Adapting Environmental Ethics to Rapid, Anthropogenic, and Global Ecological Change

Adapting Environmental Ethics to Rapid, Anthropogenic, and Global Ecological Change

H.J. Andrews Forest Research Station

Blue River, Oregon

JULY 10-13, 2019

Conference report by Emma Marris

This July, environmental ethicists from around the world gathered under 500-year-old Douglas-firs and hemlocks at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon to share their work. The 16th annual ISEE Summer Meeting featured several papers touching on environmental policy, environmental psychology, and the role of the philosopher in the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis—a practical bent that perhaps reflects an increased sense of urgency and momentum in the world of environmental activism. In that vein, the meeting closed with a strategy session, led by Eugene Chislenko of Temple University, in which the assembled philosophers shared insights on how they could fold climate activism into their work. 

Over the course of three days, the group worked through 18 draft papers on topics ranging from bees as symbols of neoliberal environmental thought to the role of gene drives in conservation to legal strategies for holding climate emitters responsible for losses and damages resulting from their actions. The keynote address, by Katie McShane of Colorado State University, took up perhaps the most central of all environmental ethics questions: how are we to value the natural world? McShane argued for a value system that goes beyond welfarism—what is good for an entity—and embraces values derived from appreciative attitudes like “respect, awe, wonder, admiration, interest, attachment, and aesthetics.” She gave as an example the wonder she feels when contemplating a neutron star—the collapsed core of a giant sun—despite the fact that the unimaginably distant object can be of no practical benefit to her.

Between papers, conference-goers chatted over delicious meals cooked up by two chefs who noted that the group had the most vegans they had ever cooked for. The chefs rose to the challenge, and one vegan attendee remarked that he wasn’t used to having so many choices! One evening, conversation continued after dinner at a cheerfully crackling campfire. Two children notably polished off almost an entire bag of marshmallows, with just a little help from the philosophers gathered around the fire. 

Attendees were also treated to a personal tour of the experimental forest by the principal investigator, Micheal Nelson of Oregon State University, himself a philosopher, and Fred Swanson, a geologist and ecosystem scientist with the US Forest Service who has studied the forest for decades. Together, the two sketched out the research conducted at the site and the food web of an old-growth forest, highlighting the surprising role of nitrogen-fixing lichen, which make the nutrient available to the trees after they fall from the canopy and rot into the soil. As the philosophers listened, mosquitoes flitted among them, weaving them into the food web by sucking their blood. The circle was completed when the humans nibbled on the red huckleberries that thrive in the understory. 

Another highlight was a lecture by owl expert Tim Fox, an archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service who studied spotted owls earlier in his career. Fox shared stories from his time in the field, owl calls, and his thoughts on the current strategy for protecting the spotted owl, which includes shooting barred owls that have been making their way from the east coast and out-competing the smaller endangered owl for territories. It is the kind of ethical puzzle that cried out for analysis by environmental ethicists—a case study just waiting under the trees for the philosophers to take a crack at. 

The ethicists left the meeting with new knowledge, new ideas, new professional relationships, new mosquito bites, and the pleasant odor of campfire-smoke woven into their clothes.

APA Eastern ISEE Program

International Society for Environmental Ethics

2019 Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association

January 7-10, 2019, New York NY

 

Session 1

January 8 (tentative)

Subject: Future Generations and Justice

Chair: TBD

 

Speaker: Alex Richardson (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Title: Capability Deprivation as Intergenerational Harm

 

Speaker: Tom Randall (University of Western Ontario)

Title: Care Ethics, Climate Change, and Future Generations

 

Speaker: Rafael Ziegler (Universität Greifswald)

Title: Double Sufficientarianism

 

Session 2

January 8 (tentative)

Subject: Emissions, Energy, and Worldviews of the Anthropocene

Chair: TBD

 

Speaker: Eamon Aloyo (Leiden University)

Title: Individual Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Harm, and Coercion

 

Speaker: Mark Cooper (Murdoch University)

Title: Negentropism: An Ecological Theory of Value Based on Energy

 

Speaker: Agostino Cera (University of Basilicata)

Title: The Limit of Responsibility: The Ethical Paradox of the Anthropocene

 

Speaker: Ben-Willie Kwaku Golo (University of Ghana)

Title: African Indigenous Ecological Knowledge & the Moral Standing of the Earth

FINAL CALL – ISEE at the Pacific APA, 2015

Submissions are invited for the International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) sessions at the 2015 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA).  The upcoming meeting will be held in the beautiful and diverse city of Vancouver, Canada from Wednesday, April 1 to Sunday, April 5th at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. Continue reading

Welcome (?) to the Anthropocene

INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
cordially invites you to the 11th Meeting on Environmental Philosophy
Allenspark, Colorado, USA, June 17-20, 2014

Registration deadline: June 10th, 2014

This year’s theme is the the moral significance of the Anthropocene—the ethics of geoengineering, questions about wildness and wilderness, the morality of species extinctions, and related topics. Continue reading

A Philosopher at the IPCC

John BroomeBy John Broome
email: john.broome@philosophy.ox.ac.uk 
White's Professor of Moral Philosophy and
Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford

John is a British ethicist and economist. 
His most recent book is Climate Matters: 
Ethics in a Warming World

Published May 20, 2014

Climate change is a moral problem. Each of us causes the emission of greenhouse gas, which spreads around the Earth. Some of it stays in the atmosphere for centuries. It causes harm to people who live far away and to members of future generations. Moreover, the harm we cause, taken together, is very great. As a result of climate change, people are losing their homes to storms and floods, they are losing their livelihoods as their farmland dries up, and they are losing even their lives as tropical diseases climb higher in the mountains of Africa. We should not cause harms like these to other people in order to make life better for ourselves.

It is chiefly for moral reasons that we inhabitants of rich countries should reduce our emissions. Doing so will benefit us—particularly the young among us—to an extent, but most of the benefit will come to the world’s poor and to future generations. Our main reason for working to limit climate change is our moral duty towards those people.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes that climate change is a moral problem or, to use its cautious language, it raises ethical issues. The authors of the IPCC’s recent Fifth Assessment Report therefore included two moral philosophers. I am one of them. I recently returned from the Approval Session of IPCC’s Working Group 3 in Berlin. This was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my academic life.

VIDEOCASTS – Archival Footage from the First Earth Day, April 1970

First Earth Day: April 22, 1970, NBC News

A look at different demonstrations and celebrations of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 from around the country.  The clip ends with a quote from Jay Murray Mitchell of the American Geophysical Union who warned (in 1970) of increasing levels of pollution which could lead to a greenhouse effect within the next 200 years and extensive global flooding caused by the melting of the Arctic Ice cap. Continue reading