Culture & Ethics
If we “beat” climate change, what will we have to show for it?
Suppose we bring climate change under control and deal with its fallout. What will have we achieved? We will have prevented great harm. That, of course, is the main goal. Untamed climate change means an dangerous, ugly future for all of us on “Spaceship Earth.” Preventing that future is surely enough of a reason to …CONTINUE READING
We actively shape major Earth systems, with increasingly powerful technologies. We should face up to it.
Stewart Brand–a contender for the most interesting living person in the world–famously opened the Whole Earth Catalogue in 1969, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” Importantly (and often misunderstood), he meant not that we are gods, but instead that technologies have given humanity powers that had previously been exclusive …CONTINUE READING
Anti-vaxxers and climate deniers are abandoning America’s founding values.
Ironically, those who most trumpet their allegiance to the Founders often have least in common with their values. The Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment. They shared a belief that reason, free inquiry, and science would better the human condition. They looked to reason as a guide. They sought, in Jefferson’s words, to expunge …CONTINUE READING
Anticipating modern environmental views, Jefferson viewed nature as a public trust.
Today being the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to think about how the author of the Declaration of Independence felt about nature. A revealing example involves some land Jefferson owned between Lexington and Roanoke, which he sought to preserve. Two years before the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson purchased 157 acres of land from the …CONTINUE READING
Technical policy questions often involve ethical political questions that the public must have a say in
As vaccination for the coronavirus in the United States ramps up, I want to take a look back to a policy dispute over the initial plans for vaccine distribution at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 – in part because that fight (like “follow the science,” which I blogged about recently) also …CONTINUE READING
Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book asks what it means to protect nature in the Anthropocene.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky, opens with the story of the battle to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The problem exists because of two earlier interventions with nature. A century ago, we reversed the flow of the Chicago river to keep the city’s pollutants out of Lake Michigan …CONTINUE READING
Clean air. Clean water. We receive these public goods every day without payment
One of the Christmas classics is the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Stewart is despondent about his life but then learns how much he has unknowingly helped others and how grateful they are. There’s a flip side to that story: the need to remember how much others have contributed to our own lives. …CONTINUE READING
It’s not just the White House. We also have to repair the way agencies operate.
Donald Trump prided himself on his contempt for established norms of presidential action. Whole books have been written about how to restore those norms. Something similar also happened deeper down in the government, out in the agencies like EPA that do the actual work of governance. Trump appointees have corrupted agencies and trashed the norms …CONTINUE READING
Or in more technical terms, the Tragedy of the Commons? Or its inverse?
Lord of the Flies is a memorable novel about a group of English schoolboys who are marooned on a desert island. They quickly descend into savagery and violence. The book can be seen as a parable of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s view that human life in a state of nature is short, nasty, and brutish. But …CONTINUE READING
Essential targets set by some of the world’s leading climate scientists and policymakers just passed. Now what?
Seven prominent figures in the global climate change policy discourse published an opinion essay in Nature. In “Three years to safeguard our climate,” they set a deadline for key targets to be met in order to stay on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s global warming goals. The notable thing is that the essay was …CONTINUE READING