Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reflection Post

Climate change is one of the biggest global issues present today. Ever since the industrial revolution, the consistent amount of pollution added to the environment by humans has had a considerable environmental impact. This is evident in such calamities as the melting polar ice caps. In order to save ecosystems around the world, humans need to put aside their differences for the greater good of the planet. Only through a concerted and coordinated global effort can significant progress be made.

One of the biggest advocates of human action in the environment has been Gardiner. In Leah's summary and critique of his piece, "Ethics and Global Climate Change," she analyzes the ethical implications of the possible solutions to our current problems. Some critics of Gardiner have stated that we don't have to do anything; that there is a lack of data to cite on whether global climate change is caused by humans or is simply natural tendency. However, I agree with Leah in that we ought to take action as opposed to not. In my opinion, it is better to be safe than continue to do damage that winds up being irreversible. Humans need to stop having such an economic and anthropocentric viewpoint so that species besides our own can continue to flourish.

The article assigned to my group that I thought had the weakest argument was Ashley Dawson's, "The Emerging Movement against Green Capitalism." Throughout her writing she frequently mentions the city of New Orleans and the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. She critiques the manner in which the area was rebuilt, but her arguments for doing so are fundamentally flawed. Allie does a comprehensive analysis and points out these issues where they exist. She makes a convincing rebuttal of some of Dawson's ideas which to me, makes more sense. Allie's idea that the displacement of those in the 9th ward was based off of economic emigration from the area as opposed to racism seems to be more realistic than Dawson's argument. Allie's fact checking actually engaged my attention much more than this particular reading, and I have a much more thorough understand as a result.

The topic that I thought best related to climate change was that of pollution. French writes an essay considering air pollution and its effects on humans. She uses several facts to support her argument, which makes it difficult to dispute.  Preet generally agrees with French's argument, and I cannot see much reason to do otherwise. However, the one thing that I disagree with Preet about is that French should have taken a more deontological approach in her writing. I believe that a utilitarian perspective is much more fitting. Just because the industry doesn't intend to do vast damage to the environment does not make it ok that it is occurring. A utilitarian point of view puts the blame on the corporations who are doing the damage, and places the responsibility on them for undoing it. Without this utilitarian perspective, there isn't much stopping corporations from continuing the course that they are on.

The assigned essay written by Baxter actually surprised me. I did not expect to see an article justifying the other side of the argument in a class like this. Baxter's writing makes sense when interpreted from an anthropocentric point of view, but is ignorant to other aspects of the environment. I find it a little ignorant that he fails to realize that humans are just a single species amongst a greater ecosystem. This interdependency will always exist regardless of how large out population grows. While I am glad Nick recognized this and pointed it out, I feel that he could have done more to expand on Baxter's theories. Whether or not Nick agreed with the article, there are many courses of action that could be implemented. Just because Baxter doesn't find it necessary to consider non-human species does not mean we need to completely disregard his argument. His theories should be taken into consideration with everything else we've learned, although in this case our final decision will clearly lie on the more anthropocentric end of the spectrum.

These two topics are very similar in that they show the wide array of positions that can be taken on such commonly discussed issues. However, I argue that this is actually detrimental to the process. I believe that it would be more efficient to start taking action, and improve on our methods as we go along. With the rates the polar ice caps are disappearing, it won't be long before humans have a citable environmental impact. The one thing that I found different between these two subjects is the amount of data. Climate change seems to be more of an abstract theory regarding change over a substantial amount of time. It's very easy to determine how much pollution was contributed to the environment, but very difficult to reference how much temperatures have changed over the past 10000 years. However, with these two aspects of data now coinciding, I feel that it will not be long before we see a significant correlation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prompt 13

I believe that both my third post and 7th post have a lot in relation to each other. My third post was a commentary on a future group member's reaction on whether the consumption of animals was wrong. I evaluated her consequential position on the subject, and her thoughts on animals value. She suggests that animals have more of an instrumental value to humans, though she doesn't completely ignore their inherent worth. Her upbringing amongst both vegetarian's and meat eaters contributed to a balanced argument about the subject. Although we both reached relatively similar conclusions – that buying certified organic removes the moral consequence from consuming meat products – we came about it from two different perspectives. My original post took a more deontological approach, while hers was more consequential; both anthropocentric however.

