Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011,
2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

Before 2004

I offer below, random musings, reflections, correspondence, scraps of work-in-progress, and other such miscellany, perchance worth sharing but not ready for the prime time of formal publication.  

Much of this material  has been adapted from personal e-mail correspondence. While I am perfectly free to use, revise and expand on my side of these exchanges, use of the "incoming" correspondence is problematic. I have neither the right nor the inclination to include the words of my correspondents if they can be identified either by name or description.

If I am confident that the correspondents can not be identified and if their part of the exchange is essential to the exchange, then I might quote them directly. Otherwise, their ideas will be briefly paraphrased, only to supply context to my part of these conversations. In no case will I identify the correspondents by name.

On the other hand, signed letters to The Crisis Papers and The Online Gadfly are fair game as are other comments published in the internet. They were submitted with the clear understanding that they, and their signatories, might be made public.

Incoming correspondence will be identified by italics. My contributions will be in plain text.


February 18, 2013

An Admirer of the Late Rev. Walter Martin asks if I am the same Ernest Partridge who appeared on the Long John Nebel Show in the Sixties.

Yep, the same!

I only met Walter Martin at John Nebel's table. Maybe three or four times. Our discussions were always very "spirited".

For more about my views on religion, follow this link and especially the links at the bottom of the essay.  
The "evangelical minister" referred to at the beginning of "One Nation, Under God, Divisible," was, of course, Walter Martin.

If you are in Walter Martin's camp on religion, you won't like what you read in these essays.

But I am not embarrassed -- I believe what I believe, and I have arrived at these beliefs after long study.

(He says he recently wondered: "out of the blue ...what time it is on the sun. I thought that was an interesting question. I still don't know what time it is on the sun. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd imagine it's 4:38 p.m. since that's the time it is in New York City.")

About "time on the sun."

I believe that the question was posed by Ludwig Wittgenstein to illustrate that not all questions have answers -- some are meaningless.

It is NO "time" ("O'clock") on the sun. Time is determined by position on the [Earth] relative to the sun.

Thus: "What is the sun's position relative to the sun" is meaningless.

So how could an astronomer say that "there was a solar flare on the sun at 6 P.M. yesterday"?

Simply by arbitrarily assigning some Earth time to the event. By scientific convention, this is GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), i.e. London time.

Hope this clears this up for you.

Here are a few more meaningless questions:

What is located ten miles north of the North Pole?

What color is an atom?

How much does a thought weight?

Where is the Pythagorean Theorem located?

Where was the present King of France born? (Bertrand Russell)

March 2, 2013

A young student in Belgium asks for my views regarding the 9/11 attacks.

Regarding 9/11 conspiracy theories, I don’t have much to add to my essay “The 9/11 Conspiracy, a Skeptic’s View.” http://gadfly.igc.org/politics/crisis/911skeptic.htm . (See also the “Prefatory Remarks” and the replies to critics that follow the essay).

With time and further reflection (but little additional study) I find that I am less skeptical of the Official Version of 9/11 and more skeptical of the conspiracy theories. The World Trade Center towers were struck and brought down by two airliners piloted by terrorists. There was no controlled demolition. The Pentagon was also struck by an airliner. Was the Bush/Cheney administration behind these attacks"? Probably not. Did they take political advantage of these attacks? Sadly, yes.

I still maintain that the conspiracy theories fail “the David Hume test:” The probability of the conspiracy theories being correct is far less than the probability of the official version being correct. For details, see my essay.

A reader of my website sent me a copy of one of David Ray Griffin’s books, which I read in part. I was so unimpressed by his argument – most of all, by his unwillingness to consider contrary evidence to his theories – that I decided that finishing the book would be a waste of time. Griffin’s theories contain an abundance of “ad hoc hypotheses” – allegations and suggestions that are assumed true, with no independent evidence, simply to support his conclusions.

There is no single “American” opinion of 9/11. There are many and varied opinions, of which Griffin’s is one of the many. However, I suspect that a majority of Americans who have thought seriously about these events are inclined to accept the official version and to reject the conspiracy theories. But that is just my suspicion. If you search further, you will likely find public opinion surveys regarding that question.

You may find more information if you follow some of the web links in my essay and the replies, though with time many of these links have since been broken.

