ISEE/Princeton Climate Futures Initiative/Public Philosophy Network Webinar:  Climate Ethics ‘in the Field’ — Integrating Philosophy, Science, Law, and Policy

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, 4:30-6 pm Eastern time.
The webinar features Dr. Deborah McGregor (York University), Dr. Nancy Tuana (Penn State University), and Dr. Robert Hockett (Cornell University).

More information and registration details are here.

The webinar is sponsored by ISEE, Princeton University’s Climate Futures Initiative, and the Public Philosophy Network, and it is organized in conjunction with ISEE’s Mentoring and Peer Networking Initiative.

CFP:ISEE sessions at the 2022 APA Pacific Meeting

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Call for Papers

INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS

2022 Pacific Meeting of the American Philosophical Association

Submissions are invited for the International Society for Environmental Ethics group sessions at the 2022 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA). The meeting will be held April 13 – April 16, 2022, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The ISEE invites submissions of individual papers (approximately 20 minute presentations) or proposals for themed sessions (particular topics, author-meets-critics, etc.).

Please include any interest in chairing a session as well. You do not need to be a member of ISEE in order to submit a proposal; however, if your proposal is accepted, you will need to join ISEE in order to be added to the meeting program.

Scholars working in any area of ethics concerning environmental issues are encouraged to submit proposals. ISEE aims to build inclusive and welcoming spaces in our conferences, programs, and communications by supporting people of diverse backgrounds and identities, as well as by actively working against discrimination, bias, exclusion.

Submission Procedure:

  • For individual paper submissions, please submit either: (1) a 300-word abstract, or (2) a full paper (approx. 3000 words).
  • For themed sessions, please submit the proposed session title, a brief description of the session, names of all those participating, and titles for each paper. Paper abstracts (of up to 300 words) are strongly encouraged. Participants should be confirmed as willing to attend if the session goes forward.
  • Materials should be submitted in Microsoft Word or PDF format to: Alex Lee (ISEE Secretary) at aplee@alaskapacific.edu
  • Please include “ISEE/APA” in the subject line.
  • The deadline for submitting proposals is September 30, 2021.

CFP: ISEE APA Central

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Submissions are invited for the International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) group sessions at the Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA) which will be held in Chicago, IL from February 23rd-26th 2022. At this point, we hope to be in-person.

ISEE invites submissions of individual papers (approx. 20 minutes in length) or proposals for themed sessions (particular topics, author-meets-critics, etc.). Work in any area of environmental philosophy is welcome, but we encourage work that challenges the traditional boundaries of the discipline.  ISEE aims to build inclusive and welcoming spaces in our conferences, programs, and communications by supporting people of diverse backgrounds and identities, as well as by actively working against discrimination, bias, exclusion.

While active membership in ISEE is required to be added to the meeting program, but submissions from non-members are encouraged. Further, all presenters at these ISEE group sessions must also register for the Central APA.

Submissions

For individual paper submissions, please submit either a 500-word abstract or a full paper(approx. 3000 words). 

For themed sessions, please submit the proposed session title, a brief description of the session, names of all those participating, and titles and 500-word abstracts for each paper/presentation. Themed session participants should be confirmed as willing to attend if the session goes forward.

Papers presented previously or already accepted for presentation at an ISEE APA group session or ISEE annual meeting will not be considered, and all else equal, priority will be given to those who have not presented at an ISEE meeting or session within the past year.

Materials should be prepared for blind review (please include pertinent information in your email) and emailed to Megs Gendreau (megs.gendreau_at_centre.edu). Please include “ISEE/2022 APA” in the subject line and submit before 5pm (EDT) September 10th, 2021. Questions about the sessions or ISEE may be directed to Megs Gendreau. 

THE REFLECTION POND:

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What COVID-19 Teaches about Climate Change and Ourselves

Zachary Vereb

We are re-sharing essays submitted to ‘The Reflection Pond,’ the opinion section of this past year’s ISEE newsletter. This submission was part of s series on Covid-19 and Environmental Ethics.

Half Full or Half Empty? 2020 has been quite the year, almost like a crash in slow motion. Yet much was predictable. Had we heeded warnings from the scientific community, we would, perhaps, have been more prepared. After all, we’ve been told that pandemic-like events become more likely in a warmer, globalized world. So, what’s going on? Well, take a look at the social mood. It’s a gloomy state of things. Just as a glass of water predictably heats up in the muggy Florida summer, we sweat and lose our train of thought. The connections between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change—connections that should be readily apparent—are hardly acknowledged, at least by non-experts.

