Thursday, October 25, 2007

climate philosophy web


The Mad Hun is counting replies to the invitation sent out a few days ago. The invitation reads: "As climate change turns into a new reality, it is acquiring philosophical significance. I would like to set up a listserv for philosophers interested in climate and its implications. Participants will trade relevant and timely information about conferences, calls for papers, publications, and research issues. Please send your name with preferred email, institutional affiliation, and position (e.g. professor, grad student, etc.) to Kindly put "philosophy & climate" in the subject line of your reply. Members on the list will receive monthly electronic updates about climate-related items in our profession. Thank you very much for your consideration. Sincerely, Martin Schönfeld, PhD; Professor of Philosophy; University of South Florida"

Now I set up a data file for the first newsletter (coming soon). The statistics are nice. There are replies from colleagues at institutes and universities in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lesotho, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and USA.

The Climate Philosophy Web is now going to be tied to the University of Akureyri, the University of Auckland, Queen's University Belfast, Freie Universität Berlin, Universität Bern, Birkbeck College London, Bogazici University of Istanbul, Vrije Universiteit Brussel/Université Libre de Bruxelles, Cambridge University, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), Cardiff University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Charles Sturt University, Clemson University, Colorado College, Cornell University, Technische Universiteit Delft, Universität Dortmund, Durham University, Drexel University, University of East Anglia, University of Essex, Flinders University, European University Institute-Florence, Universiteit Ghent, Harvard University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Hull, Imperial College London, Indiana University, Keele University, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, National University of Lesotho, University of Liverpool, University College London, Royal Institute of Philosophy London, London School of Economics, University of London, Université catholique de Louvain, University of Malta, University of Manchester, Université de Montréal, National Chi Nan University, Newcastle University, New School for Social Research-New York, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, University of Nottingham, Oxford University, University of Queensland, University of Reading, Universidade de Sao Paulo, Universita di Pisa, Simon Fraser University, University of South Florida (well, obviously!), University of Southampton, Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm, Universität Stuttgart, University of Tennessee, Towson University, Public Admin Institute for Turkey and the Middle East, Tuskeegee University, Universiteit Twente, Vaxjo Universitet, University of Victoria, University of Wales, University of Washington-Seattle, and Universität Zürich.

I suspect some of this outpouring of intellectual solidarity and willingness to explore new philosophical vistas must be compassion for sea-level Floridians who will lose their dry land sooner than they think. But then again, climate change is going to be felt at all of the addresses listed above, and with the possible exception of our friends in Sweden and Iceland, no one will benefit. Thanks, G W Bush! Speaking of the climate changer in chief, here is a great clip: the gringo Nazi points out that we're in Iraq since "Mandela is dead! Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas!" (watch here).

Meanwhile, the White House severely edited global warming impact testimony. And finally, here's a funny account of the peak oil conference at Houston, the most nature-hating city in the universe -- and the destination of the outgoing USF neocon provost.

Ah, life is good.


Monday, October 22, 2007

the Green Revolution


The pendulum is now swinging in the other direction. It seems the political bob reached the end of its anti-environmental swing in 2006 here, when USF nuked the Environmental Science and Policy Dept. (which is now a program in Geography), because, so the university's provost to the department's head, "the environment is not a political priority anymore". That was then. But now, the provost is packing her bags to leave for Texas, an appropriate destination of neocons on the retreat, and the former departmental chair and me are designing a team-taught seminar on climate change for the Honors College, intended as a requirement equal to the humanities seminar and the seminar in natural science. The kids might need the information sooner than thought, according to Rolling Stones.

Meanwhile, drought conditions are spreading through the U.S.; November is predicted to have above-normal temperatures; supply concerns push oil to a new record; Miss Universe rejects fur; China will build a large wind power plant; global warming starts to divide the republicans; world climate science silences the skeptics; the U.S. Senate is going to propose a bill on global warming; Switzerland's conservative politics goes green; only idiots drink bottled water; California is going to sue the Bush administration over a law to limit carbon emissions; even the corporate news channel CNN takes stock of a planet in peril; suddenly ordinary cement is contextualized in terms of carbon emissions; and even the notoriously corporation-friendly Tom Friedman turns over a new, green leaf.