I hope this has been helpful.

March 28

Response to "Farewell to Mormonism: No Regrests."

You might also be interested in my piec3:  Romney, Mormonism and "The Religious Test."  Should there be a “religious test” for public office (contra the Constitution of the USA)? Short answer: “it depends.” If one’s religious convictions prompts one to violate his or her oath of office to uphold he Constitution, then that person is unqualified for the office. It’s the policies, not the religious affiliation, that is the key. I have no problem with “cafeteria Catholics” like the Kennedys, or with sophisticated Mormons like my late friend, Wayne Owens or Scott Matheson or John Huntsman. But surely, we would not want to vote for a “Reconstructionist Christian” who advocates Old Testament Mosaic law, which calls for capital punishment for disobedient children, blasphemers, and those who toil on the Sabbath. Where Romney would stand with regard to the oath of office is unclear, as I suspect he intended it to be.

Also unclear is how the Mormon authorities came to the conclusion that God is a Republican, and that market fundamentalism is God’s plan. This despite the fact that the early church came close to endorsing pure Communism in The United Order.

As a long-time member of the Wasatch Mountain Club and the Sierra Club, I fully endorse your environmental work in Utah, where I have explored hundreds of miles of trails and rivers.

And speaking of “large carnivores,” we have two in the house: Alaskan and a Siberian huskies, that somehow manage to peacefully co-exist.


August 1.

To an economist, regarding "perfect markets" and other fictions.

First of all, here is a link to that article by Bill Black: It won’t tell you anything that you don’t know already, but it is is a great item to assign your students, as I would if I were still teaching.

The key paragraph, to my mind, is on the second page (print version) and begins with “Except, and even neoclassical economists....” He then lists fifteen reasons why “the claim that [regulatory rules] harm customers” is false. However that paragraph makes a much more important and fundamental argument: it proves, to my mind, that there is not, and can never be, any such thing as a “perfect market.” (Neo-classical economics: the study of the behavior of an imaginary person (homo economicus) in a fictitious environment (the perfect market)).

I hope that my comments about the neo-classicists (“theo-classicals,” as Bill Black calls them) has not conveyed the impression that I am anti-economic or anti-economists. “Some of my best friends are economists.” But more to the point, I can cite a long list of economists that I admire immensely. Among them, the Galbraiths (pere et fils), Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Kenneth Boulding, Georgescu-Roegen, Herman Daly, Robert Costanza, Steven Levitt (and other “behavioral economists”), etc. Granted that there are many disputes among them, but what appears to unite them is that they are all empiricists and pragmatists – i.e., they test and derive their theories and hypotheses from “the real world.” Neo-classicists, and their libertarian acolytes, have an annoying way of imitating medieval scholastics – spinning out elaborate deductive structures from “first principles,” (e.g. the aforementioned “perfect market,” “the invisible hand,” spontaneous generation, utility maximization, etc.). The above is, admittedly, a gross simplification, but it will have to do for now. (Of course, science is not “pure empiricism” as most everyone since Kant has agreed. It has a “hypothetico-deductive” structure which begins and ends empirically. But never mind all that. Cf. Quine, E. Nagel, Popper and Kuhn. Also, my “Is Science Just Another Dogma?”).

I have encountered numerous academic colleagues from various fields who “know about philosophy” and most of what they “know” is wrong (to paraphrase Mark Twain). Some have had damaging impacts on my career. It’s a curse of “interdisciplinary” academic programs. So I am reluctant to make grand pronouncements about economics. And yet, dealing with issues of environmental policy, it is impossible to avoid applied economics. Some economists are easy targets – e.g. Julian Simon. With with others (e.g. Milton Friedman) some caution is in order.

That said, here are a couple of my peer-reviewed and published papers on libertarianism and economic policy. I hope that I have avoided howling errors. Please be charitable, in any case:

“With Liberty for Some”

“In Search of Sustainable Values”

“Perilous Optimism”

Looks like I’ve written that long reply after all. Sometimes when I start writing, it is difficult to stop.

Looking forward to continuing our conversation.

August 18, 2014

More about "Disequilibrium Ecology."

I am delighted to learn that my work has not been completely forgotten.

