushing. 

Pride (hubris), the deadliest of the deadly sins, surely goeth before a fall. And when our government falls, we all fall with it.

"Distinguished" Economist Flunks Geography One. 

Is the expanding human population running out of space? Not to worry, says Walter Williams, Distinguish Professor of Economics at George Mason University, in a 1993 NPR commentary ("All Things Considered").  He then proclaimed: 

If we put every American in Texas there'd be room for each family of four to have nearly three acres of land. In fact, the entire world's population could be put into Alaska, California and Texas and each person could enjoy more than one-tenth of an acre of land.

Let's stipulate that the professor's math is correct. (A simple problem: find the areas in question, convert to acres, and divide by six billion). Are these figures reassuring?   Not if we figure in the amount of land needed to support that hypothetical American family of four residing on those three acres of land (or 3/4 acres per capita).

What additional land? For starters, there is the land:

that produces the food they eat, 
that collects the rainfall (i.e., the watershed) that is consumed by the family
that yields the forest products (wood and paper) in the house and furnishings
that yields the raw mineral resources contained in their consumer products,
that is required to manufacture these products from the raw material resources
that produces and transmits the energy that they consume
that supports the services (government, education, health care) that sustain their standard of living

The total land required to support a person at a given standard of living has been dubbed by Wackernagel and Rees as "the ecological footprint." They calculate that the ecological footprint of the average US citizen at the present standard of living is 12.6 acres (5.1 hectares). In contrast, the "footprint" of the average (Asian) Indian is one acre. The world average per-capita footprint is 4.4 acres. (Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, Our Ecological Footprint, New Society Publishers, p. 85, 89. In the book, the area data is given in hectares, here converted to acres).

Then it gets still worse. Wackernagel and Rees write: "if everybody on Earth enjoyed the same ecological standards as [the US and Canada], we would require three Earths to satisfy aggregate material demand, using prevailing technology." (Ibid, p. 89).

In short, each of us requires far more land than we happen to reside upon. But you knew that all along, didn't you? But did you really appreciate just how much "more land" that might be?

To Prof. Williams, we would repeat the advice of Mephistopheles to Faust, in the Gounod opera: "vous avez besoin, cher Docteur, a retournez a l'école." – "Dear Doctor, you need to go back to school."

We have much more to say about such about this in our essay with the self-explanatory title,
"Perilous Optimism."


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 .