Author Archives: kwburns

Final Round, Prompt 2: Climate Change

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The crisis of climate change is most certainly due to the failure of government, at least in part. However, as with many issues, the answer is not that either government or technology is to blame. Rather, both have played a significant role in the development of global climate change. Without advancements in technology during the industrial revolution and throughout the twentieth century, human-induced climate change most likely does not happen. At the very least, it does not happen to the extent that it currently is, considering that non-industrial factors (such as raising cows and other forms of agriculture) also contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at noteworthy levels. Even in the face of technology that allows humans to affect their environment like never before, it is possible that disastrous global climate change is still avoided if governments across the globe responded appropriately. As noted in the prompt, governments have consistently failed on an international level to create policy likely to stop or even mitigate climate change. Ausubel also notes in “Six Degrees of Climate Separation” that international summits rarely lead to international solutions, and when the representatives from these national governments are capable of coming to an agreement, the result is a policy that does not go far enough to create a significant impact. In the end, both technology and governments have failed us and contributed to the global threat of climate change.

Like the sources of the problem, the solutions are also found in both government and technology. Ausubel notes that improvements in energy efficiency and green energy technology points to a promising future with clean energy options. Governments have the inherent capacity to deal with a large-scale, collective action problem such as climate change. While both government and technology have lead us down this dangerous road, realigning each can lead to tremendously beneficial results and workable solutions for the problem of climate change.

Response to Week 9, Prompt 1: Animal Rights

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Defining value in life and how one comes to a determination on what precisely to value is crucial to the issue of animal rights. Whether the criterion is general consciousness, the ability to feel pain, or another factor altogether, the reason one values an animal’s life is key to communicating an understanding of why their lives are important to others. While it may be simple to say the reason does not matter, only that such value exists, the ability to convincingly persuade others who do not at the time agree that such beings should have rights is a very important aspect of animal rights, assuming that a goal of animal rights is to extend the acceptance of animal rights to as many people as possible.

The article cited identifies an important point: our attempt at valuing the lives and needs of animals, including their responses to pain and other stimuli, reinforces the same anthropocentrism is typically condemns. By assessing an animal’s response to “pain” as humans conceive it, we are attempting to ascribe human values to non-human beings. At the very least, this would qualify as anthropomorphism. I believe it also qualifies as anthropocentrism because, though on the surface it appears that such an argument values the animal for itself, it still ascribes that value from a human-centered viewpoint, using human feelings to assign value.

The value criterion used to determine the importance of another being’s life should be consciousness. The use of consciousness does not require the same speculation into the state of mind of another being that the use of pain requires. Instead, consciousness is a more simply factor to use. While there are likely cases that make the determination of consciousness difficult, it is a more easily observable and objective factor than pain.

Round 7 Response: Buddhism in Japan

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Economic needs and concerns have always existed and will continue to exist indefinitely. There is no reason to expect that economics alone is directly linked to environmental degradation or poor treatment of the land.

Technology, on the other hand, is more closely related to current treatment of the land. The issue at hand is not an economic incentive to treat the land in a particular way. There has always been an economic incentive, in the short term, to pillage the land and exploit its resources, leading to an overall degradation of land and environmental quality. Rather, the issue is capacity. With advancements in technology, the capacity to alter the land and the degree to which exploitation is possible has increased dramatically—to previously inconceivable levels. The economic forces that encourage this behavior have not changed over the years, only the technology that makes it possible.

I would argue that religion has played a minor role in this process. In fact, if more people applied their religious beliefs as an environmental ethic, sincerely, I would expect more people to identify as environmentalists. Christian environmentalists are one such example of this.

The final question contains a false premise. It assumes that placing “a lesser focus on economic well-being” is both possible and necessary for allowing people “to tune into what they truly need for their own survival and well-being.” Most importantly, economic well-being is necessary for one’s own survival. The objective should be seeking a synthesis of economic well-being and environmental health or sustainability. Incentivizing progress in environmentally beneficial technologies, focusing on poverty reduction, and phasing out environmentally hazardous technologies are some important steps towards this objective.

Response to Week 5, Promt 1: Anti-Environmental

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Anyone who sincerely argues that efforts to protect the environment can only hurt the economy has not been paying attention. The EPA reports that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 alone prevented “160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, millions of cases of respiratory problems such as acute bronchitis and asthma attacks, and 86,000 hospital admissions,” just in 2010. The 1990 amendments also prevented 13 million lost workdays and 3.2 million lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution, also in 2010. That same study, commission in 2011, estimates that economic benefits of the law in 2020 are expected to outweigh benefits by a factor of about 30-to-1.

 

Arguments against environmental policy are not fact-driven; they are driven by ideology. In spite of a legacy of bipartisanship on environmental legislation, most notably in the early 1970s, the current political climate regarding environmental policy is characterized by gridlock and stalemate. Environmentalism, once a bipartisan issue, has now been transfigured into a sharply divisive issue, splitting the parties as readily as social issues or healthcare policy. The primary reason for this is the influence of powerful interests, with a profit motive for undermining environmental policy, funding Republican candidates. These candidates then have an invested interest in stifling environmental protection legislation, and that ethos proliferates throughout the party.

 

The proposition, made in the “If I Wanted America to Fail” video, that environmentalists are “guilting” Americans into using renewable energy is hypocritical at best. The video itself uses charged language, asserting that environmentalists want America to “fail” without sufficient reason. It guilts its viewers into using fossil fuels because only then can America avoid “failure.” It leads its viewers to believe that renewable energy is inherently un-American, regardless of the opportunity for American renewable energy companies to create jobs and grow into a thriving industry. The narrator in the video, like Michael S. Berliner from the Ayn Rand Institute, uses a straw man argument to mischaracterize the position and ideology of environmentalists, attacking them and their goals as un-American.

 

A middle ground is not possible as long as these types of arguments persist and powerful lobbies continue to fund Republican (and certainly some Democratic) candidates. Until then, we will fail to create new, effective environmental policy.

Response to Week 2 Prompt 2: Environmental Democracy

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Progress is certainly being made on environmental issues in our current political system. This is historically evident, as legislation such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act have done tremendous good for the environment. Many federal agencies have also been created to protect our environment and natural resources, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among many others. Over the past thirty years, air quality in the United States has drastically improved, with levels of carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide decreasing steadily over that time. The nation’s waterways have become cleaner and safer, with lower levels of industrial pollution, sewage discharge, and nutrient runoff. There have also been effective international agreements, including the Montreal Protocol and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Montreal Protocol called for a phase-out of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, leading to successful repletion of the ozone layer that continues today.

 

While it is certainly true that the broad, sweeping change necessary to combat issues on the scale of global climate change has not occurred under our current system, the answer is not to abandon the system. Rather, smaller-scale change is necessary. For instance, the role of science in American politics must be reformed, specifically that policy should be based on sound science, not anti-science rhetoric based in ideology. A multitude of similar reforms could substantially improve environmental policy in the United States. An attempt to uproot the current system does not guarantee that environmental conditions will improve. Instead, it creates a condition of political turmoil that is conducive to chaos rather than effective policy. Clinging to the current system may be frustrating for environmentalists that want strong environmental policy immediately, myself included, but reforming within the current system and building on our past successes is a more reasonable solution than a radical abandonment of liberal democracy.