A Half Empty Glass. The COVID-19 burnout we feel in 2020 connects with a widespread climate nihilism, informing the mood of many philosophers and laypersons about the state of the world. If the previous decade, crowned with 2020, could be represented by a philosopher, we might have to choose the pessimist Schopenhauer. From this perspective, both the pandemic and the climate crisis show us that we are in no way capable of thinking collectively and for the long term; we are hopelessly selfish and shortsighted. In short, the glass appears not only half empty, but half full of undrinkable tar. Though the tar does make for good poetry, as Schopenhauer will tell you.

A Half Full Glass. Yet, at the same time, the optimist declares that the pandemic is a blessing in disguise. It is, as it were, the cunning hand of nature working through us. After all, who can deny that quarantines helped environments to recover, reduced smog, and lowered—if only temporarily—carbon footprints. From the optimistic vantage, COVID-19 reveals we can in fact come together, that some jobs can be done more efficiently, and that we are in it for the long haul. Our optimist might also turn into a misanthrope, bitter after seeing humans bungle this opportunity to learn and change. Nature will move on. Humans, perhaps not. For her, the glass is half full—not of tar, but of unpotable water. And for our optimist, it is also half full, but we hardly know for how long.

A Glass and a Boundary. Unfortunately, optimism isn’t the way either. It doesn’t fit the mood. It’s tone deaf. Is there a middle way—a way for mediating pessimism and nihilism with the optimism of some environmentalists? I present here some food for thought, food that might sit nicely next to that glass of water in the hot Florida heat: this pandemic presents an opportunity to teach us about climate change and, more importantly, ourselves.

Looking at the Glass Again. Let us, as environmental philosophers, appropriate the questions Kant returned to again and again. Yes, I mean Immanuel Kant. While Kant is sometimes seen as a bane to environmentalists and animal welfarists, hear me out. It may be fruitful for us to consider Kant’s four questions of philosophy as a heuristic for thinking about our predicament. Maybe they can help us think about viewing the glass anew:

What can we know?
What should we do?
What may we hope for?
What is a human being?

This is no time for a foray into epistemology (or epidemiology). Kant’s first question presses us to rethink how we understand ourselves as embedded in a dynamic earth-system. If this sounds wild, just recall that Kant himself wrote, in his early days, about atmospheres, climates, and earthquakes. The question becomes: what can we learn about the connections between pandemics and climate? This naturally leads us into the question of what we should do about it. Kant’s universalism and enlightenment cosmopolitanism seem relevant for mediating the two extreme sides of the glass. We are, first and foremost, citizens of the world—a universal community. Progress for that community is real, but only if we believe in it and make it a reality.

Next: what may we hope for regarding our predicament, without succumbing to defeatism or magical thinking? Our hope can only be rationally sustained if we stay grounded and receptive to new information. Lastly, we are pressed to consider who we are and who we want to become. Each question intimates the next, and this final one integrates them all. What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene? Perhaps the way we answer this will give us a clue for how to move forward.

Philosophy and Humanity. Kant’s questions are timely. If this pandemic is, as some have said, a dress rehearsal for our climate future, then answering questions about how to understand the pandemic requires us to think deeply about human values. This is a task for which philosophy is, indeed, quite suited. Let’s start there.

Zachary Vereb is Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi.

2020 Andrew Light Award for Public Philosophy

The International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) is pleased to announce publicly the winner and finalists for the 2020 Andrew Light Award for Public Philosophy.  ISEE established the award to promote work in public philosophy and honor contributions to the field by Dr. Andrew Light, who was recognized for his distinctive work in public environmental philosophy at ISEE’s 2017 annual summer meeting. 

With this award, ISEE strives to recognize public philosophers working in environmental ethics and philosophy, broadly construed, and who bring unique insights or methods that broaden the reach, interaction, and engagement of philosophy with the wider public.  This may be exemplified in published work or engagement in environmental issues of public importance.   

