Planting Trees, Search Engines, and Climate Change

Written by César Palacios-González

The other day I went down an internet rabbit hole when researching about planting trees and climate change. I came out the other side concluding (among other things) that there were good reasons to change my search engine to Ecosia[1]. So I did, and, other things being equal, you should too. If you have never heard of Ecosia this is the main gist: it is a search engine that uses its profits from search ad revenue to help fund tree planting projects around the world. Now let me explain how I came to this conclusion. But before I begin, I think it’s important to clarify something. Climate change is a political problem that requires a political solution. But I think this is no way negates that individual actions matter in terms of fighting its effects.

Climate change is one of the most (if not the most) serious emergencies that humanity faces right now. It is not only that the poor will suffer the most because of it.  In the words of the UN, climate change is ‘the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment’. Climate change, among other things, speeds the spread of infectious diseases like malaria, increases the frequency and severity of weather-related disasters such as heatwaves and floods, and creates the conditions that lead to potentially fatal malnutrition and diarrhoea (read more here and here). The World Health Organization ‘estimates that the warming and precipitation trends due to anthropogenic climate change of the past 30 years [up to 2005] already claim over 150,000 lives annually’. And according to the WHO climate change is expected, between 2030 and 2050, to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year. And it is not only humans who suffer, wildlife devastation is already happening (for example, see here and here).

Consumption in the developed world (from food to air travel, to mostly anything in between) generates greenhouse gases. And these gases trap heat in the atmosphere:

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010

In 2017, for example, the UK per capita emission of CO2 equivalent was of 7.7 tonnes (CO2 equivalent, henceforth CO2e, is a standard way of measuring carbon footprint[2]). You can answer this questionnaire from the WWF to know how big your environmental impact is. So, we know that our consumption generates a lot of greenhouse gases, that these gases contribute significantly to climate change, and that climate change harms and kills people and wildlife.

Given that the total amount of human CO2e emissions is radically different from your personal CO2e emissions it is natural to ask if your emissions (and your lifetime emissions) cause any of the previously mentioned harms. In a recent article, John Broome has shown that ‘individual’s emissions may do harm, and that they certainly do expected harm’. In other words, any one of your emissions may or may not do actual harm (for example, it could be the case that your emission was the one which triggered the drought), but they certainly create an expectation of harm (an expectation that wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t produced the emission). Here it is important to note that unless doing otherwise would greatly affect our interests, morality requires avoiding doing expected harm. Think about the following case: suppose that you can walk down road A or B. The roads are identical and lead you to the exact same place, but for the fact that if you walk down road B you might trigger an avalanche which will kill some people in a nearby village. Morality requires that you walk down road A.

What should we do regarding this expectation of harm? The first thing is carrying out lifestyle changes that will cancel or reduce some of our emissions; for example cutting meat from your diet and changing our light bulbs to LEDs, among many other things. Making such changes reduces the expected harm from your CO2e emissions. I say “reduce” because you would still likely be producing greenhouse gases in other areas of your life. The best outcome in this regard is not only to reduce one’s carbon footprint to zero, but to live a life where your carbon footprint is negative.

The second thing one should do is carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting can be understood as a compensatory action for carbon emissions whose aim is to increase CO2 absorption or prevent its generation (for more on offsetting see here). The idea is that you balance out your emissions, and this can be done in different ways. For example: planting trees or funding clean energy technologies.

Most people in the developed world will still end up generating emissions even after a major lifestyle change, and these emissions create an expectation of harm (these emissions could come, for example, from commuting via train to work). It could be the case that you have enough resources (economic or otherwise) to offset all the emissions that you were not able to cancel through your lifestyle change. If this were the case, and you used your resources in such way, then it seems that you would no longer create an expectation of harm. It could also be the case, and I think this is the most likely scenario, that you do not have the resources (economic or otherwise) to offset all of your emissions after your lifestyle changes. What are you to do if you were in such a situation where no other lifestyle changes are possible? For example, you are stuck with your 10-year-old car and you need to drive to work due to the lack of public transportation. Here is where Ecosia comes into play.

Ecosia, as any other search engine, generates revenue from your clicking on advertisements (in this case the ads come via Bing who pays Ecosia a share, click here for more information). But importantly, Ecosia uses its profits from search ad revenue for tree planting. And according to recent research, substantive tree planting is among the best climate change solutions to date (click here for the paper).

Now, when you make a purchase on the internet you can use two different types of search engines to look for the stuff that you want to buy: 1) search engines that do not use their profits from search ad revenue for tree planting, and 2) search engines that do use their profits from search ad revenue for tree planting. As mentioned above, if you are like most people in the developed world then even after your lifestyle changes you have net positive emissions. And given that you cannot cancel out your emissions, the next best thing to do when online buying is to use a search engine that uses its profits from search ad revenue to help fund tree planting projects around the world.


[1] I guess here is where I say two things. First, I only talk about this search engine because, as far as I know, there are no others like it. Second, I am in not in any way paid nor do I receive any kind of economic benefit, or otherwise, from said company.

