Energy Justice — a new seminar

This term I’m teaching a seminar on energy justice. I’m exploring question such as what does it mean for an energy system to be socially sustainable? And what would a just transition to renewables look like?

I’m sharing the reading schedule and a working bibliography that my class will add to and annotate over the course of the term.

Environmental philosophy now has a podcast

Earth to Philosophy, a new podcast featuring environmental philosophy by Andrea Gammon and Claire Hamlett, debuted this spring. They appear to be releasing episodes weekly and feature thinkers such as Christopher Preston, Emily Brady, and yours truly.

I am featured in episode 5. Andrea, Claire and I discuss some of my recent work on Cecil the lion, Prospect Park, and dinosaur films. (Some of these pieces are being finalized by editors and should appear in print soon. I’ll update this site when that happens.) It was a blast to talk with Claire and Andrea and I can’t wait to hear more of the interviews! Subscribe today so you don’t miss any episodes.

Spring 2020 Seminar Series: Local and Global Environments in Conversation

I am pleased to present the program for the Spring 2020 International Seminar Series at Illinois State University, which Larissa Kenedy, Keith Pluymers, and I co-organized. The series will provide a space for thinking about environmental crisis through a multidisciplinary and globalized lens. The program includes speakers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, including philosophy, history, international studies, fashion design, sustainability, sociology, anthropology, literature, agriculture, geography, and art & design.

S20 International Seminar Series

Thanks to help from the ISU Office of Sustainability, we are working to make this the University’s first Zero-Waste seminar series. Specifically, we’re working to eliminate the waste that comes from catering and travel. Speakers who would have had to travel far to give their talks have agreed to present their work virtually. In addition to their scheduled talks, some speakers will offer break-out sessions and virtual course visits during the semester for more focused discussion.

The events are all free and open to the public and include a free lunch buffet. Mark your calendar for Wednesdays at noon throughout the spring 2020 semester. See the program for more details.

We appreciate support from the Office of International Studies and Programs, the History Department, the Philosophy Department, and the Office of Sustainability.

Finally, I would like to thank Philosophers for Sustainability for work-shopping ideas and strategies to help reduce the impact of our profession. You can learn more about our work, find resources, and learn about how you can join in our efforts on the website.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: The Horror of Being Prey and Forgetting Nature, Yet Again, in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World

Below is an abstract for a piece I finished this summer and which is currently under review for inclusion in an exciting book idea. I’d like to develop the work a little further if the opportunity presents itself, so I’m posting it here.


“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: The Horror of Being Prey and Forgetting Nature, Yet Again, in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World” (under review)


Jurassic Park (1993) and its rebooted sequel Jurassic World (2015) (hereafter JP and JW) rely on a tried and tested sci-fi horror trope. Despite best efforts to control their creations, ‘life, uh, finds a way,’ and characters are confronted with the ultimate horror of our interconnection to nature by becoming a meal (Plumwood) for the resurrected reptiles. At first glance, the moral of the story seems to be simple: we cannot rise above or outsmart nature, for what is wild cannot be tamed. The success of this film franchise is explained in part by the prominence of such warnings against hubris in popular environmental thought. But when the two films, along with the introduction Crichton wrote to the original novel, are read together, there is a problem with this simple message. Collectively they reveal a more complicated warning about the horrors of our interdependence with nature: namely that we can never fully understand what it means.

This chapter examines the hubris warning as it evolves within the two films. The narrative success of the sequel – the confession of hubris and the return to a ‘proper’ relationship with nature – depends upon a simultaneous forgetting of, and nostalgia for, the original film. Briefly, here is how. Dinosaurs in JP are resurrected by recovering fossilized DNA and substituting missing sequences with DNA from other animals such as frogs – like a genetic Frankenstein. The designers’ hubris is in part exposed when the all-female population, containing DNA never found in nature, unpredictably change sex, as do some frogs, and reproduce. Death ensues and only a few characters escape with their lives.

In the sequel, JW, which takes place after the failures of the first JP, the designers’ hubris is exposed when an even nastier creation, the Indominus rex, escapes and runs amok. Unlike the major horrors of JP, the tyrannosaur and velociraptor, the Indominus is a deliberately fabricated as a hybrid species, not resembling any dinosaur ever found in nature. The characters restore order by teaming up with the now tamed monsters of JP. The audience is meant to route for their triumph over the new unnatural, Indominus threat but in doing so must forget that the new heroes are a product the same hubristic technologies. So what exactly is the warning against tampering with nature?

In this chapter, I argue that these muddled messages rely upon a misunderstanding of what nature is and what being ecologically interdependent really means. This is because charges of hubris rely upon what Vogel sees as a problematic distinction between the natural and the artificial. Furthermore, our thinking about nature is plagued by forgetfulness: that the nature we are nostalgic for never was (Cronon).  Finally, I draw from ecosocialist thought (Malm and Dawson) to look at the anticapitalist themes in the novel and films. Crichton’s written introduction warns us not to forget that the background conditions for this horror story to unfold is a mode of production connecting us all to nature and each other, but demanding the relentless pursuit of profits for the few at the expense of the many.


Selected References

Cronon, William. 1996. “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History 1 (1): 7–28.

Dawson, Ashley. 2016. Extinction: A Radical History. OR Books.

Malm, Andreas. 2016. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. New York: Verso.

Plumwood, Val. 2012. The Eye of the Crocodile,. Edited by Lorraine Shannon. Canberra: Australian National University E Press.