The 7th post we wrote was in regards to an article by Sagoff and the role of the consumer in environmental ethics. This made me realize that I had not considered all of the aspects to ecological arguments. Much of my prior work had been in regards to food, but I had failed to realize how big of an economic sector I had to take into account. There are many people who simply cannot afford to buy food that comes from a sustainable source, even though they would like to. Much of what has been organized today, factory farms and the like, are simply to support the lesser-off of our population. People are also enticed by cheap meat, because the consumer model in America stresses buying many things. The less the average person has to spend on food, the more they can spend on luxury goods. Although in the end I disagreed with Sagoff, mentioning that he put too much emphasis on the downfalls of capitalism, there were aspects of his conclusion that caught my attention. I argues that there are many other societal systems that share in the same exploitation, but agreed with his idea that it is very hard to bring about change through these government groups. His writing was the first to bring into my thought process the idea that change must come through education of the population.

My third post gives a good example of what my ideas were early on in the class, while the 7th shows a reaction that eventually leads to the stirrings of a more ecological ethicist position. In the beginning, I was more concerned with balancing the population and keeping animals as far out of harm as possible. However, after reading Sagoff's article, and his convincing argument that maybe factory farms were needed to sustain our current population, my thoughts began to be swayed. I became more willing to give up animal rights in order to better the health of Americans and sustain our population as a whole. I believe that capitalism and consumerism are a necessary part of the American economy that can't be given up for the rights of animals, but still has flaws in its implementation. We cannot always just consider numbers of population and individual people. Sagoff teaches us to think of society as a whole and consider how it's structured. Although his ideas to a solution are vague, they do make sense conceptually. An increase in education of the general population about current ecological problems are the most efficient way to bring about change within the system. By disseminating this information, we may eventually be able to effectively balance maintaining the population, meeting human dietary needs, and keeping the capitalist consumer model of America alive.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Prompt 12

In my first post I discussed the current diet of the average American, and how it was affecting their health. I believed that the diet most people are on is leading to a higher rate of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and atherosclerosis. I proposed that not only is what we are eating killing us, it is leading to the mistreatment of animals. Our mass over-consumption of meat is leading to factory farms that do heinous things such has not having cages big enough for animals to move around in. This, combined with the steroids and hormones that we inject to make the animals larger; steroids we later ingest; leads to a gross mistreatment of animals. I proposed that by raising all animals free-range/organic, we could improve our own health, while leading to better lives for the animals.

Later on, for my 10th post, I did readings by Leopold and Calicott that demonstrated the unsustainability of current human acts. They suggested that the world could never live in balance while humans continue to exploit its natural resources without bounds. This is partially due to our massive demands due to being over our carrying capacity, but also partially due to just pure wastefulness. People are unwilling to change and help sustain the environment unless they can make money off of it. People would rather profit themselves than help benefit their own species. Calicott offers the solution that we act like the Native Americans did, giving offerings such as food back to the natural environment in exchange for the resources that we exploit from it. While this is a good yet difficult idea, it is better than the other solution of killing off 90% of the population, and can be implemented through education of the general population.

I realize now that these two posts at opposite ends of the semester do not coincide with each other. My first post was written from an animal liberation perspective, while my 10th was derived from my ecological ethics perspective which developed over the course of this class. All of the organic/free-range cattle I talk about in my first post would need way more land than is currently used. Although grass-fed beef is much healthier, it is much more work and resource consuming. Also, if everyone started consuming free-range beef, our current population would have even less to keep it in check. With the current lack of disease, anything beneficial to a chunk of our species will only raise our population levels even further above our land's carrying capacity. In light of this, I have to change my conclusion from my initial post. One does not simply change how cattle are raised and improve the health of Americans. There needs to be a combination of grass-fed and grain-fed, to keep our own population in check. This allows us to manage our own health and population levels while gradually easing our use on factory farms and their dependency on the mistreatment of animals.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Prompt 11

In his article, Sagoff explains that environmental ethics and animal liberation could never coincide. He states that animal rights are concerned with the individual, while the conservationist is concerned with the balance of species and ecosystems. There is no sustainable way to protect the rights of every animal while humans live in balance with nature. Some of the things he suggests are a bit out of the ordinary. For example, he states that the place of greatest mistreatment to animals is in nature, not on factory farms like some conservationist groups have suggested. He seems to suggest, almost mockingly, that if animal rights groups want to protect individuals, they cannot concern themselves with only domesticated animals.

