Add any ideas, articles, news pieces, or links that relate to the class. You can take advantage of this blog to boost your participation grade. But even if your grade is stellar, why not seize every chance to connect with your peers and share cool stuff?
7/18/2012 10:12:26 am

This article, speaks to the discussions we've been having about the value of nature vs. humans. Here, God takes on the anthropocentrists.,28806/

7/26/2012 01:51:41 am

Another reason to join Laura at the Zoo! New Cheetah cubs!

7/26/2012 01:14:56 pm

Thought this was an interesting article I saw on what we as consumers can do to improve the lives of farm animals:

7/26/2012 01:42:26 pm

Hey all!
I hope you all had a good time watching Dust Bowl at the White House.
I watched The Future of Food and I found it to be an interesting movie about the importance of biodiversity of agriculture and the danger of genetically modified organisms.
The documentary looks at the beginning of genetically engineered plants used for farming. It highlights major companies such as Monsanto and the potential dangers of their products. The most interesting point this movie made was the dangers of patent wars. In the thirties it was ruled by the Supreme Court that companies could hold patents for genetically modified organisms that they had developed. This causes several issues; one being that a company now has a patent on a living organism. This raises a question of moral concern in that this could lead to companies owning and controlling life. The film also covers the dirty side of these companies and the detrimental effects they have on farmers and the farming culture. They seek to control all farming with their genetically modified products thus driving them into debt and greatly reducing the diversity of agricultural goods produced. The real question, however, is should life be patented? Should it be used for financial gain?
Furthermore, these major companies seek to battle those who want products that contain genetically engineering ingredients to be labeled. Companies’ use excuses such, as the GE organisms are “substantially equivalent,” yet this seems to be a contradiction since having a patent means that something is really substantially different. Most importantly it is noted that they do not want labels so as to avoid any traceability for negative health effects due to their genetically engineered goods.
The documentary also notes that a lot of countries have banned the sale and import of genetically modified produce such as Mexico. In Mexico, the natural growth of the corn has allowed the corn to modify itself to survive weeds and other plant diseases. They have not been genetically engineered to battle natural “enemies.”
With the increase of Genetically engineered organisms, including farm animals and fish, scientists believe that this will have a huge impact on the poor of the world and contrary to what Monsanto believes, GE products will not feed the poor but in reality make them worse off. With over 80% of America’s beef coming from 4 companies, diversity is greatly shrinking. This raises the question on the importance of biodiversity of organisms and the detrimental effects of genetic engineering.

Jonathan Kesten
7/27/2012 07:27:40 am

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl from Ken Burns provides a narrative perspective on the worst man-made natural disaster in history, giving us lessons to draw upon for the future of humans’ impact on the environment. The film’s angle focuses mainly on the harm of overzealous farming techniques on innocent future generations. By contrasting the plentiful promise of America’s “breadbasket” with the tragic years of the Dust Bowl, we see how man’s impact on the environment can reverse the fertility of the extrinsically valuable land they live on.
The view of the film is categorically anthropocentric – humans are definitely the focal point of value in this documentary as they tell the story and they have the final word. Ultimately, this film asks how humans were affected by this disaster. Still, the land did hold instrumental value, seen by the groups of people who wanted to stay behind and hope for rainfall on the lands they had purchased in Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. From a preservationist perspective, the value of the native grasslands Oklahoma were disregarded for the need to farm wheat. Naturally occurring ecosystems emerge as a natural remedy for the eroded topsoil, something that Bryan Norton might point to as proof that we can listen and learn from nature.
This value of the land, ascribed to it by humans, calls for action to conserve it. Because the majority of those who bore the negative consequences of the dust bowl were the young and innocent that came after the farmers of the early 1900’s, Burns communicates the importance of foresight when dealing with the environment, and our responsibility to minimize suffering of future generations by preserving the natural resources of our day.
Another ethical theme present in this documentary is the ideal of conservation. Conservation says that nature should be used wisely and that since human interference is ultimately inevitable, we should be wise and use foresight to serve the needs of humans today and of tomorrow. Indeed, one of the root causes of the dust bowl was over-farming of wheat fields to produce the highest yields possible – this to feed the Allies abroad during World War I, as well as the United States. Farming techniques, and the strategies we implement on tilling the land are extremely important to sustain its fertility and ability to produce crops. A high population growth on the planet inevitably leads us to act and intervene in nature, as Zeide would argue, we have an obligation to properly feed the world.
Nonetheless, it is this very attitude that prioritizes market demands over nature conservation that led to the very disaster itself. The idea that “we want money now” drove farmers to use intense farming techniques for a short term profit. This attitude did not sensibly respect a sustainability ethic, and the long term economy ended up failing. Guha might bring up a global justice perspective, arguing that a sentientist ethic that only values the free market system is the source of ecological problems. The very start of this disaster was due to overconsumption and world-wide militarization. To avoid disasters in the future, Guha might suggest a radical change of the political and economic system to which we subscribe.
It was mentioned many times in the panel discussion that the conservation efforts of Howard Finnel were ignored in favor of maintaining the economy. As seen, this ignorance proved very costly for not only the health of the environment and the economy, but also of the living human beings in that area. The film calls for an ethic of respect and value for the environment, without approach biocentric ideals, maintaining the focus of value on humans.