Vogel, Steve. 2015. Thinking like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy after the End of Nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Feminist and Queer Ecology Reading List

I am (finally) teaching a seminar this spring on Ecofeminisms and Queer Ecologies. While these are two very different topics, they intersect in interesting ways that are relevant to my current research project on normative conceptions of nature. I’ve been planning this seminar for some time now and over the years have collected a working bibliography that I’d like to share. Admittedly, it is still partial and unbalanced in many ways. This is a reflection, in part, of my particular interest in the topic, but also, in part, to my ignorance of the full scope of these topics. I am thrilled to have the chance to sit down and deeply reflect on these readings with a group of advanced undergrad and grad students.

ecofem poster

In part, we’ll be tracing the rise and fall of various ‘ecofeminisms’, and question the relevance of the term today. For many reasons—some very good reasons—the term has fallen out of fashion and has been replaced by ‘feminist ecology’, ‘ecological feminism’, or even the broader ‘gender and the environment’. I chose to include the word ‘ecofeminism’ in the course title partly because the history of this dialogue is what interests me. For instance, in its first wave, ecofeminism was saturated with many essentialist assumptions. Its turn from and critique of these assumptions is aided in part by a dialogue with queer ecology, which I reserve for the last third of the semester. Furthermore, ecofeminism was never a monolithic mode of analysis. Many scholars under its banner challenged essentialism in interesting and prescient ways that aided the development of environmental feminist and queer theory as its practiced today.

The reading list that I’ve comprise for the seminar follows the full bibliography. Note there are some duplicates in the full bibliography – I list multiple works in edited collections where I wanted to draw particular attention to those articles, most likely because I intended to put them on my course schedule at some point.

I especially want to thank Whitney Bauman, Lisabeth During, Benjamin Johnson, and Anne Portman for pointing out readings, commenting on the syllabus, and talking through the topics with me. I’m posting this because many other people have asked to see the final product. I hope it will be useful for further research.


Working Bibliography

Adams, Carol J. 2015. The Sexual Politics of Meat. Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Anderson, Jill et al. 2012. “Queer ecology: A roundtable discussion” in European Journal of Ecopsychology 3: 82–103.

Alaimo, Stacy. 2010. “Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture, and Pleasure of ‘Queer’ Animals.” In Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, edited by Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, 51–72. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Alaimo, Stacy and Susan Hekman. 2008. Material Feminisms. Bloomington: IN, Indiana University Press.

Bagemihl, Bruce. 2000. Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. St. Martin’s Press.

Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press.

Bauman, Whitney, Richard Bohannon, and Kevin J. O’Brien, eds. 2017. Grounding Religion. New York: Routledge.

Bauman, Whitney A., ed. 2018. Meaningful Flesh: Reflections on Religion and Nature for a Queer Planet. Santa Barbara, CA: Punctum Books.

Bauman, Whitney A., and Heather Eaton. 2017. “Gender and Queer Studies.” In Grounding Religion, edited by Whitney A. Bauman, Richard Bohannon, and Kevin J. O’Brien, 56–71. New York: Routledge.

Bikeland, Janis. 1993. “Ecofeminism: Linking Theory and Practice” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, ed. Greta Gaard, 13-59. Temple University Press.

Birkmann, Joern et al. 2014. “Emergent Risks and Key Vulnerabilities” in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. C. B. Field et al., 1066-80. Cambridge University Press.

Chemhuru, Munamato. 2018. “Interpreting Ecofeminist Environmentalism in African Communitarian Philosophy and Ubuntu: An Alternative to Anthropocentrism.” Philosophical Papers 0 (0): 1–24.

Cudworth, E. 2005. Developing Ecofeminist Theory: The Complexity of Difference. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Donovan, Josephine. 1993. “Animal Rights and Ecofeminist Theory” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, ed. Greta Gaard, 167-94. Temple University Press.

Gaard, Greta, ed. 1993. Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature. Temple University Press.

———. 1993. “Ecofeminism and Native American Cultures: Pushing the Limits of Cultural Imperialism?” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, ed. Greta Gaard, 295-314. Temple University Press.

———. 1997. “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism.” Hypatia 12 (1): 114–37.

———. 2002. “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3: 117-146.

———. 2011. “Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in a Material Feminist Environmentalism” in Feminist Formations 23: 26–53.

———. 2011. “Green, Pink, and Lavender: Banishing Ecophobia Through Queer Ecologies.” Ethics and the Environment 16 (2): 115–126.

———. 2015. “Ecofeminism and Climate Change.” Women’s Studies International Forum 49 (March): 20–33.

Garrard, Greg. 2010. “How Queer Is Green?” Configurations 18 (1): 73–96.

Geraldine, Terry. 2009. “No Climate Justice without Gender Justice: An Overview of the Issues,” in Gender & Development 17.1: 5–18.

Glazebrook, T., 2001, “Heidegger and Ecofeminism”, in Re-Reading the Canon: Feminist Interpretations of Martin Heidegger, N. Holland and P. Huntington (eds.), University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 221–251.

———. 2008, Eco-Logic: Erotics of Nature. An Ecofeminist Phenomenology, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Gosine, Andil. 2010. “Non-White Reproduction and Same-Sex Eroticism: Queer Acts against Nature.” In Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, edited by Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, 149–72. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Green, Cathy, Susan Joekes, and Melissa Leach. 1998. “Questionable Links: Approaches to Gender in the Environmental Research and Policy” in Feminist Visions of Development: Gender Analysis and Policy, ed. Cecile Jackson and Ruth Pearson, 259-280. Routledge.

Griffin, Susan. 2000. “Book One: Matter, How Man Regards and Makes Use of Women and Nature” in Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. Counterpoint.