Quite frankly, I am suspicious of "conservationist" appeals to the "aesthetic values" of nature. To be sure, I recognize such values and they are personally very important to me. But they are notoriously difficult to define and even more difficult to confirm. Moreover, they are unquestionably culturally and historically contingent. (See Roderick Nash's
"Wilderness and the American Mind"). So appeals to "aesthetic values" seem to me to have a hint of desperation to them, as if there are no better arguments. (For my views on "natural aesthetics" see "The Tonic of Wildness"

Case-in-point: Mark Sagoff, after defending the radical contention that there is no such thing as an "ecosystem" -- (he writes: "the terms 'eco' and 'system,' when conjoined, constitute an oxymoron") -- looks to a quasi-aesthetic defense of wilderness. (See my "Reconstructing Ecology" for a summary of Sagoff's position and my rebuttal. Follow the references therein for Sagoff's published opinions).

I am interested to hear of Dan Botkin's response. (Botkin was the Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at UC Santa Barbara, when I was there in 1980-2). He seemed to believe at the time that he was promoting some kind of profound heresy by questioning "the balance of nature." But as you know, I came to believe that this was "Much Ado About Nothing." Still, his contribution (notably in his book "Discordant Harmonies) has been significant. Incidentally, while I was at UCSB there was much concern about the pending extinction of the California Condor. The government response was to capture the eggs and then to raise the chicks in captivity and then release. Botkin pointed out, correctly I believe, that this effort was pointless absent an aggressive attempt to preserve the Condor's habitat. This view appears to be concordant with the theme of your thesis.

Conservationists, I believe, "need not worry" about disequilibrium ecology for much more substantial reason than "aesthetics." Having read "Much Ado..." you are familiar with my argument: while it is true that on a "primary" level, there is no settled "balance of nature," there is a second-order stability and harmony in nature. The attempt to preserve a steady state of nature ("wilderness" as a noun) is futile, while policies that preserve the processes of nature ("wildernessing" as a verb) are scientifically informed and constructive. "Much Ado.." is taken from an unpublished paper that deals with disequilibrium ecology at greater length. It is called "Nature for Better or Worse,"
also at my website, "The Online Gadfly."

September 2, 2013

A Conservative Friend passed on an article suggesting that the western wild fires were caused by "Al Qaeda terrorists." My reply:

What was most interesting about this presentation was not what he said, but rather what he didn't say -- perhaps because he couldn't say it.

He presented not one scrap of physical evidence of "fire terrorism" and identified not one single captured suspect, much less one indicted Al Qaeda arsonist. When either are forthcoming, then I will take notice.

Instead, he carelessly gave us the most significant contributing causes these catastrophic fires: accumulation of ground fuel, extremely low humidity, drought, and beetle infestation. All of these causes, except the first, are probably intensified by global warming. So the informed scientists tell us. (But who pays attention to climate scientists any more?)

Add these familiar and undisputed contributing causes, the usual proximate causes -- a cigarette tossed from a car, lightning, spontaneous combustion from organic decay, campfires, non-terrorist arson, etc. -- and you have all the explanation that you need for the increase of disastrous fires.

Is Al Qaeda another cause? Possibly. But evidence is required to deliver that hypothesis. He offered us none. (Oh, what the hell! Never ruin a good story by demanding evidence! The secret of Fox). 

On one point, I am in full agreement: we need much more investment in fire-fighting equipment and personnel. But that means more government involvement and investment, ergo taxes. (QUELLE HORREUR!!)

During the San Bernardino mountain fires of 2003, which very nearly consumed our home (stopped at our property line), tanker aircraft were leased from the Canadians, the US apparently having none. Most of the National Guard troops and equipment were in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gov. Gray Davis (remember him?) requested more federal fire-fighting funds the previous year. Pres. Bush formally refused that request in October 24, 2003. The very next day, "The Old Fire" broke out in the San Bernardino mountains.

More from EP about western fires (The San Bernardino Mountains in particular):

 If it Burns, it Earns.  

The California Wildfires and Right Wing Smoke.

Privatized Hell.

December 8, 2013


(The Libertarians' response, in paraphrase, in italics. As always, without explicit permission I will not disclose the name or directly quote my correspondent).


Who wrote the following?