I think this is a very unusual position to take, although it oddly makes a lot of sense. With our current population size, it is only natural that we would treat animals the way we do. In nature, as Sagoff writes, an animal can have millions of young and only have one or two survive. The wild isn't concerned with morals or ethics; it a simple, yet violent system. The years an animal will live on a factory farm are much greater than what they would survive in the wild. Although some would argue, quality of life is more important than quantity of life. Even though animals are living longer and healthier, their treatment is still torturous in that they cannot roam or explore and develop mentally.

Sagoff's article helped me realize why I was having such issues previously in this class. I was trying to find a happy medium between animal rights and environmental ethics. Sagoff clarified that there could be no in between. I think this would definitely push my perspective towards the ecological ethics end of the spectrum. I believe that it's more important for the world to be in balance than for animals to be completely protected. If animals were granted certain unalienable rights, it doesn't seem like it would solve any of the global issues we have today. It seems that the most pressing issue to animals is human invasion of habitat, something that could be solved from an environmental ethics perspective. If human population were to reduced as proposed by the perspective of Leopold, Calicott, and Hardin; it would solve many of the pressures of animals in nature. Although the lives of individuals in certain species may be lost, the quality of life of animals as a whole would be improved.

When comparing my response to prompt 10 against Allie's, there are many similarities but a few differences still remain. We both take an environmental ethics standpoint, wanting to better the community as a whole instead of the individual. We both discussed and focused on the hypocrisy of man; how he only will do things that are environmentally beneficial if he is adequately compensated for it. However, we differed in what our solutions to this might be. Allie suggested that the problem was rooted in capitalism and that taken advantage of other nations would contribute to our downfall. I suggested than the blame cannot be placed on only one socioeconomic structure. I gave examples as to how China and Russia are both greater polluters than the United States, and they are both communist. I believe the solution to this lies not in a change of economic policy, but in a global education of the issues that are prevalent. Good ecological decisions cannot be made until people around the world have an in depth knowledge of the issue. This isn't to say that the problem lies only in third world countries, as the example with the farmers clearly suggest. I believe that through this effort, environmental progress can be made, and as a result, so can the improvement of the welfare of individual animals.

In regards to:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prompt 10

Many of the ideas that Leopold introduces and Calicott later elaborates on demonstrate the idea that a balanced earth and the one that exists today are two separate ideas. The two authors explain that an earth that is healthy and an earth that is dominated by human exploitation are two very different concepts. Current use by humans treats the land as purely instrumental to humans. There is no second thought to the idea that the authors elaborate on throughout their writing; that everything is connected in a biotic community. Leopold later shows that the Earth cannot continue to live and flourish with “the impact of mechanized man.” Calicott expands on this with the idea that if this is true, “man [cannot] survive his own impact on the land.”

If humans continue to think that they are the only important community on this planet, ecological progress will never be made. Currently, modernized countries have a purely economical view of the land. Leopold demonstrates that farmers are only willing to perform environmentally remedial acts if they receive adequate compensation for it. There is no sentiment of need for preservation among the common population. Those who are most capable of changing land-use property (those who own the most), are usually those who are only looking to profit from it. Leopold goes on to say that the restoration processes that are unwilling to be undergone by the individual land-owner are usually relegated to government, although government usually does not have the capacity to undergo such a process.

The bigger issue that this stems from is that people are unwilling to undergo anything that is a burden to them. People want to preserve the environment, but not if it affects their everyday lives. Any good consumed by the general population is deemed much to valuable to be sacrificed for the greater good of the human race. The consumer or industrialist is much too busy profiting from the world's resources to be concerned about how it affects others in the community. This extends to the idea that people will only realize that there is a problem when resources begin to diminish. Humans tend not to see the biota relationship or inherent value that Leopold describes; only the instrumental value that they have become accustomed to.

Calicott's solution to these quandaries results in a give and take relationship between humans and the earth. This can easily be compared to the way Native Americans acted when they were assimilating from individual tribes into bigger nations. Since population density and therefore exploitation increased, Native Americans gave back to the specific species that they were exploiting. Calicott discusses “offerings” given to the same population that they consumed. He goes on to elaborate on how Native Americans never failed to use as much of the collected resource as possible, eliminating waste and maximizing energy usage throughout the biota.