Gruen, Lori. 1993. “Dismantling Oppression: An Analysis of the Connection Between Women and Animals” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, ed. Greta Gaard, 60-90. Temple University Press.

Heckert, Jamie, ed. 2012. “Queer Ecology: A Roundtable Discussion.” European Journal of Ecophyschology 3: 82–103.

Hird, Myra J. 2016. Queering the Non/Human. New York: Routledge.

Huggan, Graham and Helen Tiffin. 2010. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment. Routledge.

Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University.

———. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 7-42. Free Association Books.

Harcourt, Wendy and Ingrid L. Nelson (eds.). 2015. Practicing Feminist Political Ecologies: Moving Beyond the ‘Green Economy’. Zed Books.

Harris, Melanie. 2017. Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth-Honoring Faiths. Orbis Books.

Heckert, Jamie Vishwam. 2014. “Planning for Abundance: Permaculture and Radical Transformation.” Theory in Action 17(4).

Johnson, Alex. n.d. “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time.” Orion Magazine. n.d.

Kings, A.E. 2017. “Intersectionality and the Changing Face of Ecofeminism.” Ethics and the Environment 22 (1): 63–87.

Langston, Nancy. 2011. Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES. Yale University Press.

Li, Huey-li. 1993. “A Cross-Cultural Critique of Ecofeminism” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, ed. Greta Gaard, 272-94. Temple University Press.

Lloyd, Genevieve. The Man of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy. Routledge, 1993.

Lorde, Audre. 1979. “An Open Letter to Mary Daly.”

MacGregor, Sherilyn. “A Stranger Silence Still: The Need for Feminist Social Research on Climate Change,” in The Sociological Review 57 (2009): 124-40.

Mallory, Chaone. 2018. “What’s in a Name? In Defense of Ecofeminism (Not Ecological Feminisms, Feminist Ecology, or Gender and the Environment): Or ‘Why Ecofeminism Need Not Be Ecofeminine—But So What If It Is?’” Ethics and the Environment 23 (2): 11–35.

Mellor, Mary. 1998. Feminism and Ecology: An Introduction. New York: NYU Press.

Merchant, Carolyn. 1990. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. Reprint edition. New York: HarperOne.

Mies, Maria and Vandana Shiva, eds. 2014. Ecofeminism (Critique, Influence, Change). Zed Book.

Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona, and Bruce Erickson, eds. 2010a. Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona, and Bruce Erickson. 2010b. “Introduction: A Genealogy of Queer Ecologies.” In Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, edited by Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, 1–42. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Morton, Timothy. 2010. “Queer Ecology.” PMLA 125 (2): 273–82.

Nayak, Nalini. 2009. “Development for Some is Violence for Others” in Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology, ed. Ariel Salleh, 109-20. Pluto Press.

O’Loughlin, Ellen. 1993. “Questioning Sour Grapes: Ecofeminism and the United Farm Worker’s Grape Boycott” in Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, ed. Greta Gaard, 146-66. Temple University Press.

Olsson, Lennart et al. 2014. “Livelihoods and Poverty” in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. C. B. Field et al., 803-13. Cambridge University Press.

Plumwood, Val. 1993. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge.

———. 1997. “Androcentrism and Anthropocentrism: Parallels and Politics” in Ecofeminism: Woman, Culture, and Nature, ed. Karen Warren, 327-55. Indianan University Press.

———. 2001. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. 1 edition. London: Routledge.

Portman, Anne. 2018. “Food Sovereignty and Gender Justice.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 31 (4): 455–466.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1995. New Woman New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation. Beacon Press.

Salleh, Ariel. 2017. Ecofeminism as Politics: Nature, Marx, and the Postmodern. Zed Books.

Sheldon, Mary V. 2012. “So What Happened to Ecofeminism?” KJAS 2 (2): 166–75.

Shiva, Vandana. “Women and the Gendered Politics of Food” in Philosophical Topics 37 (2009):17-32.

———. 2016. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. North Atlantic Books.

Smith, Andrea. 1997. “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework” in Ecofeminism: Woman, Culture, and Nature, ed. Karen Warren, 21-37. Indianan University Press.

Spretnak, Charlene. 1997. “Radical Nonduality in Ecofeminist Philosophy” in Ecofeminism: Woman, Culture, and Nature, ed. Karen Warren, 425-35. Indianan University Press.

Stenmark, Lisa and Whitney Bauman (eds). 2018. Unsettling Science and Religion: Contributions and Questions from Queer Studies. Lexington Books.

Sturgeon, Noël. 2010. “Penguin Family Values: The Nature of Planetary Environmental Reproductive Justice.” In Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, edited by Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, 102–33. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Taylor, Dorceta E. 1997. “Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism.” In Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, edited by Karen Warren, 38–81. Indiana Univ Press.

Warren, Karen, ed. 1997. Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ Press.

Whitworth, Lauran. “Goodbye Gauley Mountain, hello eco-camp: Queer environmentalism in the Anthropocene.” Feminist Theory.



