Virtual Conference Report: Day Four (22 Oct, 2009)

800px-COP14_11by Paula Bowles

The conference today has taken on a distinctly environmental feel. First up was Mark Macklin’s (University of Wales, Aberystwyth) keynote address entitled ‘Floodplain Catastrophes and Climate Change: Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Riverine Societies.’ In his paper, Macklin observes that ‘[w]e are not the first society to face the threat of environmental catastrophe,’ although he stresses that the current threat has unique features.

Susan Morrison (Texas State University – San Marcos) has taken a highly interdisciplinary approach to her paper ‘Waste Studies ‐ A New Paradigm for Literary Analysis, Something is Rotten in the Denmark of Beowulf and Hamlet’. By combining the disciplines of literature and waste studies, Morrison offers a reminder ‘that the origins of the Anglophone literary canon are sedimented in waste’.

Tim Cooper (University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus) continued this theme of waste with his paper ‘Recycling Modernity: Towards an Environmental History of Waste.’ By taking as a starting point the belief that ‘waste was one of the characteristic products of modernity’ Cooper is able to consider why this subject is so fascinating to historians and other social scientists.

Before we head into the fifth day of the conference, just a quick reminder to visit the virtual book exhibit. As a delegate, you are invited to take 20% off the price of any Wiley Book.

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Ag policy, cartographically

Tomatoes on the vine.

Parke Wilde at the US Food Policy blog posts ten google maps illustrating different agriculture land uses, from a phosphate strip mine in Florida to the Polyface farm featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc.

Peter Singer’s argument for vegetarianism turns on the premise that the difference in the amount of happiness we get from eating a salad and eating a pork chop is slight enough that it deserves little weight against other considerations.  The suffering and death of the pig, for example, is far more significant than our pork-chop/salad pleasure differential.  This is a powerful idea and it’s gotten a lot of traction.

Looking at these maps, I wonder why Singer’s premise hasn’t been more broadly applied.  After all, there is little or no difference between the amount we enjoy eating corn fertilized with mined phosphorous and eating crop-rotated corn.  Given the huge difference in environmental impact between these practices, shouldn’t we care about agricultural policy more than we do?  Singer’s argument has made many vegetarians.  Why hasn’t it made more policy wonks?

Related articles:

£1.99 - small Environmental Ethics: An Overview
By Katie McShane, Colarado State University (May 2009)
Philosophy Compass

£1.99 - small Morality and Psychology
By Chrisoula Andreou, University of Utah (December 2006)
Philosophy Compass