[2]The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming. That way, a carbon footprint consisting of lots of different greenhouse gases can be expressed as a single number’.

Japan to Allow Human-Animal Hybrids to be Brought to Term

By Mackenzie Graham

The article was originally published at the Conversation

Around the world thousands of people are on organ donor waiting lists. While some of those people will receive the organ transplants they need in time, the sad reality is that many will die waiting. But controversial new research may provide a way to address this crisis.

Japan has recently overturned its ban on the creation of human-animal hybrids, or “chimeras”, and approved a request by researchers from the University of Tokyo to create a human-mouse hybrid.

Scientists will attempt to grow a human pancreas inside a mouse, using a certain kind of stem cell known as “induced pluripotent stem cells”. These are cells that can grow into almost any kind of cell. The stem cells will be injected into a mouse embryo, which has been genetically modified to be incapable of producing a pancreas using its own cells. This hybrid embryo is then implanted in a mouse surrogate and allowed to grow. The goal is to eventually grow a human pancreas in a larger animal – such as a pig – which can be transplanted into a human.

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Irresponsible Parents, Religious Beliefs, and Coercion. What the Rockland County Measles Outbreak Response Teaches Us About Vaccination Policies

Written by Alberto Giubilini

Oxford Martin School, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford


Following a measles outbreak, Rockland County in New York has enforced a 30 day emergency measure that involves barring unvaccinated children and teenagers from any public place (not just schools, but also restaurants, shopping centres, places of worship, and so on). Parents face up to 6 months in jail and/or a $500 fine if they are found to have allowed their unvaccinated children in public spaces. In fact, this measure resembles quite closely a form of quarantine. Some might think this kind of policy is too extreme. However, I think the problem is that the measure is not extreme enough. It is necessary and justified given the state of emergency, but it is not sufficient as a vaccination policy. Parents can still decide not to vaccinate their children and keep them at home for the 30 days the order will last. Thus, the policy still gives some freedom to parents, who are responsible for the situation, and this freedom comes at the cost of penalizing the children, who are not responsible. We need to contain and to prevent measles cases and measles outbreaks by forcing parents to vaccinate their children, not simply by preventing children from leaving their homes when emergencies arise. Continue reading

Human In Vitro Gametogenesis and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Written by César Palacios-González

It seems that in the not-so-distant future, scientists will be able to create functional human gametes (i.e. eggs and sperm) in a laboratory setting. In other words, they will be able to create human gametes outside of the human body. And just as there is in vitro fertilization (IVF), there will be in vitro gametogenesis (IVG). This means that our already long list of human reproductive acronyms –IVF, PGD, ICSI, PNT, PBT1, PBT2, MST, UTx, CT, etc.–  will get a bit longer. At present, some of the best biology labs from around the world are actively working on how to achieve such goal, and non-human animal models have shown some amazing results.

For starters, scientists have successfully derived in a laboratory setting mouse oocyte-like cells and sperm-like cells from induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells. And, most surprisingly, they have been able to create what has been called “cross-sex gametes”. This means that they have been able to create sperm-like cells from female mice, and oocyte-like cells from male mice (I use the terms ‘sperm-like’ and ‘oocyte-like’ because these cells are not identical to naturally occurring gametes). Some of such cross-sex gametes have, in turn, been capable of producing live offspring. Continue reading

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

By Mackenzie Graham

In late November, a radio station in Cleveland Ohio announced it would be removing the song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ from its holiday playlist, in response to listener complaints. Several other radio stations followed, including Canadian broadcasters Bell Media, CBC Radio and Rogers Media. These decisions proved divisive among listeners, however, with many of the US broadcasters, as well as the CBC, quickly reversing course and reinstating the song after conducting online listener polls.

The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, as a duet that he regularly performed with his wife Lynn Garland at Hollywood celebrity parties. In 1949, Loesser sold the song to MGM Studios, who used it in the film Neptune’s Daughter, where it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that same year. It has been re-recorded by more than 50 artists since that time, most recently in 2018, and is a staple of popular radio during the Christmas season, due to its wintery theme.

In the lyrics of the song, a party guest (typically sung by a female voice) and the party host (typically a male voice) sing back and forth about whether the guest should stay for ‘one more drink,’ or venture home (despite it being, presumably, quite cold outside). The female voice sings lines like ‘I ought to say no, no, no’, ‘what’s in this drink’, ‘you’re very pushy you know’, and ‘the answer is no’, while the male voice sings lines like ‘mind if I move in closer’, ‘what’s the sense of hurting my pride’, and ‘gosh your lips look delicious.’