Seminar Reading Schedule

No. Day Date Title/Topic Author/Citation
1 M 1/14 Introduction to course No readings
2 W 1/16 “Ecofeminism and Climate Change” (Gaard 2015)
M 1/21 No Class Martin Luther King Jr. Day
3 W 1/23 “Introduction” & “Women and the Environment” (Mellor 1998, 1–22)
4 M 1/28 “Women and the Environment” (Mellor 1998, 22–43)
5 W 1/30 “Ecofeminist Thought” (Mellor 1998, 44–70)
6 M 2/4 “What is in a Name? In Defense of Ecofeminism (Not Ecological Feminisms, Feminist Ecology, or Gender and the Environment): Or ‘Why Ecofeminism Need Not Be Ecofeminine—But So What If It Is?” (Mallory 2018)
7 W 2/6 Catch-up Day No Reading, review and overview; contribution to building a map of the field
8 M 2/11 “Dualism: The Logic of Colonialism” (Plumwood 1993, 41–69)
9 W 2/13 “Plato and the Philosophy of Death” (Plumwood 1993, 69–104)
10 M 2/18 Guest Lecture: subject librarian on conducting research Meet in library, 614A with laptops
11 W 2/20 “Descartes and the Dream of Power” (Plumwood 1993, 104–19)
12 M 2/25 “Mechanism and Mind/Nature Dualism” (Plumwood 1993, 120–40)
13 W 2/27 Midterm proposal due
14 M 3/4 “Introduction” and “Nature as Female” (Merchant 1990, xix–20)
15 W 3/6 “Nature as Female” (Merchant 1990, 21–41)
M 3/11 No Class
W 3/13 No Class
16 M 3/18 Midterm essays due Presentations of Work
17 W 3/20 “Intersectionality and the Changing Face of Ecofeminism” & “Open Letter to Mary Daly” (Kings 2017)

(Lorde 1979)

18 M 3/25 “Women of Color, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism” (Taylor 1997)
19 W 3/27 “Interpreting Ecofeminist Environmentalism in African Communitarian Philosophy and Ubuntu: An Alternative to Anthropocentrism” (Chemhuru 2018)
20 M 4/1 “Inequality and Ecological Rationality” (Plumwood 2001, 81–96)
21 W 4/3 “Queer Ecology”

“Gender and Queer Studies”

(Morton 2010)

(Bauman and Eaton 2017)

22 M 4/8 “A Genealogy of Queer Ecologies” (Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson 2010b, 1–21)
23 W 4/10 “A Genealogy of Queer Ecologies” (Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson 2010b, 22–42)
24 M 4/15 “How Queer is Green?” (Garrard 2010)
25 W 4/17 “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism” (Gaard 1997)
26 M 4/22 “Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture, and Pleasure of ‘Queer Animals’” (Alaimo 2010)
27 W 4/24 “Penguin Family Values: The Nature of Planetary Environmental Reproductive Justice” (Sturgeon 2010)
28 M 4/29 “Non-white Reproduction and Same-Sex Eroticism: Queer Acts Against Nature” (Gosine 2010)
29 W 5/1 presentations
30 M 5/6 presentations


Grant awarded for Open Access research

Thanks to a grant awarded by Illinois State University’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies, my recent article, ‘What’s the Harm in Climate Change?’ (Ethics, Policy & Environment, 20 (2017): 103–117., will be freely available online for anyone to read (also known as  ‘open access’).

The competitive New Faculty Startup Support Program awards funds to help new faculty launch their careers at ISU. The grant will make my work available to anyone studying climate change from any disciplinary perspective and, hopefully, further the integration of ethical thinking into our discussions about climate change. Institutions with limited library resources often have to make choices about which journals they subscribe to. Researchers based at those institutions often have to go through several steps to get gain access to information. Sometimes it is impossible to obtain articles without a subscription. Making an article open access removes all these barriers.

I will be working with the journal’s publisher in the coming months to change the access status of this article. In the meantime, feel free to contact me for a copy of the pre-publication proofs.

The grant also includes funding for conferences and travel. I am very grateful to the Office of Research and Graduate Studies for their support!

Joining ISU Philosophy Faculty

It is with great pleasure that I announce (what has already been announced elsewhere) that I am joining the Department of Philosophy at Illinois State University as assistant professor on the tenure track. I’m thrilled to be joining such a talented team of philosophers and teachers with interdisciplinary interests that connect them to other departments; such as women and gender studies and biology. I will be teaching course and continuing my research at the intersection of philosophy and the minor program in environmental studies, which I’ve been asked to help grow.

So far the transition from Brooklyn to Central Illinois has been relatively seamless. I have to thank my friends and colleagues (new and old) for that. They have already introduced me to a network of scholars working on environmental-philosophical issues in the area.

Parting with my NYC friends colleagues, especially my friends and students at Pratt where I taught for nearly 8 years, brought many mixed emotions. I am thankful that the world wide web makes it easy to continue working on the collaborative projects with which I became involved before leaving.

The biggest change is probably transportation. I will be taking public transit, walking, and biking much less. I will rely on a car to commute to work. However, I’m happy to say that I found Prius that gets really great mileage and is almost like a game to drive. The feedback on your efficiency is immediate and the record keeping feature makes improvement an ongoing challenge. Our place is within walking distance of a range of amenities, including at least two grocery stores, a coffee shop, a mall, and variety of restaurants. But it is obvious that the area was not designed with pedestrians in mind. Sidewalks end mysteriously and crosswalks are only for certain sides of intersections.

My classes begin in just a few days and I am eager turn my thoughts from unpacking boxes to thinking again about democracy, ethics, and the environment. I will post updates when I have the chance.

Going Fossil Free (forthcoming book chapter)

My paper “Going Fossil Free: A Lesson in Climate Activism and Political Responsibility” will appear in Handbook of Climate Change Research at Universities: Addressing the Mitigation and Adaptation Challenges, ed. W. Leal Filho (Spring, forthcoming).

Abstract   Colleges and universities already contribute significantly to the fight against climate change, but the UN has recently called upon them to do even more. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that institutions of higher education play a unique role in combatting climate change and other structural injustices, not only by conducting research and disseminating knowledge, but also by fostering a form of collective political responsibility. A philosophical analysis of different forms of collective responsibility, with specific attention to the Fossil Free divestment movement, reveals how social position facilitates this contribution more so in colleges than in other institutions.

