It’s Global Earth Day, and this year the theme is environmental and climate literacy. I’d like to take us through an argument and a set of calculations. If what I write is correct, it only illustrates (but quite vividly, I think) the mess we’re in. So I hope that someone will convince me that what follows is wrong, or that the pessimistic conclusions do not follow.
Posts by author:
Today are elections in the Netherlands. They are labelled ‘historical’ elections, for both national and international reasons. The most important international reason is that this is a first of several national elections in Europe taking place this year, and the question is to what extent (right-wing) populist parties will win the elections. The fear is that this could lead to more countries being led by parties who want to pull out of the EU, and have more nationalistic and populist politics – closing borders, pulling out of international treaties, and perhaps even eroding the rule of law. The worry is that the Netherlands may be the first in a row of right-wing populist victories. [click to continue…]
The Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation has launched an initiative to raise funds to counter the possible effects of Trumps’ signing of the so-called Mexico City Policy (also called ‘global gag rule’), which prohibits US government funding of organizations that provide access to abortions, or information about it. The initiative is called She Decides, and aims to give girls and women access to family planning services. [click to continue…]
2017 started off badly, with the death of Tony Atkinson – the most important economist working on inequality, poverty (in affluent societies), the economics of the welfare state, and ‘optimal taxation’. Academics who have known Atkinson have lost one of the most humane, wise and gentle of their colleagues, who was genuinely caring about other people in his work as well as in his interactions with them.
The world at large has lost a wise welfare economist who was the Godfather of modern inequality analysis and therefore (and for other reasons) should have received the Nobel Prize. Without his work, inequality metrics and knowledge on social security mechanisms wouldn’t be what they are now; he continued working on normative welfare economics throughout the decades in which it wasn’t fashionable at all (I am not sure it is fashionable again, but at least I hope that the recent hugely popular and influential work by Thomas Piketty has improved the status of inequality analysis among economists.)
Atkinson’s work on how to effectively protect the poor and decrease inequalities will be badly needed in the years to come, so luckily he has left us a goldmine of scholarly papers and academic books, including most recently Inequality: What can be done? which doesn’t require an economics degree to be understood.
For Thomas Piketty’s obituary of Atkinson, see here.
We could wait to post something here on the Trump Election until we have processed the shock. But we should have a place to discuss how to make sense of this, and think about how to go from here. So here are my two cents; I am sure other Timberites will give us more matured reactions later. [click to continue…]
I watched Before the Flood today, the Leonardi di Caprio film on climate change. I think it does a great job for three reasons. First, it brings the debate on climate change to the masses, which the articles that scientists write in Science or Nature won’t do, nor will the class with 25 graduate students to whom I taught climate ethics. It’s great to have in-depth and very detailed debates on either the science or the ethics of climate change, but this problem needs mass mobilisation. Second, it gives a more visual and narrative complement to an intellectual approach to climate change (have you ever tried to read the IPCC reports? You’ll understand what I mean). As Piers Sellars, an astronaut and director of the Earths Sciences Division of NASA says in the movie, he understood the problem of climate change intellectually for a long time, but only when he saw the fragility of the Earth from space, really captured the scale and significance of the problem. A film such as this one can be that non-cognitive complement for all of us. Third, Di Caprio interviews an impressive range of people from different sectors and different countries, which makes the movie interesting and rhetorically powerful. [click to continue…]
Ever since my oldest son has developed a deep interest in flower arrangements, I’ve seen more flower art in my house than in my entire previous adult life. But the sunflower doesn’t need arranging: it’s most beautiful standing by itself, or with a few other sunflowers – each of them being a little piece of art in themselves.
Yesterday, Austria’s constitutional court annulled the presidential elections that were held on May 22nd. These elections led – with a mere 0,6% difference – to a victory for the Green Party-backed independent candidate Alexander van der Bellen over the populist right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer. If Hofer had won, it would have been the first time that a populist right-wing politician would become the President of Austria, which many (including me) see as a worrying sign of the way European politics has been developing (and this was all pre-Brexit!).
I’ve been dealing with an inner-ear infection and haven’t had the energy to read very widely on the web, but am struggling with a question to which I couldn’t find the answer. So let me ask that question here, since our readers who are knowledgable about Austrian politics may be able to enlighten me. [click to continue…]
In some circles, there have been rumours going around for a while that Thomas Pogge, the hugely influential global justice philosopher, has been having sexual affairs with several students, and has been engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other female students. Earlier this week, the academic community seems to have lost its faith in the formal institutions being able to adequately deal with the complaints by the accusers, and more than 160 (mainly philosophy) professors have signed an Open Letter “to express [their] opposition to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education” and condemning Pogge’s “harmful actions against women”. (Anyone not knowing enough about the Pogge case can find the relevant background information via the links in the Open Letter). In the meantime several hundreds have added their signature to the Open Letter, and many others have been invited to do so.
There are many academic philosophers who hold the view that as a scholar Pogge has made important contributions to the literatures on theories of justice, and global justice in particular. And for decades Pogge has generously supported scholars, without regard of institutional affiliation or their fame or seniority – often opening opportunities that helped these people pursue their careers. Many of these collaborators or mentees of Pogge (including young women) never had unpleasant encounters with him, and in fact have regarded him as a highly valued colleague. So naturally they feel this is all very painful and tragic – an unfolding of events that is harming not just the victims, but everyone. Pogge’s reputation is deeply damaged, but also the reputation of the fields to which he has been a major contributor has been damaged, and perhaps even the activist causes he has been trying to advance.
The letter has been circulating widely, and many individuals have been invited to sign. It will increasingly be difficult for people to not have heard about the Open Letter at all. This has led many to ask themselves: should we sign this letter?