Then again, the empirical context truly sucks, so the speeding up of the green revolution (and the USF provost's retreat to neocon haven) comes as no surprise. Each of the real news is bad. First, the Energy Watch Group issued a report today according to which oil production peaked already in 2006. Second, Mama Gaia's self-regulation is starting to fail -- oceans soak up less CO2 than before, which means that the oceans' ability to work as carbon sinks is shrinking. You're not misreading this. This is as frightening as it sounds, and all the trends to date point in Lovelock's direction. What to do? The logic is ruthless: zero emissions are needed to avoid a catastrophe.

In Philosophy, South Carolina's Clemson University leads by example: here's a call for papers (deadline Nov 30) for a conference on human flourishing & restoration in the age of global warming. More power to you guys! Meanwhile the Florida Philosophical Association is going to meet in Tallahasse Nov 9-11, but the organizers selected only papers on topics they've done in the past -- not a single paper on climate. What a bummer. Despite our conference here in 2006, despite the accelerating green revolution, and despite the lousy climate news, Florida philosophers are not yet willing to reflect on CLIMATE as a notion.

But they will do so sooner than they think.


Monday, October 15, 2007

climate Nobel 2007


You got to admit that this is cool.

Makes me twice as proud of our students and my colleagues who created last year's First Int'l Conference on Climate & Philosophy -- in 2006, such a step took guts for Americans, particularly in Florida.

Now I extend my condolences to the losers.

My heart goes out to the climate-changer-in-chief, who was in Crawford trying to fire up his chainsaw (but he was out of oil).

I wish I could give his Nazi sidekick a hug, who left to snarl at an undisclosed location in a Blackwater ICBM bunker.

I truly feel for the oil tanker lady, what with Russians telling her that Gringos who torture have zero moral authority, and Turks telling her that they'll like to invade Iraq.

Here's the Nobel Committee's SPEED READ
on why the winner is the winner.

From the Mad Hun in Tampa: congratulations!

In other news, PetroChina is now the 2nd largest company on the planet, after the big Nr. 1, Exxon Mobil. Well, when the water runs out, there'll always be oil. Or not. Meanwhile the bombing of Appalachia for coal continues on this side of the Atlantic, while on the far side, the Eurostar is getting up to speed in the U.K. Sea levels, on both sides, are expected to rise 2 meters/6 feet. And even that estimate may be too low. Oh, and Der Spiegel reports on the U.S. hostility to the Nobel shared by Gore and the UN IPCC. And here is Krugman's media review about republican hatred of the 2007 Climate Nobel.

Last week an odd thing happened in the Climate Seminar. I was testing the honor students on language skills, firing off terms such as "biome" or "bleaching" or "insolation" (with an "o") at them. They flung definitions right back at me, as quick as you could blink.

I only stumped them with truly cruel words such as inselberg, waldgrenze, baumgrenze, and, yes, kampfzone (my favorite), before moving on to another question. Consider E O Wilson and J Lovelock. Both founded new reseach programs. In both cases, the fields of inquiry they opened are not their turf -- Wilson's an entomologist, Lovelock a meteorologist -- and each of the new fields is a fusion of two older fields -- Wilson fused sociology and biology to sociobiology. So what fields did Lovelock fuse? Clearly the Gaia hypothesis is about the Earth; Earth, in Greek, is "geos," so geology is field # 1. And field # 2? Um ... no? Well, think "Gaia" -- what does that stand for, heuristically, conceptually, or (hint!) functionally? No? OK, try this: think about medicine or biology, and tell me what specific discipline deals with functions, oscillations, rhythms, feedback loops, pulses, or the processes that constitute health and life of an organism (or super-organism, for that matter). Blank stares.