Keywords  Climate change, collective responsibility, fossil fuel divestment, student activism

You can read a draft here. I’ll be presenting a version of this paper at a symposium in Manchester Metropolitan University this September.

Sharing Responsibility to Divest (forthcoming article)

I’m happy to announce that one of my articles has been accepted for publication in Environmental Values:

“Sharing Responsibility to Divest from Fossil Fuels”

Abstract: Governments have been slow to address climate change. If non-government agents share a responsibility in light of the slow pace of government action then it is a collective responsibility. I examine three models of collective responsibility, especially Iris Young’s social connection model, and assess their value for identifying a collective, among all emitters, that can share responsibility. These models can help us better understand both the growth of the fossil fuel divest movement and the nature of responsibility for collective action problems. Universities and colleges share a responsibility because they occupy similar positions of, among other things, power and privilege.

Keywords: climate change ethics; divestment; collective responsibility; Iris Young; social connection responsibility; group agency

Thanks to everyone who offered comments on drafts. You can read a version of the article here.

Divestment: Useful Strategy or Distraction?


I’m recovering today from the overstimulating AESS 2016 conference hosted by American University in Washington DC. Scholars from nearly every discipline, EPA advisors, and NGO leaders all met to discuss the world’s most pressing environmental issues and to share their research with one another. The highlights included a walking tour of DC urban farms, a visit to the national zoo, an environmental-education themed “game jam” organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a packed schedule full of a dozen or more concurrent sessions.

I gave a paper titled “Sharing Responsibility to Divest” a version of which will soon appear in Environmental Values. I want to thank  Robert Brecha (Physics, University of Dayton) for developing the panel CFP, organizing, and chairing the session. Robert is Research Director for the Hanley Sustainability Institute. He assembled a truly interdisciplinary team that offered three very different perspective on the topic; however, despite this difference, the consensus seemed to be decidedly in favor of divestment.

Rebecca C. Potter (English, University of Dayton) gave a paper called “The Story of Divestment: Narrative Practices that Work.” Abigail Abrash Walton (Environmental Studies, Antioch University New England) gave a talk called “Organizational Leadership and Fossil Fuel Divestment: Exploring Positive Deviance and Proenvironmental Behavior.”

I encourage you to follow up on their work and to check out the UD HSI. Robert has written a HuffPo piece about UD’s wrestle with the divestment. He will also give a talk on the topic at the Association of American Colleges & Universities conference on the State of Higher Education conference next week on a panel titled “The Benefits of Going Fossil Free: Should the AAUP Endorse Campus Divestment?”

And for all my fellow game-nerds, I want to brag about scoring this Settlers of Catan expansion at the NOAA Climate Game Jam. It’s titled “Oil Spring” and it introduces oil as a resource, however, you have to be willing to risk polluting the island…  If anyone is interested in a putting together an idea for the next Game Jam, please send me a message!


Crash Course on the Ethics of Consumption

Pratt’s Center for Sustainable Design Strategies (CSDS) kicked off Green Week 2016 by offering its 6th annual Crash Course in Sustainability. Over 400 people registered for a full day of panels, workshops, screenings, and discussions. Faculty, students, and industry experts shared their passion and expertise for sustainability. For those who missed out, the whole event is available on the CSDS YouTube channel.

My talk was titled “Crash Course on the Ethics of Consumption.” I had the pleasure to present on a panel discussing Axiologue with one of its cofounders, Matt Nishi-Broach. Axiologue is a group dedicated to building an free, crowd-sourced, completely transparent ethical shopping app. You can download their Chrome extension Mindful Click from the Google Play store.

Watch video of the session below or view my Prezi slides and script at your own pace.

Mass shootings and collective responsibility

A portion of President Obama’s charged response to the recent mass shooting in Oregon invoked a collective, political responsibility. (Full transcript here.)

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.

He goes on to draw a parallel between different types of laws that save lives, such as seat belt laws:

When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seat belt laws because we know it saves lives.

When a source of harm emerges as part of a predicable pattern — even ‘routine’ as Obama puts it — then the proper response is structural; laws have to change. The issue is no longer about individual responsibility, but a collective and shared responsibility. There is a slight difference, however, between seat belt and gun laws. Someone who refuses to wear a seat belt doesn’t harm me. Someone who owns an assault rifle can very easily harm me, my friends, my family, my colleagues, my students…

The President urged the press to publish facts that compare gun violence with other perceived threats so that American’s can make informed decisions when they elect their leaders.

[…] I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.

I think that this is the correct direction, but only partially so. I want my neighbors, friends, and community to know — not only the ballot box — why I believe we would all be safer with less guns. In other words, we should be talking with one another as well as our representatives. Bad arguments should be addressed and flushed out. This is not merely a matter of personal choice or freedom when it affects so many lives so drastically and so routinely.

It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.

Australian comic, Jim Jefferies, does a good job of humorously addressing some bad reasons that float around for owning assault rifles. Laughter, I think, is not in disrespect of the victims or their families. This laughter comes from ridicule, and ridicule is often an effective, and even appropriate, response to poor reasoning that obstinately clings to itself despite the now routine mass killing of our fellow citizens.

Commuting by bike in NYC

So far this year, I’ve saved a considerable amount of money by biking to work, more than enough to pay for the bike and even a few upgrades. Money wasn’t my main motivation (though quite frankly, I’m just surprised at how quickly it added up). Rather, I was frustrated with the constant service changes and delays on my train line that left my mobility to the whims of the powerful and unappeasable subway gods. Also, my new full-time status at Pratt made biking an attractive option since it is actually faster than the subway.

