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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21550085.2017.1291828), 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!

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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