Environmental Ethics

Hang Onto Your Soul

By Charles Foster

Image: https://the-conscious-mind.com

I can’t avoid Steven Pinker at the moment. He seems to be on every page I read. I hear him all the time, insisting that I’m cosmically insignificant; that my delusional thoughts, my loves, my aspirations, and the B Minor Mass’s effect on me are merely chemical events. I used to have stuck up above my desk (on the principle that you should know your enemy), his declaration (as stridently irrational as the sermon of a Kentucky Young Earth Creationist): ‘A major breakthrough of the Scientific Revolution – perhaps its greatest breakthrough – was to refute the intuition that the Universe is saturated with purpose.’ 1

He tells me that everything is getting better. Has been getting better since the first eruption of humans into the world.2 That there’s demonstrable progress (towards what, one might ask, if the universe has no purpose? – but I’ll leave that for the moment). That there’s less violence; there are fewer mutilated bodies per capita. He celebrates his enlightenment by mocking my atavism: he notes that the Enlightenment came after the Upper Palaeolithic, and (for the law of progress admits no exceptions) concludes that that means that our Enlightenment age is better than what went before. Continue reading

No, Plant-Based Meals Do Not Undermine Freedom of Choice

No, Plant-Based Meals Do Not Undermine Freedom of Choice

Written by Joanna Demaree-Cotton

 

Last month, TV personality Jeremy Clarkson took centre-stage in our local county politics with an argument against plant-based meals. His fury—expressed on television, on Twitter, and in a strongly-worded column in The Sun—was sparked by the Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to provide only plant-based meals at council-catered events as a move towards environmental sustainability.

 

Local farmers—including Jeremy Clarkson, whose farm in Oxfordshire was the focus of his latest TV venture Clarkson’s Farm—protested the measures. There is nothing surprising about this. There’s a straightforward conflict of interest here. It’s in the interests of people who make a living from selling animal products to promote diets based around animal products. (As local arable farmer John Richardson was reported to have said at the protest, “[we’re] just trying to promote the good food we produce”.)

 

More curious, however, is the claim that it’s morally wrong to have policies committing to plant-based catering. More specifically, one of Clarkson’s arguments was that deciding to provide plant-based catering is morally wrong because it interferes with freedom of choice. Standing with protesting farmers, Clarkson reportedly argued:

 

“I think people have to have choice. If people want to eat seeds and weeds, fine. If people want to eat meat, fine. … You can’t dictate. You might be a vegetarian but you can’t make everyone else a vegetarian just because you are.”

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Philosophical Fiddling While the World Burns: Second Movement

Written by Doug McConnell

Most ethicists would agree that the climate emergency is one of the most serious ethical problems society has ever faced, yet the focus of most of our work is elsewhere. In his piece, “Philosophical Fiddling While the World Burns”, Charles Foster suggests that business as usual for ethicists – “fine ethical tuning” and making “subtle distinctions” – amounts to shuffling the deck chairs when we know the ship is heading for an iceberg. Here I argue that, frustratingly, most ethicists qua ethicists have a limited role in responding to the climate emergency. However, this doesn’t mean we should despair but, rather, that we should also contribute to addressing the climate emergency outside the ivory tower qua citizens. Continue reading

How we got into this mess, and the way out

By Charles Foster

This week I went to the launch of the latest book by Iain McGilchrist, currently best known for his account of the cultural effects of brain lateralisation, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western WorldThe new book, The Matter with Things: Our brains, our delusions, and the unmaking of the world is, whatever, you think of the argument, an extraordinary phenomenon. It is enormously long – over 600,000 words packed into two substantial volumes. To publish such a thing denotes colossal confidence: to write it denotes great ambition.

It was commissioned by mainstream publishers who took fright when they saw its size. There is eloquent irony in the rejection on the ground of its length and depth of a book whose main thesis is that reductionism is killing us. It was picked up by Perspectiva press. That was brave. But I’m predicting that Perspectiva’s nerve will be vindicated. It was suggested at the launch that the book might rival or outshine Kant or Hegel. That sounds hysterical. It is a huge claim, but this is a huge book, and the claim might just be right.

Nobody can doubt that we’re in a terrible mess. The planet is on fire; we’re racked with neuroses and governed by charlatans, and we have no idea what sort of creatures we are. We tend to intuit that we are significant animals, but have no language in which to articulate that significance, and the main output of the Academy is to scoff at the intuition. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Centre Goes DefaultVeg

By Katrien Devolder

“Britons have cut their meat consumption by 17% over the past decade but will need to double these efforts if they are to meet targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production set out in the national food strategy earlier this year”. So began an article in The Guardian last Friday.[1] The article was reporting the guidance of the National food strategy[2]—commissioned by the UK government, but developed by an independent team in 2021—which recommends that meat consumption is cut by 30% within a decade. Many scientific studies have concluded that we (i.e., richer countries) need to be even more ambitious than that, especially if we want to halt the climate crisis.[3]

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Philosophical Fiddling While the World Burns

By Charles Foster

An unprecedented editorial has just appeared in many health journals across the world. It relates to climate change.

The authors say that they are ‘united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory.’

Climate change, they agree, is the major threat to public health. Here is an excerpt: there will be nothing surprising here:

‘The risks to health of increases above 1.5°C are now well established. Indeed, no temperature rise is “safe.” In the past 20 years, heat related mortality among people aged over 65 has increased by more than 50%.Hi gher temperatures have brought increased dehydration and renal function loss, dermatological malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, allergies, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality. Harms disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health problems.’ Continue reading

What If Stones Have Souls?

By Charles Foster

Over the 40,000 years or so of the history of behaviourally modern humans, the overwhelming majority of generations have been, so far as we can see, animist. They have, that is, believed that all or most things, human and otherwise, have some sort of soul.

We can argue about the meaning of ‘soul’, and about the relationship of ‘soul’ to consciousness, but most would agree that whatever ‘soul’ and ‘consciousness’ mean, and however they are related, there is some intimate and necessary connection between them – even if they are not identical.

Consciousness is plainly not a characteristic unique to humans. Indeed the better we get at looking for consciousness, the more we find it. The universe seems to be a garden in which consciousness springs up very readily. Continue reading

A Juror’s Guide to Going Rogue

Written by Doug McConnell

A jury recently acquitted several activists charged with causing £25,000 worth of damage to Shell’s HQ in London despite the defendants admitting that they caused the damage and the judge informing the jury that the defendants had no legal defence. In other words, if the law were applied correctly, the jury had no choice but to find them guilty. When juries deviate from the law and “go rogue” like this, it is known as “nullification”. But when, if ever, should juries behave in this way? Continue reading

Video Series: How To Prevent Future Pandemics

First interview in the new  Thinking Out Loud series on ‘Animals and Pandemics’: Katrien Devolder in conversation with Jeff Sebo, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU, on how our treatment of animals increases the risk of future pandemics arising, and on what we should do to reduce that risk!

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