Of course, as an environmentalist, I’m also interested in experimenting in lower-carbon lifestyles. Public transportation certainly trumps private automobiles, but the NYC DOT has seen the number of bikers increase 126% between 2007 and 2014. More bikers in the city means more bike-friendly infrastructure, which means biking becomes a more attractive alternative, and so on.

Brooklyn immediately shrinks once you hop on a bike. I love visiting new areas. We even made it to Rockaway Beach a few times this summer, which is a pleasantly flat 60 minute ride. It’s significantly less crowded than Coney Island or Brighton Beach.


How to bike to the beach with umbrella and beach chair

I thought I’d reflect on the privileges that allow me to have this experience, and to note some challenges that I’ve noticed bikers face.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn

The sweet part of my route.

First the privileges. I’m able-bodied and can fairly easily bike the 25-30 minutes between work and home. I live in New York City and can take advantage of its compressed space. Over time I was able to shift my route from the shortest to the safest. This means that most of my commute time is spent riding through Prospect Park (a great way to start the day). Finally, I have a secure place to store my bike at work and colleagues who are encouraging about my biking. Many of them also bike in.

Without any one of these advantages, riding to work would have been much more difficult.

Here are the challenges in no particular order. I think these are important to keep in mind if the city wants to encourage more people to use bikes.

  1. Grossly inadequate bike lanes. Some are so bumpy you’re likely to chip a tooth. You have to watch the road instead of what’s going on down the road, which is dangerous for everyone. Maintain the lanes.
  2. Cars. After one particularly close call, I opted for the longer, but safer route through the park. Build more bike lanes and build them in a way that protects pedestrians, bikers, and motorists.
  3. Inconsiderate and unsafe biking. Of course, it’s #NotAllBikers, but there are some terrible bikers, just as there are terrible motorists. As a percentage, I see more of the former than the latter. There should be more education about safe biking practices, and how to share the road, especially on bridges.
  4. Cops crack down on bikers instead of unsafe biking. I’m convinced the city hasn’t adequately figured out how to police the quickly growing number of bikers. Bikes are similar to cars in certain ways, but very different from cars in other ways. Treating them as equivalent is unsafe for everyone. Cops who police biking should probably be on bikes themselves and not in cars. I think this would give the officers better insight about safe and unsafe practices, infrastructure problems, and so on. All that being said, if I could only give one bit of policing advice to NYPD, it would not be about biking.

Admittedly, I miss reading on the train. But the extra exercise, contact with the morning air, and sense of freedom that comes with a bike all make a wonderful substitute.pp bike lane

New name and decor

My site has a new look and a new name. will now redirect you to So don’t be alarmed if things look strange. If you’re a creature of habit, don’t worry; the old URL will still work.

Shout outs

Two friends and fellow New School alums recently published incredible articles, one in The New York Times and another in The Atlantic. Both are clever, well-written, and highly recommended.

‘Dinner and Deception’, by Ned Frame, is about Ned’s experience working in, and leaving, a high end restaurant in NYC. It will change the way you dine, if you dine finely.

‘Incarceration, Education, Emancipation’, by Eric Anthamatten, is about the experiences Eric has had teaching philosophy to prison inmates. He raises important questions about prisoners’ access to education.

Sympathy for Cecil, #BlackLivesMatter, and ecofeminsm

click for original

::love:: by Chrissy Wainwright via Flickr under CC2.0

I kicked off my environmental ethics class this semester with a discussion on Cecil the Lion and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. I added this to a primer exercise during which I ask students, what about non-human nature triggers our moral sensibilities? It was a difficult but interesting discussion to have on the first day. What follows is an attempt to develop some of my reflections on this exercise, especially regarding the role that sex, gender, and race played in the viralized Cecil narrative.

For the past month, I’ve been anxiously following the internet’s response to the death of Cecil the Lion. My attitude has ranged from fascination to horror. I was especially moved by the following tweet by Roxane Gay, author of the NY Times best seller, The Bad Feminist:

I’m still trying to figure out how to be good at Twitter, and this, I think, is Twitter done well.

Gay raises a critical question: How did the death of a lion attract so much sympathy, outrage, and effort so quickly in a time when many innocent black men, women, and children are being killed by police officers? Walter Palmer, the American dentist who paid to hunt and kill Cecil, had his felony records exposed and was forced to shutter his dental practice due to a deluge of protesters and angry Yelpers. Jimmy Kimmel, visibly choking up with emotion, urged his viewers to contribute to the Wildlife Conservation Research Fund in a segment of his show dedicated to Cecil. The clip went viral. All of this happened within 24 hours of identifying Palmer as the killer. Donations to the fund netted over $150k in the 24 hours following Kimmel’s emotional plea for contributions. Within a week, three major airlines (Delta, American, and Continental) announced that they would no longer transport ‘big game trophies’.

By contrast, it took over six months to bring charges against Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year old.

Many find this disparity deeply frustrating, and understandably so. Some commentators issued pleas in the key of an inter-species egalitarianism: Why compete for the most-oppressed award? Humans and non-humans are both targets of violence and harm. But in context, this message sounds too much like a version of the #AllLivesMatter rebuttal, a tone deaf argument that quickly fell flat to my ears.

