Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where is your food grown?

I just came across this cool map. It shows where organic farms, vegetable farms, dairies, and orchards are located across the U.S. 

It's not surprising that on the "total farms" map, western New York doesn't look particularly agricultural, but on the individual maps we're in one of the richest locations for locally grown and organic foods. Who knows? You probably won't live here forever, so enjoy it while you can!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Argument Outline 3

Due Wednesday, May 13

Consider these activities of animal rights activists:

1. There have been several firebombings of the homes of research scientists in California in recent years. Although no one has claimed responsibility, the police believe that they are the work of animal-rights extremists. There have also been many cases of personal threats, harassment, and vandalism of researchers’ private property. For instance, last February six masked intruders tried to force their way into the home of a UC-Santa Cruz researcher during a birthday party for her young daughter. One of the researchers targeted by a firebomb is a neurobiologist who uses mice in studies of how the mouse’s visual system develops (see handout).

2. The anti-whaling organization Sea Shepard attempts to damage the property of whaling ships which operate in a legal grey zone or illegally. The organization has said, “"Yes we have sunk whaling ships, rammed whalers and drift netters, boarded poaching vessels and destroyed equipment used for illegal exploitation of the oceans.”

3. In 2004 animal activists illegally broke into a private egg production facility owned and run by Wegmans in Wolcott, NY. The facility housed 750,000 laying hens in battery cages and, other than being a very large farm, was similar to other egg farms across the country. The activists filmed the conditions, including dead and sick chickens in unsanitary conditions, and made the film widely available. The animal activists were sued by Wegmans, and Wegmans eventually sold the egg farm (though still uses it as a source of eggs).

4. A number of animal rights activists have created alternatives to animal dissections in schools and colleges. These include models, videos, and interactive computer simulations.

Pick one of these activities of animal rights activists and evaluate whether it can be ethically supported. If it cannot be supported, explain why. If it should be supported, evaluate whether doing so is an obligation or merely a consideration (that is, a nice thing to do but not a moral duty). Depending on the case you pick and your argument supporting it, you might need to distinguish whether your position is in the realm of personal responsibility (individual action) or public policy (collective action). Support your view with one of these ethical frameworks: Kantian deontology, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, or the justice framework.

Keep your position and your support as focused and specific as possible. Also, be realistic about what is at stake and what various parties actually do. For example, although some academic researchers who experiment using animal models are contributing directly to curing human disease, many animal researchers have other scientific goals. Also, some animal dissections are used to train future surgeons, while most are performed by students in middle and secondary schools.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Examining Environmental Problems through Film

While I'm thinking of it, let me share a list of documentary films on various environmental themes. Ethics is amenable to learning through the film medium because learning to think philosophically is not just about amassing knowledge but about identifying and thinking through problems and observing how others frame ethical problems.

Here are some of my recommendations for films that are related to the issues raised in Deep Economy and other problems in environmental sustainability. Many of these have trailers available on the web. I’d love to hear your further suggestions!

About our energy economy:
Who Killed the Electric Car?

About climate change:
An Inconvenient Truth

About wildlife:
Being Caribou

About local economies:
WalMart: The High Cost of Low Price

About food:
The Future of Food
Super Size Me
King Corn

About industrialization and natural environments:
Manufactured Landscapes
Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi

Film on Food for Extra Credit

I found one final extra credit opportunity.

It's off-campus, and it's not free, but I encourage you to go see this film at the High Falls Film Festival about industrially-produced food. Plus, attending the film festival is a way of participating in Rochester's rich cultural life, centered on imaging and film.

Friday, May 15, 2009 6:30 PM
Little Theatre - Little 5

Documentary, US, 2008, 93 minutes
Director/Producer: Robert Kenner
Producer: Elise Pearlstein
Featuring: Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser

The processing of the food we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous ten thousand. That’s a direct quote from FOOD INC., and if it doesn’t make you stop and think, the rest of this revealing and disturbing documentary will. Filmmaker Robert Kenner exposes how the food industry, controlled by a handful of corporations, and with the consent of regulatory agencies, often puts profits ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers, and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, and tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of e coli, widespread childhood obesity, and an epidemic level of diabetes. Featuring interviews with experts like Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farm's Gary Hirshberg, FOOD, INC. is the real “naked lunch,” the truth about what we do three times a day, told with elegance and verve.

Update: The schedule for the High Falls Film Festival also lists a movie called RIP: A Remix Manifesto showing at RIT on Friday, May 15 at 7:15. But I've been unable to find out more information about it. I would count attendance at this film for extra credit, provided that in your write-up you connect it to some of the themes in the course or in the book Deep Economy, such as support for local creative endeavors.

Monday, May 4, 2009

John Rawls and Deep Economy

John Rawls was concerned with what we call distributive justice and the question of what we should do about inequalities in society. Should goods be distributed equally to everyone? Should we permit vast differences in social and economic status? How are justice and socioeconomic opportunity tied to each other?

This is relevant to Bill McKibben's book Deep Economy in two ways.

1. First, we can use the justice framework to make the case that our social system (that is, our system of social policy, ethics, and economic exchange) is conventional. We have a certain social/political/economic system and it produces certain results. But we don’t have to have that system. It might be the most just system, or it might undermine justice. If it does not produce the maximum degree of justice, then we should try to change it so that it is more just. In particular, we should always be working to try to improve the status of those that have the least, and we should always try to give people equality of opportunity.

This observation supports McKibben in his attempt to rethink economics, and in particular in his attempt to replace some market trends with a deeper concern for community. He argues very much like someone in the justice framework would: he argues that deeper and more robust communities will make people happier and will be more economically stable. This last point is important, because in the justice framework, people are risk-averse.

2. A second way that Rawls’s justice framework can be linked to the book is McKibben’s recognition that for people who are living at a subsistence level, access to global markets makes more sense than pursuing deeper, local economies. That’s because McKibben, like Rawls, knows that the concerns of people who have the least social status and economic goods will be different than those who have plenty.

If you're interested in more of my thoughts about what Deep Economy gets right (and wrong), you can read what I've written here.