Would you believe that quick and articulate students who know their benthos, deme, gyre, and tolerance limit like the backs of their pants, didn't guess "physiology"? I mean what's up with that? Won't this compute? We're talking about Lovelock's simple insight that the biosphere is a self-regulating system, with a persistent yet far-from-equilibrium atmosphere -- that Nature involves cycles (like the carbon cycle) and contains circulation networks (like ocean currents). But none of the honor students linked "physiology" to Earth sciences in the context of climate change. That is profoundly strange.

Only in America. Another cultural marker, then: the set of causes explaining the US Republican delay in grasping CLIMATE CHANGE adds up to the following ingredients -- first, the self-love of First World Babies only interested in themselves or their inner child, blind and deaf to environmental outsides, and thus in cognitive denial of NATURE (Americans on Goethe and Climate Change" 1/10); next, the freeze-frame image of nature by monotheists raised to believe in a creation that's done and hence static ("The Christian Climate Delay" 10/10); and now, the blank stares about physiological aspects of the biosphere -- blank stares that define the mechanical dualists of the Far West who liken nature to a machine or a clockwork and so wouldn't think of geophysiology.

So here you have it. A Nobel and a new word: Geophysiology.

Remember it. Cultural evolution depends on it.

Update 2008:

Here's Gore's televised Nobel acceptance speech (22 minutes)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Christian climate delay


Another ten days have gone by, and some news want to be organized. That'll be the first part for today. Last time's questions -- on why "CLIMATE" or "NATURE" do not compute in the protestant American mind; on how neocon Gringos think differently; or on why the shouts of "global warming" have fallen on deaf Republican ears for 15 years -- need clarification. That'll be the second part.

First, the news. The Arctic melt unnerves the experts. Which is to say that the arctic heat wave stuns researchers. The UN warns that climate disaster is upon us. Record news come from Melville Island, with its thawing, changing contours, and a temperature of 22 C (71.6 F) at a place where until last year 5 C (41 F) had been normal. Meanwhile in Greenland, glacial acceleration has begun. If all of Greenland melts, world sea levels will rise by 7 m (23 ft).

John Howard, the smarmy Bush from Down Under, said the climate "shift" is no cause for panic. That's nice to know. The NOAA folks predict another warm winter for the U.S. The U.S. has lost its aura of competence. Europeans are angry after Bush climate speech "charade". Bush tries, but fails to change his image on climate change. The Republican Logo has become more sincere, looking now like an elephant going to jail. This year's Chicago Marathon was definitely too hot to finish. The greenest cities on the planet are Stockholm, Oslo, Munich, Paris, and Frankfurt. And here's a short video clip of the trains not allowed in the U.S.

fastest train in the WORLD 500 Km/h - video powered by Metacafe

So then. Why are neocon Gringos so clueless? It certainly didn't help to have been the most powerful nation. Anybody would have become a tad self-complacent. So it's no surprise that climate change caught this society off guard. Add to this the fact that the US Republicans are the world's top consumers, and you get a culture out of whack, which left a sane give-and-take attitude behind for the sake of an insane take-and-take-more posture. You wind up with an acquisitive society, of needy, narcissist, and oddly frightened people, in love with their self-reflection and only seeing the world as their oyster.

That the world can be seen as such is a Biblical tenet, and the neocon USA happens to be the most extreme Christian society on the planet. Other peoples caught on to the ramifications of Climate Change more rapidly simply because they're not trapped in the Republican beliefs. The reason neocon Gringos had been so slow on the uptake ties to the articles of their faith. They believe that Nature was made in one act of creation, and after the deed was done, nothing's supposed to happen anymore. Nature is not supposed to change afterwards; that would violate the faith and be plainly unfair. Conservative Americans find it already painful to accept the evolution of life. But to accept the possibility of an evolution of nature is just too much to ask. Republicans grow up with the trust that Nature is like a dead ticking clockwork, with moving parts, but overall steady and inert. That now Nature emerges, instead, as a dynamic, organic, and self-regulating structure, and that the watch is melting, in Daliesque fashion, right as we look, is something White Anglo Protestants couldn't react to since it goes against their social identity. Perhaps the Global Village shouldn't have expected a proactive attitude from US Neocons either. So perhaps we shouldn't judge too harshly. It's already bad enough that Nature is reordering itself. It must be worse for Republicans to discover, through simply following the news, the flaws in their faith.