A sort-of parody, #AllLionsMatter, even trended for a few days, offering a new way to mock a naive, color/species-blind commitment to equality.Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 9.04.33 AMCertainly the structure of privilege and power that allows humans to hunt and kill animals parallels that which allows white officers to so carelessly kill people of color, writes Lori Gruen in Al Jazeera. Carol J. Adams, famous ecofeminist and animal rights advocate, even tweeted about Gruen’s article:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 4.10.04 PM

This strikes me as true, but it leaves my initial question unresolved. Big game hunting isn’t an incredibly rare activity, so what was special about Cecil? What about this event so quickly grabbed and held the internet’s attention, and moved so many to act so swiftly? Any why haven’t we seen a popular parallel response regarding the many human lives lost? Clearly there isn’t a single answer, and I’d like to avoid the obvious ones (it’s easier to question the character and responsibility of humans, but not animals; Cecil has a name, but so does Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin.., etc.). I’d like to wager a response that uses some conceptual tools I recently picked up from Adams.

Disclaimer: This is not an argument in favor of giving Cecil equal (or unequal) standing to human lives. It’s merely an attempt to explain the resonance of this story through a culture that appears to be more sympathetic to lions than people.

The night before our first meeting of the semester, I finished reading Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat. When I rewatched the Kimmel clip with my students as part of the above-mentioned exercise, I noticed that Adams’ work helped elucidate a powerfully gendered subtext to the Cecil narrative. I assured the class we would have to come back to Kimmel after our ecofeminist readings later in the semester. At any rate, I knew I had to write about it to get my thoughts in order. Here is the clip:

I think this Kimmel clip may be how Cecil first captured my attention one morning when I was scrolling bleary eyed through my Facebook feed while feeding on my breakfast. The story certainly had other outlets, but I think Kimmel played a big role in amping up the message. Here’s why.

First, the low-hanging fruit. Kimmel is a man who showed emotion against his will on national television. Men, of course, are not supposed to do that. Not on TV, not alone, not ever. Emotion interjects itself into Kimmel’s monologue for less than 5 seconds — a quivering voice, a few nervous glances off camera — but the intensity of those 5 seconds is enhanced by gender. A man becoming weepy against his will signals a strong emotional event. Test this thought by changing the speaker’s gender: Would the plea have raised as much money or attention if Kimmel had been a woman? Would a clip of a woman tearing up over Cecil had gone viral? If so, I suspect it would have taken more than 5 seconds to make an equivalent impact.

Second, Kimmel uses gender to taunt and sanction Palmer. The teasing made me uncomfortable when I first saw it back in July. At best, it’s sophomoric and reminiscent of Kimmel’s time as co-host of The Man Show — yeah, I did my best to forget about that blemish in Comedy Central’s history too. But now that I was armed with Adams, I asked myself, how does gender amp up sympathy for Cecil?

Adams develops a conceptual tool, the absent referent (2000, pp. 52ff), that is helpful here. Animals are the absent referent in meat eating. We change the way we talk about a pig by calling it ‘pork’ or ‘bacon’, or a cow by calling it ‘beef’ or ‘hamburger’. Adams claims that violence against animals and women are linked through this same structure of the absent referent:

Just as dead bodies are absent from our language about meat, in descriptions of cultural violence women are also often the absent referent. Rape, in particular, carries such potent imagery that the term is transferred from the literal experience of women and applied metaphorically to other instances of violent devastation, such as the ‘rape’ of the earth in ecological writings of the early 1970s. The experience of women thus becomes a vehicle for describing other oppressions. Women, upon whose bodies actual rape is most often committed, become the absent referent when the language of sexual violence is used metaphorically. These terms recall women’s experiences but not women. (pp. 53-4)

In other words, we often describe violence against nature in terms that recall violence against women; when we do so, we refer to women implicitly, who thereby explicitly remain absent. With the concept of the absent referent in mind, let’s return to Kimmel’s taunting. He suggests that Palmer needs to hunt in order to – ahem – perform sexually: ‘Is it that difficult for you to get an erection that you need to kill things that are stronger than you?’ Here a violent act of sport, hunting, becomes a substitute for sexual potency. adamsKimmel emasculates Palmer by challenging his potency. It’s then important that Kimmel slips in a Cosby joke. If hunting is Palmer’s cure for erectile disfunction, then taking a pill is the better choice if he wishes to avoid ‘becoming the most hated man in America who never advertised Jello pudding on television.’

The logical structure of these jokes imply that hunting Cecil was an act of sexual violence. We ‘hate’ Cosby because he drugged and raped women, and we ‘hate’ Palmer because he took advantage of Cecil. Palmer will probably brag with his male buddies over his conquest, Kimmel goes on, the evidence of which is his trophy. The jokes sanctions Palmer, who transgressed the acceptable boundaries for expressing his masculinity. A man is shaming another man as if he had committed an act of sexual violence against a woman. Therefore, woman is the absent referent in the outrage over Cecil’s death, at least in the narrative Kimmel constructs through his jokes.

How is a lion, especially a male lion, feminized? There is danger in hunting lions and other large animals since they have the potential to kill humans. Goodwell Nzou, native Zimbabwean, writes in the NY Times that lions and other wild animals are considered ‘objects of terror’ by those who live near them. Children are trampled to death protecting crops from elephants and buffalo. The author himself lost part of his leg to a snakebite as a child. Nzou parallels my question, how can lions attract more sympathy than African lives? He writes, ‘please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger.’ (For more about how western brands of conservationist environmentalism are blind to their own privileges, see also Guha 1998.)

Lions can be very real threats, but Cecil was never a threat to Palmer. The dentist and his guides lured the lion out of a protected area using bait tied to a jeep. They then exposed him with a spotlight so they could attack. In this sense, Palmer took advantage of Cecil, who in different circumstances, would have made a dangerous encounter. Palmer’s hunting techniques aimed to neutralize any threat the lion might have posed. If the dentist had nearly died during the hunt, the narrative would have been completely different. Kimmel’s jokes would have seemed out of place if the lion were a threat and not a victim.