[click to continue…]
The Austrians just elected Alexander Van der Bellen, a Green politician, as their new President – with 50,3% of the votes. The other half of those holding the right to vote preferred Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the populist right-wing (or, as some have it, neo-fascist) party FPÖ. I haven’t followed Austrian politics close enough to know whether that qualification is justified. It’s a difficult debate about which qualifications are justified for the various European radical right-wing parties, but either way it seems that their becoming more mainstream has not made them less radical (Dutch political scientists who have studied various radical right-wing European political parties claim that they do not moderate their principles and ambitions when they gain power – they only moderate their tone).
Either way, those of us who see the European radical right-wing parties as dangerous for values such as toleration, solidarity and international cooperation, have an uphill battle to fight. Van der Bellen may have won last night – but we should not forget that half of the Austrians prefer a radical right-wing president. Too much of this reminds us of the toxic political climate we had in Europe in the past. And I find it increasingly hard not too worry that there are too many signs of some of that returning.
Happy International Women’s Day, everybody!
This year my small contribution will be to try to be a broker in (semi-) Open Access feminist philosophy. I’ll post a few links to a few good sources in feminist philosophy, and you add yours in the comments section (including your own, don’t be shy!) – deal?
First, before anything else, let’s be grateful for the philosophers at Feminist Philosophers who have, over the years, created a superb source of information on gender (and other diversity) issues in academic philosophy, but also on topics in feminist philosophy.
Then, under ‘my favorite readings’, I want to list Harry’s brilliant experiment that can be used whenever young people believe that gender justice within the family is an issue of the past, no longer of the present. Harry, did you do any recent replications, or do all students of yours already know what you’re after and hence you can no longer conduct the experiment?
And I want to list Anca Gheaus’s article giving a theoretical account of gender justice in the Open Access Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. Also excellent is the work on the gendered division of labour by Gina Schouten, but it seems you need to be signed up to Academia.edu if you want to read her papers on Gina’s Academia website.
The indispensable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a wide range of entries on feminist philosophy. And, there’s now also a fully Open Access journal, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, run by some great feminist philosophers.
What would you like to add to this list of (semi-) open access feminist philosophy resources?
After the horrible attacks in Paris, a day of mourning is only appropriate. But we’d better mourn for all victims of extreme and systematic violence – not just in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and other places.
The day before the Paris attacks, 41 people where killed in an attack by IS/ISIS in Southern Beirut.
In Baghdad, an IS/ISIS attack on a mosque killed 18 people, and 2 earlier this week when a Shiite place of worship was hit by two road bombs.
In the meantime, thousands of refugees that are fleeing for the violence of IS/ISIS are trying to get into Europe in horrific circumstances, many losing their lives along the way.
Let us not compare these tragedies. Yet let us also not just mourn for the tragedy that happens in places that we know best, or people we most identify with. Instead, let us mourn for all those lost lives, for all the suffering that could be avoided, if only we, as the human species, hadn’t gotten ourself into this horrific mess.
Over the last three days, the first meeting of authors of the International Panel of Social Progress (IPSP) was held in Istanbul. The IPSP is to some extent modeled after the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but one important difference is that it is not commissioned by governments, but rather fully peer-led and hence ‘autonomous’ (in at least one important sense of that word). There are some partners/funders, but they have no influence on the content of the report. The entire event is quite experimental: a highly interdisciplinary group of scholars, drawn from around the world, will try to write a report capturing the state of the art on social change, and look at paths for a better future.
A bunch of visionary social scientists and humanities scholars (under the leadership of Marc Fleurbaey) felt that scholars from the social sciences and humanities (SSH) should team up to tackle the question of social change and social progress – summarize what the SSH have to say on this, and how we can in a systematic way think about which institutions and practices have brought us social progress and which ones have not, and which options are open for the future. Apart from it being not commissioned by a government, there is another major difference with the IPCC. The nature of the substance is quite different; we are not dealing with the ecosystems of the Earth, but rather with social change – a topic where empirical research is quite strongly influenced by theoretical frameworks and conceptual choices, and which is also inevitably normatively laden when it comes to evaluations and suggestions for paths for the future. As a consequence, it will be impossible, given the nature of the beast, to aim to report on consensus. In the SSH, there is only often to a limited extent a consensus on ‘facts’, and most of the time no consensus at all about normative issues. How, then, can there be a report that aims to summarize what scholars in the SSH know about social change and social progress? [click to continue…]
In 2014, the Dutch NGO Urgenda, together with 886 citizens, filed a law suit against the Dutch state for not taking sufficient action to limit climate change. Today, the court gave its verdict, which could live be followed on internet (in Dutch, without subtitles). The court has also immediately put an English translation of the ruling online. And the court has ruled:
The Hague District Court has ruled today that the State must take more action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands. The State also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25% lower than those in 1990.
Many parties have called this a historical ruling, and no doubt this may inspire citizens and activist NGOs in other countries to take their States to court. Few commentators expected that the court would come to this ruling. Many believed that the court would not want to burn its fingers on what is essentially a political process; indeed, some have even gone so far to question whether the division of powers of the Trias Politica would be violated. Yet the court provided an answer to that worry:
With this order, the court has not entered the domain of politics. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, while respecting the government’s scope for policymaking. For these reasons, the court should exercise restraint and has limited therefore the reduction order to 25%, the lower limit of the 25%-40% norm.
The fact that the ruling only concerns 25% of CO2 reductions highlights that this is not the end of our struggles. A 25% reduction may be fanastic since it’s a court ruling (and that gives it a special kind of political status), but it is not enough. We should also not forgot the sadness of the situation – that we had to go to court to force the government to take action, in a country where legal action is generally not considered a way to do politics or bring activist concerns into the political arena.
Students and staff who are occupying and protesting: share information!
[click to continue…]