“We have learned about the importance of private property and the rule of law as a basis for economic freedom. Just after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, I used to be asked a lot: "What do these ex-communist states have to do in order to become market economies?" And I used to say: "You can describe that in three words: privatize, privatize, privatize." But, I was wrong. That wasn't enough. The example of Russia shows that. Russia privatized but in a way that created private monopolies-private centralized economic controls that replaced government's centralized controls. It turns out that the rule of law is probably more basic than privatization. Privatization is meaningless if you don't have the rule of law. What does it mean to privatize if you do not have security of property, if you can't use your property as you want to?”

“To be free is not merely to castoff one's chains, but live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Libertarians understand that freedom is necessary but not sufficient for happiness.

While in Moscow in 1992 (+/- a year), a Russian friend (Professor at MGU – Univ. of Moscow), put it perfectly: “Under communism we had order without freedom, followed by freedom without order, only to discover that without order there is no freedom.”

Those quotes, in order: Milton Friedman and Nelson Mandela.

That final clause by Friedman – “if you can't use your property as you want to?” – points to one of my primary disagreements with libertarianism.

I believe that we both agree with Mill’s “like liberty principle” – that each individual is entitled to maximum freedom consistent with the maximum liberties of others. My complaint is that I don’t believe that libertarians take this principle seriously and consider its full implications.

What if an individual or corporation wants to use his/its property in a manner that harms others? (E.g. the tobacco industry, the chemical industry, the drug industry, etc.). Your answer, as I understand it is “STB – “sue the bastard!” As I have pointed out in some detail, the “courts and torts” solution simply won’t work for several reasons. Neither will “the free market.” History validates this claim. (See my “With Liberty for Some,” published in Environmental Philosophy, ed. Zimmerman et al 2004).

It’s that danged “externalities” problem again. So what is the remedy? Constraint with sanctions by the only agency legitimately established to act in behalf of those unconsenting and uninformed third parties negatively affected by others “using their property as they want to.”

That agency? (Wait for this!) Government, of course – through laws and regulation.

I could go on – and have in the aforementioned publication and elsewhere. But once again, I have no appetite for an extended argument over points that I have already worked on and published.

This is my opinion, and that’s that. If you want elaborations and justifications, you know where to find them

The libertarian solution: internalize the externalities. Enforcement of regulations by government bureaucracies never works out.

So who or what agency will internalize those externalities or require such internalization? With what sanctions against those who choose not to internalize?

What else but rule of law – which is illegitimate if not enacted by government, and impotent if not enforced by government?

I regard the word “bureaucracies” as a “snarl-word” packed with useless connotations. So I don’t use it. If I did, I would concede half my case, which I don’t.

But do you mean to say that government agencies cannot enforce laws and regulations?

Tell that to the drug companies who are required to prove the safety and efficacy of their products. Tell that to the meat packers who are not allowed to sell tainted meat, and face fines and prison if they do. Tell that to to people in prison for failure to pay taxes or who violate securities laws (e.g., Madoff, Milkin, etc.). Seems that time and again, government agencies can do a fine job of enforcing laws (“regimenting matters”). Just saying they “cannot do” this doesn’t make it so.

As for the latter (securities law), there are far too few persons in prison for those offenses. And why? Because the Justice Dept. and the SEC (under both parties) has been captured by the very persons that they should be prosecuting. But this need not be the case, and hasn’t always been so. As history testifies. Remember the savings and loan scandal, which put hundreds of S&L officials in prison? That happened under the Reagan Administration.

Government agencies (“bureaucracies”) can enforce legitimately legislated laws and regulations (“regiment matters”). As history testifies.

I don’t see any other way to “internalize externalities.” The free market? That has been tried and has failed every time. Following which government (as “rule of law” and enforcement of law) has had to step in to fix the market failure. That’s history.

Another of my abiding criticisms of libertarianism (as you can see from the above): ignoring the clear lessons of history.

By the way, if you do take the trouble to read “With Liberty to Some,” first go directly to Section IV, about half way through. That’s where I directly address the “courts and torts” remedy.