Finally, I would like to briefly extend this notion of feminization and threat to the BLM movement. Fallon is challenging another man for taking advantage of a ‘woman’. This is a powerful narrative, well ingrained in our culture. Cecil accords with the bad-men-take-advantage trope, while BLM is in contention with the black-as-threat trope.

In order to feel sympathy for Cecil, you must not consider him a threat, as Nzou points out. So what does that say about the different reactions to Cecil and to those deaths highlighted by BLM?

In this photo from Ferguson a team of heavily armed police are reacting to an unarmed black man holding his hands up. At least three rifles appear ready to fire. The military-style green camouflage of the police uniforms is radically incongruent with the urban backdrop; failing to camouflage, its only purpose can be to signal force, power, and violence. This display in turn is radically incongruent with the single man, arms raised in surrender. Written on a nearby mailbox is ‘Fuck the Police’.

During the events in Ferguson, a white officer was caught animalizing protesters (‘Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!’) There is a long history of animalizing minorities in order to de-humanize them. Women and minorities are both animalized through the metaphorical power of language, but there is an important difference. Animalizing women transforms them into objects (pieces of meat, helpless subjects of violence). Likewise, Cecil was a dangerous animal feminized, transformed into a passive victim of male violence. But when minorities are animalized, it often transforms them into potentially dangerous animals (angry, irrational, violent, destructive, base, unpredictable, criminal). One’s response is to protect and sympathize with the former, while needing protection from the latter. The former kind of animalization demands a careful touch, while the latter justifies violence. In animalizing people of color, the dangerous lion is cast as the absent referent.

So another way to understand the sympathy for Cecil is by asking who felt threatened by those who lost their lives. Police violence can be rationalized — by the public as well as by the officers themselves — if policing involves encounters with the unpredictable, the dangerous, the animal. Often it does. But when patterns emerge that reveal lethal police violence is applied unjustly more often to persons of color, then it becomes more and more clear that policing protects some more than others.

The above photo from Ferguson almost acts as a litmus test. ‘Fuck the Police’ is either read as a threat to safety or a protest against a unjust, irrational, powerful beast. Who is the perceived threat in this situation? Whose death inspires sympathy? Who plays the role of the lion, with claws out ready to strike? Which threat are we more likely to encounter in our own daily routines? Who is cast as dangerous in the narratives we rehearse and the jokes we tell?

Non-web References

  • Adams, Carol J. 2000. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory. 20th Anniversary Edition. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Guha, Ramachandra. 1986. ‘Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique’. In Environmental Ethics 11 (1): 71-83.

Save some for the whales

whale-304823_1280“Hey, save some for the whales!” When I was recently getting ready for bed, this is how my partner playfully informed me that I was taking too long at our only bathroom sink.

You probably heard this saying frequently in grade school, most often around the water fountain during recess. Hearing it again made me reflect on how I first began to imagine my actions affecting the environment. I was a very literal child, so I recall a vivid image of a large tank of water slowly draining, with an unhappy whale circling around. (You know, I’m surprised I used drinking fountains at all. Who drinks whale water?)

Of course, this isn’t how it works at all. We have plenty of misconceptions about how our individual actions add up to make a significant impact on the environment. Often, these misunderstandings cause us to expend a great deal of effort without much payoff. Many times, a complicated calculus is involved in estimating the trade-off between, say, bags made of paper, plastic, or cotton grown with heavy pesticides.

Aside from this complex calculus, there is an aesthetic element — a way of imagining or representing impact in an intuitive way. This reflection inspired an idea for a new assignment in my environmental ethics class.

Pratt students excel at exercises involving visualization. They also have access to a great deal of resources regarding material life cycles and other sustainable design strategies, thanks to the rapidly growing interdisciplinary sustainability program (here, here, and here). My environmental ethics class provides them with an overview of several major ethical paradigms, and how they identify and assess value in nature. The plan is to combine all of these elements and ask students to create a visualization of environmental impact in a way that makes the ethical commitments transparent to the audience.

Antony Gormley and Peter Clegg calculated that a kg of CO2 takes up roughly the same space as a coffin, which they have carved into arctic ice. (Image source:

We’ll review a few infographics, charts, and other visualizations. Carbon footprint calculators are a good place to start. Some convert all impacts into land use and offer a “number of Earths” that would be required if everyone lived as you do. Is this a Kantian gesture? Clearly not everyone does live a carbon-intensive lifestyle, which is evident in the disparity between per capita emissions broken down by state.

The documentary, Art from a Changing Arctic from the Cape Farewell Foundation, which we watch in class, shows a number of artists from different mediums and genres struggling with a similar questions. But what’s going on here? The art is spectacular. However each of them only briefly reflect only on the ethical concepts they had in mind when creating the art, if they reflect on them at all.

I’m excited to see how the students will respond. Check back at the end of the semester for results. In the meantime, if you have ideas or links to relevant infographics, articles, images, artworks, etc., please post them in the comments.

Presentation at the Central APA

I’ll be giving a paper titled “Confronting Atomistic Responsibility: Individual Responsibility and Climate Change” at the Central Division APA in Chicago next week. The panel I’m on is part of the International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) group meeting and I’m really looking forward to hearing the other talks and meeting the other presenters. It looks like a great panel.

Stop by if you can. The panel I’m on is scheduled for Thursday, February 27, 7:40-10:40pm, at the Palmer House. The full conference schedule is here. There is a second ISEE panel on Saturday afternoon if you miss the first one.