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Against Conscientious Objection In Health Care: A Counterdeclaration And Reply To Oderberg

Alberto Giubilini (Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford) and

Julian Savulescu (Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford)

Conscientious objection in health care – that is, healthcare practitioners objecting to performing certain legal, safe, and beneficial medical procedures (e.g. abortion) that a patient requests by appealing to their personal moral values – is one of the most debated topics in medical ethics at present time. Although at the moment doctors’ private conscience enjoys a lot of legal protection – most laws that make abortion legal contain clauses that exempt doctors from performing the procedure if they so wish. We have provided reasons, both in this forum and in our academic work, for why we think that conscientious objection in health care is not morally permissible and should not be allowed in the case of procedures that are legal, safe, beneficial, autonomously requested by patients and, more generally, consistent with the standards of good medical practice (see e.g. Savulescu 2006, Savulescu and Schuklenk 2017, Giubilini 2014, Giubilini 2017). Some people disagree and advance reasons for the opposite view. One of the scholars who has more clearly and straightforwardly articulated the principles and reasons in support of conscientious objection in health care is Professor Oderberg of Reading University. Prof Oderberg was recently invited to debate the issue with Julian Savulescu at the Masters Course in Practical Ethics run by the Uehiro Centre here at the University of Oxford. On that occasion, Prof Oderberg’s defense of conscientious objection centred around a series of principles and considerations that he very effectively formulated in the 17 main points that constitute his “Declaration in support of conscientious objection in health care”, published on the University of Reading website and which is available for people who agree with him to sign. Continue reading

The Ethics of Consciousness Hunting

By Mackenzie Graham

Crosspost from Nautilus. Click here to read the full article

When Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario, asked Scott Routley to imagine playing a game of tennis, any acknowledgement would have been surprising. After all, Routely had been completely unresponsive for the 12 years since his severe traumatic brain injury. He was thought to be in a vegetative state: complete unawareness of self or environment. But, as Owen watched Routley’s brain inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, he saw a region of the motor cortex called the supplementary motor area—thought to play a role in movement—light up with activity. When he told Routely to relax, the activity ceased. And when he asked Routley to imagine walking around his house, he saw clear activity in the parahippocampal gyrus—a region of the brain that plays an important role in the encoding and recognition of spatial environment.


One question that Owen didn’t ask Routley was if he wanted to die. It’s easy to imagine how Routley’s life might not be worth living. It might be painful, for example, or mean he could no longer do the things that he wanted to do in life, or involve the loss of his relationships. On the other hand, people who sustain debilitating injuries often report a level of well-being that approximates that of healthy people. Even patients in a locked-in state—total paralysis with the exception of eye-movement—have reported that they are happy with their lives.

Continue reading at: http://nautil.us/issue/64/the-unseen/the-ethics-of-consciousness-hunting

Fetal Reduction in a Multiple Pregnancy: the Case of Identical Twins

Written by Elizabeth Crisp and Roger Crisp

When a woman aborts a single fetus, that abortion can be a morally troubling experience for her. What about a situation in which a woman is pregnant with more than one fetus, perhaps identical twins, and wishes to abort just one of them – that is, engage in what is sometimes called ‘fetal reduction’ in a ‘multiple pregnancy’? Continue reading

The Psychology of Uncertainty, Vaccinations, and Protecting the Most Vulnerable: Was Rawls Right After All?

written by Andreas Kappes (@AnKappes), Anne-Marie Nußberger (@amnussberger ), Molly Crockett (@mollycrockett ) & Julian Savulescu  (@juliansavulescu)

Measles is making a comeback in Britain and Europe with numbers rising to record levels this year. Last year in Europe, measles killed 35 people, including young children . The re-emergence of measles can be traced to falling rates of vaccination and might make you want to re-think your summer plans. Crowded environments with low levels of hygiene, also known as summer festivals, are something to avoid if unsure about whether you have been properly vaccinated. And maybe re-think going for holidays to Romania, Italy and Greece, the countries with the highest rates of measles outbreaks this year.

But of course, even if you are not vaccinated, your chances of getting measles are low. And if you are infected, dying from measles is rare. The people that die during measles outbreaks are vulnerable babies that are too young to be vaccinated and unvaccinated people with compromised immune systems. And what are the chances that you infect one of these vulnerable people? Extremely low. Your intuition then might be that even if you are unsure about your vaccination status, the low odds don’t seem to justify the effort to engage with the NHS or any other health care provider. Maximize your benefits, and others will surely be fine. Individually, this feels right, but for the communities and countries we live in, this is disastrous, slowly eroding herd immunity that protects the most vulnerable.

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Free Will Sceptics: We’re Not So Bad.

Written by Neil Levy

A number of philosophers and psychologists suggest that belief in free will – whether it is true or not – is important, because it promotes prosocial behavior. People who disbelieve in free will might become fatalists, holding that their choices make no difference to how events play out, because they’re already determined (say). They might think that our lives lack value, in the absence of free will, and therefore that they do not deserve respect. There is, on most accounts of free will, a close link between free will and moral responsibility: if we lack free will, we’re not morally responsible. This link provides a third path whereby lack of belief in free will might lead to antisocial behavior: because people believe that they do not deserve blame for acting badly, they might be less motivated to act well. Continue reading


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