Greg Rodarte
7/27/2012 11:24:46 am

The “Dust Bowl,” a documentary by critically acclaimed director Ken Burns, provides a first-hand account of the Dust Bowl, what the film describes as the worst human-caused “natural” tragedy. The film largely draws on the narratives of those living in the area at the time of the disaster, and how this is something that they did not understand would happen by damaging the natural environment they chose to inhabit. The documentary examines how the human desire to thrive can later have consequences on the environment which also damages their own ability to continue thriving. The documentary is taken from an anthropocentric point of view, and as discussed in class, a string of coherent anthropocentric arguments can actually be quite persuasive.
The other point of the documentary that I found to be quite persuasive was the activist approach that it took. It called upon individuals to stand up and DO SOMETHING in order to preserve our environment in which we live. Not only was this apparent in the actual video which we viewed, but was also a main theme of the panel after the documentary. We, as humans who have the capacity to ascribe value and moral consideration to such things as the environment, are called upon to question what the potential environmental impact of our actions will be. This is our responsibility as humans.
Lastly, another question with which I was left with after the viewing and panel discussion was “what exactly did the director and panelists mean when they used the word ‘environmentalist?’” Would an environmentalist be one that “has respect for nature?” In the view of Attfield, would these speakers ascribe value based on a system that sees different levels of inherent values? I believe that ultimately, due the word choices of the speakers and the director, that they would view the environment as important because of the effect it has on humans. This was not the only view expressed in the documentary though, as biocentric holists and speciesist were definitely represented. The documentary showed me that although thinkers from different schools of thoughts might disagree with their approaches and the reasoning used, ultimately they can come to the same conclusion: that the environment must be protected.

7/27/2012 11:47:55 am

Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl raises concerns about food security, disease and environmental degradation caused by human activity. His film shows how Karen Warren’s ideas about narrative in environmental ethics are relevant to ethical discussions. The viewer empathizes with the Cohen’s family, perceiving their loss as a personal one. The use of narrative makes the case for respecting nature more compelling and urgent.

As individuals in the documentary question modern exploitative technology and stress the interdependence of species, Taylor and Leopold’s ideas about biocentricism emerge. Like Taylor and Leopold, the farmers show concern about the stability and integrity of the interconnected biotic community. Lester Brown built on these ideas of interconnectedness when he spoke about how dust storms in India, Central Africa, and North Eastern China affect global food security.

When Tim Eagan and Brown echoed the documentary’s concerns about irrigation projects and the American aquifer’s survival, I thought about my village in rural Pakistan. The Indus basin is fertile, but arid. It depends on a combination of groundwater supplies (the Indian aquifer Lester mentioned) and massive irrigation projects. Without brick-lined perennial canals and stainless steel tubewells, Pakistan would be unable to either feed and clothe herself or export surplus food and cloth. But if the country continues exploiting natural resources in the way it does, Pakistani ecosystems will suffer and so will global ones.

The central challenge for policy makers therefore, is this: How do we feed and clothe the world’s growing population and maintain a balanced environment? Should we i) weigh the interests of human species above nonhuman nature ii) weigh their interests equally and even kill a few humans in a neo-Malthusian manner when humans overpopulate and overconsume iii) weigh conservation or interventionist practices over preservationist ones that argue for us to let nature be? Establishing consensus on questions remains hard. Committing to answer them, and asking better ones, is not.

7/27/2012 11:52:57 am

On a related note, I found these news articles while I was searching for the Indian and Chinese dust storms that Lester Brown mentioned. At least 15 people died during dust storms in Pakistan this summer:

Express Tribune, June 2012. “Swept Away: Countrywide Dust Storms Kill 8 people and injure 60”

Express Tribune, May 2012: “Dust Storm: Heavy Wings Lash Cities in Sindh”

Daily News. June 2012. “15 dead as dust storm lashes Pakistan”


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