Here’s a relevant quotation from Frederick Hayek, regarding morals:

“That freedom is the matrix required for the growth of moral values--indeed not merely one value among many but the source of all values--is almost self-evident. It is only where the individual has choice, and its inherent responsibility, that he has occasion to affirm existing values, to contribute to their further growth, and to earn moral merit.” In F. A. Hayek, “The Moral Element in Free Enterprise,” Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), pp. 230.

“Obedience has moral value only where it is a matter of choice and not of coercion.” (ibid)

“It would be impossible to assert that a free society will always and necessarily develop values of which we would approve, or even…that it will maintain values which are compatible with the preservation of freedom.” (ibid)

I will ponder on Hayek opinion.. Sounds consistent with my oft-published analysis of “responsibility:” implies knowledge, capacity, choice (freedom), and value significance.

However, I have an instinctive aversion to claims of “self-evidence.” In that direction lies dogma.

After all, it is “self evident” that the Earth is flat. Just look outside your window..


Political failures and more likely and more harmful than market failures.


Re: markets and regulations (“political failures”), let this suffice for now. Seems to me that “political failures vs market failures” is a false dichotomy. In a primitive society, economics plausibly preceded politics. If a fisherman bargains with a roof maker to supply a month of fish in return for a repair on the fisherman’s thatch roof, each party will likely abide by the bargain. The informal sanctions will likely guarantee that much, for to renege involves shame, shunning, or even banishment from the village. Even so, if there is a dispute, it will likely be brought before the village elders, which is proto-government.

However, this condition does not apply to literate and industrial societies. In such societies, markets presuppose governments. I understand that libertarians agree, as they stipulate that courts and rule of law are necessary functions of government. But if there are to be courts, there must be established law and means of enforcement. Broadly speaking, markets are plus-sum 2-part/n-part games -- namely, “a cooperative, rule-governed, other-contingent, and goal-directed activity.” (From my “Morality as a Plus Sum Game”).  And in advanced societies all public games require explicit rules and referees. In the market-game, these rules and referees are called “government.” For without that referee and those rules (laws and regulations) and the sanctions against violation – e.g. copyright and patent laws, laws against insider trading and fraud, laws enforcing contracts, etc. – there can be no markets. So remarks like Reagan’s “government is not the solution, government is the problem,” is like the sports fan’s cry “Kill the Umpire!” forgetting that when the umpires leave the field, the game is over. Government is neither the solution or the problem: it is a necessary pre-requisite for market activity. Ergo the proposal of “courts in place of government” is an oxymoron, and, as I noted above, political failures vs market failures is a false dichotomy. Like saying, “my right leg is healthier than my left leg, so I guess I will walk on my right leg only.”

As I have written repeatedly, there are no “perfectly free markets” – no exchanges with total knowledge, numerous buyers and sellers, total trust and honesty, perfect and unconstrained competition, no transaction costs, no externalities, parties in the transactions that have only economic motives (“homo economicus”). Markets generally function better when these conditions are approximated (never fully realized), and such conditions must be applied and enforced externally – i.e., by governments.

Hence my definition of neo-classical economics: “The study of the behavior of a fictitious person (“economic man”) in an imaginary environment (“the perfect market”).” I am much more interested in what happens in the real world, ergo my repeated plea: “look to history.”

And so, if the libertarians concede that courts of law are necessary functions of government, I submit that they have given away their game. If I may be permitted a bit of auto-plagiarism:

“Suppose that I have decide to heat my house with a wood stove. How am I to know beforehand that I will be safe from a pollution suit by my neighbors -- since, by hypothesis, our libertarian government has abolished all those "dictatorial" clean air standards? Clearly "the courts" will have to define, in detail, acceptable and non-acceptable effluent standards based on extensive scientific research. And all this will all have to be done in advance of any suit against me. Otherwise, the suit would be ex post facto, and thus legally invalid. Similar questions arise with claims of damages due to food poisoning, unsafe drugs, vehicle malfunction, etc..

“The implication is clear: the libertarian reformers, having disbanded the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other "big government" regulatory and research agencies, will have to re-establish them if the courts are to function under the enormously expanded burden of responsibility handed to them by the libertarians. In point of fact, the libertarian scheme of "pollution control through the tort laws" does not eliminate government, since it requires a reliable government to codify and defend personal and property rights.” (“With Liberty for Some”).

Again, “economic vs political solutions” is a false dichotomy.



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 .