This year’s honorees have made important contributions and provide distinctive examples of the work in public environmental philosophy that is happening today.  The winner and finalists will be honored at an International Society for Environmental Ethics group session at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association on Thursday, January 14, 2021. 

This year’s Light Award winner is Dr. Keith Hyams, Reader in Political Theory and Interdisciplinary Ethics in the Department of Politics and International Studies at University of Warwick (United Kingdom).  Dr. Hyams, who earned his DPhil at University of Oxford in 2006, has published academic research in areas that include climate ethics, climate justice, urban resilience, and the governance of global catastrophic risk.  However, what distinguishes him as a public environmental philosopher is his work across disciplines, sustained collaboration with non-governmental organizations, and public engagement on issues that include urban adaptation in low income countries, environmental and human rights for Indigenous peoples, and health and environmental injustice in informal settlements in six African cities (Johannesburg, Lusaka, Kampala, Nairobi, Lagos, and Freetown).  Dr. Hyams’s collaborators describe his approach as “always one of developing a constructive partnership,” and note that he brings to this work methodologies that help various publics and policymakers to integrate and constructively discuss ethical issues at stake in environmental decisions.  Dr. Hyams’s work on climate adaptation is especially notable.  In this area, he has served as an ethics advisor to the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change network, co-authored a report on ‘Remedying Injustice in Indigenous Climate Adaptation Planning: Climate Ethics, Inequality, and Indigenous Knowledge’ (available at: warwick.basilico-staging.it/ethics/research/), served as an advisor to the city of Cape Town climate adaptation department, and worked with international NGOs such as Oxfam and Practical Action on the ethics of climate adaptation.  Additionally, Dr. Hyams has mentored six postdoctoral researchers and multiple doctoral students, helping them to develop their own skills in publicly engaged environmental philosophy.  This year’s Andrew Light Award recognizes the collaborative, publicly engaged, and ethically grounded work of Dr. Keith Hyams as distinctive contributions to public environmental philosophy. 

This year’s finalists are Dr. Kian Mintz-Woo of University College Cork (Ireland) and Dr. Jeremy Moss of University of New South Wales (Australia). 

Dr. Kian Mintz-Woo, a lecturer at University College Cork, is an early career scholar who has already demonstrated a sustained commitment to publicly engaged philosophy.  As a graduate student at University of Graz, Kian Mintz-Woo helped to develop a public art exhibition, Exhibition CliMatters, which was shown in multiple venues in Austria and drew over 1700 visitors, and he founded, organized, and contributed to the Climate Footnotes blog (https://climatefootnotes.com/author/kianmw/).  As a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, Dr. Mintz-Woo collaborated with Professor Peter Singer on an article, “Put a Price on Carbon Now!” published in Project Syndicate on May 7, 2020 (see: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/low-oil-prices-ideal-time-forcarbon-tax-by-peter-singer-and-kian-mintz-woo-2020-05).  Dr. Mintz-Woo’s academic writing focuses on climate ethics, particularly carbon pricing, discounting, and the social cost of carbon. 

Dr. Jeremy Moss is a Professor of Political Philosophy at University of New South Wales (Australia) whose work focuses on climate justice, the ethics of renewable energy, and ethical issues associated with climate transitions. He is Director of the Practical Justice Initiative and leads the Climate Justice Research program at UNSW as part of this initiative.  Professor Moss’s work has been featured in The Guardian, and Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), National Aboriginal Radio, Al Jezeera, and LeMonde, and he has developed a Climate Justice website (climatejustice.co) “to provide accessible discussions of the justice-related issues that underpin an effective response to climate change.”  In addition, he has published op-eds on climate ethics in The Conversation, including “When It Comes to Climate Change, Australia’s Mining Giants are an Accessory to the Crime” (https://theconversation.com/when-it-comes-to-climate-change-australias-mining-giants-arean-accessory-to-the-crime-124077). 

THE REFLECTION POND – COVID-19, Climate Crisis and the Shape of History

We are re-sharing essays submitted to ‘The Reflection Pond,’ the opinion section of this past year’s ISEE newsletter. This submission was part of s series on Covid-19 and Environmental Ethics.