Then again, is such a conclusion fair? Should one let U.S. Christianity off the hook so easily? E. O. Wilson's 2006 The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth is the appeal by a scientist to a Christian -- not the other way around. J. Lovelock's 2006 The Revenge of Gaia contains a 1988 quote by Mother Theresa who said, "Why should we care about the Earth when our duty is to the poor and the sick among us. God will take care of the Earth." All the pious talk about becoming good stewards notwithstanding, that is the reality of Christendom. How embarrassing. In the end it will boil down to this. The world's children, when grown up and struggling with the burden of climate change put on their shoulders by God's Own Country, the U.S. of A., will ask you what you did, here and now, in 2007, when the biospherical trendlines had already become as obvious as a pie in the face. They will ask you angrily, because you cheated them out of their future. Imagine you reply in defense of Joe Six Pack, "well, I come from a normal home; we just thought the way everyone did, so how could I have known any better."

Would the kids let you off the hook with this answer?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Goethe & climate change


The Arctic melt has reached a tipping point. The fight for the top of the world has begun. The UN Climate Change Conference 2007 will take place 3-14/12 in Bali, Indonesia. And here are the top 100 ways global warming will change your life.

Why is the climate revolution taking so long? The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is 15 years old. The Kyoto Protocol is 10 years old. A global majority wants action. But in the initial gathering 9/24 for the Bali talks, the U.S. president was a no-show. Instead, he hosted his own meeting to derail the UN climate talks. That U.S. policies cause planetary climate change does not trouble Americans. They have not impeached Bush. Why does the USA delay the international response to climate change? Why does the notion "CLIMATE" or the word "NATURE" not compute in the Republican mind? Compared to other cultures, how do neocon Gringos think differently?

Recently an odd thing happened at work that may be part of the answer. We had a guest here, a philosophy professor from up north, who talked about a poem by J. W. v. Goethe, who is for us Krauts what Shakespeare is for Gringos. The poem is called "Wanderer's Nightsong". It's the second poem with this title; the first one he wrote on the slope of a forested mountain in 1776, a year famous for another event. This poem here he wrote on the wall of a hunting lodge in 1780.

"Wanderer's Nightsong II" was quite popular; the romantics put it on their flag; Schubert & Liszt wrote music for it, and today it survives as a lullaby. Milan Kundera translated it:

On all hilltops
There is peace,
In all treetops
You will hear
Hardly a breath.
Birds in the woods are silent.
Just wait, soon
You too will rest.

A bit creepy, eh? Fast forward 227 years to here & now, or to USF a week ago, and enter a cultivated American professor who reflects on what the poem may mean. To the general approval of his American audience, he declared that the poem is about The Subject. Forget hilltops and treetops. It's not about mountains, trees, birds, or sunsets--it's not about the outdoors in general, or The Object, or The Other; -- no, said the American, the poem is about people. It's about us. It's about our feelings. It is about the Self. And the other Americans sat there, obediently nodding, and thoughtfully wrote it down: Goethe is "me". The last sound of the poem, the hooting "you-too" voice coming from the evening forest is not an owl either -- Uhu in German; Goethe's original "ruhest du" puns on it -- no; who speaks there, so the American scholar from up north, is the child.

So the Global Village has been waving large-lettered signs that say "Global Warming" and "Climate Change" and "Biosphere" and "Hello?" at the USA for 15 years, and only now & ever so slowly are the Gringos coming around. That's an entire culture, nearly five percent of the global village, operating like this professor who just minds his Subjectivity and wonders about the inner child when reading on Nature.

Oh, and then there was this blackout and the denatured consumers got scared at the sight of the Milky Way. Tell that to Goethe.