I agree with the proposal that Calicott concludes upon. This seems much more humans and less misanthropic than the idea proposed by Aiken; that a 90% reduction in human population is necessary to have a sustainable planet. Calicott tries to join the two usually opposing ideas of human and biotic moral obligations. I believe that although Calicott's solution is very difficult to engineer in a real-world situation, it is plausible. I think that the way this should be done is through the means I have commonly cited in my earlier posts, education of the general population. People need to be informed of what they are doing to the environment, and how their daily actions affect much more than they realize. The community needs to learn that there are many species out there, not all of which we can immediately reap benefits from, but which keep the earth's environment in constant balance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prompt 8

The argument that I almost wholeheartedly agree with for preserving species is that individual species are part of a greater entity (the ecosystem.) By wiping out one particular species, humans may cause a much more drastic change in our environment. Throughout history, there have been many examples of how delicate a balance our planet's ecosystem is. This can be shown through invasive species – such as the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria – or through overpopulation through the killing of natural predators – such as the current deer population on Binghamton University's campus. With these examples, it becomes hard to follow Russow's case against this argument.

Throughout her response, Russow offers many examples that support her position, but seemingly ignores the ones that oppose it. Her point of view is skewed enough that she goes so far as to say that “it would seem wrong to wipe out the encephalitis-bearing mosquito.” Her criticism of this is that diseases have adapted to these organisms and as a result, adaptations have developed throughout the system that the mosquito exists in. She seemingly suggests that we should simply let nature and natural selection take its course. However, the example she fails to notice that it is human interaction that has caused this problem in the first place.

As human populations grow and expand, so do the space they inhabit and the resources they consume. Garbage dumps and wastelands become more common, and there is a proportional increase in the amount of pests. Standing water that collects in urban areas or refuse depots are prime breeding grounds for disease carrying mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are transported around by an increased rat population, also a result of an increased population. A similar process has been evident since medieval times, with the flea and the spread of the black plague. If it hadn't been for the original human involvement, the increased mosquito population and related rate of encephalitis infection would not pose the issue it does today.

Russow's argument falls flat because it fails to regard that humans are simply solving the problems they originally created. The example of killing mosquitoes cannot be used to define why we do not necessarily need to protect species. In the destruction of other species we are unbalancing an ecosystem; in the case of the mosquitoes we are trying to restore the balance we originally tampered with. There could be catastrophic results to following Russow's argument. If the mosquito population was left unchecked, there might be an epidemic of encephalitis that would lead to the destruction of several other species, including our own. From the perspective Russow provides, this would merely be nature taking its course, something that I find unacceptable.

Prompt 7

Original Post -

My response to prompt 7 is based off of my original post in this class. I began talking about how what Americans normally consume in their daily diet is actually unhealthier than they think. I went on to discuss how not only is our diet detrimental to our health, it affects the lives of animals throughout the country. I believe that for this discussion, the consumer model is very beneficial to my analysis.

Most of what Americans consume today is what the government tells them is they should. The food pyramid we grew up learning breaks down what the USDA recommends we consume. However, there is a great amount of research detailing that not only is this sort of diet not the healthiest for us, it could also lead to some of America's greatest health problems today. We all consume what the USDA recommends or “approves”, without stopping to question what this approval means. I believe one of the main issues with the population today is that we only value food as fuel; we don't stop to think about where this food comes from or the process it undergoes on the way to our tables.

I agree with Sagoff in that it is very hard to change individual behavior. From personal experience, it is very difficult for people to realize that what they are consuming is bad both for themselves and the environment. Why should the people listen to the ideas of a college kid or the papers of a few Ph.Ds? People only know what they've been told or experience, and a government agency has a lot more publicity than myself or a few independent studies. Although some choose to educate themselves from different sources, you cannot expect that from everyone. People are too busy living their lives to stop and think about where their food comes from. If this education was more readily available, you might see a lot more dissent from what the government recommends.

In this case, it also becomes very difficult to change the capitalist system, as Sagoff recommends. Lobbyist groups and government scientists have made it all but impossible to change the government standard. As the population continues to increase, demand for food is going to increase proportionately. I believe the government has implemented its standards not for the benefit of the individual, but in order to sustain growth of the population and profit from the food they consume. If the masses were to switch to free-range livestock like I suggested, there would not be enough food to sustain either the current population size or the amount of money the government is making. This is why I believe a different approach is needed. By educating the population on an independent basis, knowledge is disseminated and some, but not all of the population will change their habits. This might lead to a more balanced situation, where health and animal rights improve and the government still has enough money to support the system.