COVID-19, Climate Crisis and the Shape of History

by Byron Williston

What does the novel coronavirus teach us about the climate crisis? Superficially, both involve our messing recklessly with nature, whereupon the latter (surprise!) visits us with some nasty blowback. But there’s a deeper connection. In my view, the COVID-19 pandemic pushes us to the same metaphysical reflection on the shape of history that the climate crisis does. Philosophy of history is a little out of fashion these days, but I think the times are crying out for its revival. Its basic distinction is between linear and circular conceptions of historical development; think European Enlightenment versus Malthus. Is the future getting brighter and brighter, or is it bound to turn back on itself, eating its own tail as humans respond to system-level crises?

Here’s a really simple metaphor to help push our thinking in the direction I think it needs to go. All civilizations exhibit some degree of fit between the built environment—everything from immigration laws to vaccines and sea walls—and the natural one, much like a peg in an appropriately sized and shaped hole. In our case the fit is not perfect, but we would not have survived this long, in such numbers, if the fit were not at least roughly correct. But, given our industrial civilization’s headlong economic development and expansion, especially post-WWII, the fit has become very awkward indeed. This is why some ecologists and systems thinkers talk in terms of our reaching or breaching planetary boundaries. Even though it is simple, the peg-in-a-hole metaphor helps guard against two errors that can result from one-sided ways of thinking about our historical situation.

The first is to assume that the hole is exactly the right shape for the peg, but the hole will always be larger, so that we can safely expand the peg—industrial civilization—outwards without limit. That’s the approach sometimes described as “business as usual.” It’s also embedded in the naïve Enlightenment notion that history moves in a straight, and unbroken, line of expansion and progress. No time for pesky historical circles here. But all the evidence compiled over the past 40 or 50 years, from the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth Report (1972) to the U.N.’s Global Warming of 1.5° Celsius (2018), militates against this view. This lesson is also suggested by the effects COVID-19 has had on our lives over a very short time period. This is exactly the sort of break in linear time represented by all significant civilizational crises. COVID-19 is a relatively small-scale revenge of the historical circle: it has stopped the line of progress in its tracks, for how long we don’t yet know.

The other error is to think that history is all circle and no line. It is the belief that the civilizational peg has outgrown the environmental hole many times in the past, or that no peg has ever been the right shape in the first place. Because of this basic mismatch, as it has over and over again, the hole is primed once again to spit out the peg, casting our vaunted civilizational achievements to the four winds in the process. This view is not without ethical merit. The ancient Greek historian Polybius thought its main counsel to us is that we should not “boast unduly of our achievements.” We could certainly use a little of that humility. Nowadays, The Dark Mountain Project seems to think in a similar way, but the problem with it is that it is really difficult to let go entirely of the idea—or the hope—that we can make things better than they are right now. Embracing the circular view of history can induce a kind of Weltschmerz that is very difficult to sustain and is also politically impotent.

The view I advocate gets between these two options. It is that because we have now entered a brand-new epoch—the Anthropocene—whose signature is the effective erasure between nature and culture the peg and the hole are now fused. They are no longer two things, and I mean this quite literally. Still, the fused thing can, and must, evolve, meaning that we cannot altogether abandon the linear conception of history. Progress now is thus largely about improving the design of the nature-culture complex. However, the event of fusion has had negative knock-on effects in the whole structure, the most salient of which is profound climate disruption. Because we have done nothing to avoid or even lessen the impacts of climate change, adaptation to ongoing crisis is now an ineliminable aspect of our collective lives, part of the human condition. Progress-pausing circles are here to stay.

For this reason, both as philosophers and ordinary folks we can any longer indulge utopian speculation about a world beyond crisis. Naomi Klein did not know how right she was when she declared that climate disruption “changes everything,” because it alters our basic understanding of the meta-narrative of humanity. I hope we come out of the COVID-19 experience with an improved perspective on this question because we are going to need it long after this virus is defeated.

In other words, the fused peg-and-hole represents of a view of history as both linear and circular. It’s the idea that although we need to believe we’re making progress, we must also recognize that it won’t always feel that way. In fact, it will feel like a slog much of the time. That’s our lot: half Condorcet and half Sisyphus. If we can come to terms with this paradox, we will have a fighting chance of making a better future. Whatever else it is, COVID-19 is an early test of our ability to internalize this new species-level self-conception.

Byron Williston is Professor of Philosophy at Wilfrid Laurier University and a member of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo. His latest book is Philosophy and the Climate Crisis: How the Past Can Save the Future.