Such is the question offered by environmental historian Adam Sowards. Based around a 1972 William O. Douglas dissent saying that nature should have legal standing in environmental cases, as opposed to the interests of the members of environmental organizations (for instance).
And so it seems unlikely, at least for now, that Douglas’ vision of nature as an entity with the right to sue will manifest in our courts. But does that matter? It depends on your criteria. The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Sierra Club v. Morton helped establish standing for environmental organizations, thus facilitating environmental litigation. The court’s opinion did not extend that right to natural objects, but Douglas’ dissent nudged the courts toward recognizing nature’s rights. This perspective pointed the way, according to legal scholar Christopher Stone, toward a new “level of consciousness” for the courts.
And so the debate about nature’s standing then becomes a broader philosophical debate about law and what it can and can’t, or should or shouldn’t, do. Law is not intended to transform levels of consciousness or morality; it is a pragmatic discipline. As a practical matter, extending standing to natural objects may simply be unnecessary.
As a moral matter, however, the failure to acknowledge nature’s rights frustrates legal and environmental activists and surely would have disappointed (though not surprised) Douglas, who retired from the Supreme Court in 1975, after a debilitating stroke, and died five years later.
Today, global climate change, biodiversity losses and habitat fragmentation are creating unprecedented social and ecological problems. Environmental crises require serious changes in governance and legal systems and, arguably, in morality. When organizations such as the Earth Law Center work to “advance legal rights for ecosystems to exist, thrive and evolve,” or when Ecuador declares in its 2008 Constitution that nature “has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes,” they are paying homage to Douglas’ -vision and implementing it in governing structures where law and morality may intersect.
Maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. After all, it’s not all that hard to establish that people have an interest in a sound or untrammeled or (describe how you want) ecosystem. But the lack of nature itself having legal standing does suggest how society prioritizes not only humans over other creatures but also development over the interests of the creatures displaced or destroyed by that development.
Interesting thought piece at least.
One of the oddest things I have found in my time in the northeast is the region’s ardor for diners. I have nothing per se against them. They provide certain services. The food is adequate if you are on the road. If you have children in your party, they offer an easy choice. The same with older people who might not be real into food. They are pretty cheap. If you want to do some work in public, you often can there.
In other words, diners serve a certain function in society. But having lived the first 37 years of my life in, well, pretty much every region of the country but the northeast, I certainly did not expect the dominance of diner culture up here. The nation has Denny’s and that’s, well, what it is. And the South has Waffle House which has a charm of sort. But the cultural impact here is just so different and to me strange given the relatively limited benefits the things offer. This is why I read Ed Levine’s essay about diners with such interest. Yet I remained unconvinced that they offer anything more than what I mentioned in the first paragraph. They aren’t about the food. I guess I don’t care about homey service from Flo so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it is my general indifference to breakfast and most of its traditional foods. I think the last time I had a craving for pancakes was in college. They are locally owned working-class businesses by and large and that’s cool from a political perspective, but it doesn’t per se make me want to go to them. Also, I don’t drink the vile brewed beverage known as coffee so a bottomless cup of that will never appeal.
So what I am missing here? Why am I a horrible human being for my indifference to the charms of diners?
Republicans choose not to include Univision in its primary debates. Makes sense, since only the Al-Qaeda drug mule wetback terrorist Mexicans* watch it and they are the enemy of the Good Americans (TM) who vote Republican. At least it will allow for full racist clownshow in all the debates.
*Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, it’s all the same.
152 years ago today, the U.S. executed Apache leader Mangas Coloradas. Of course his body was then mutilated and subject to the pseudo-scientific racial testing of the day.
Getting my Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico, I became deeply exposed to the Latin American left and its American supporters. Mostly this was good, but one of the arguments I was never comfortable with was that any person or any program remotely involved with the U.S. government was automatically corrupted with the legacy of American imperialism. While that legacy is certainly strong enough and continues to cause incredible damage throughout the region, this critique made suspicious not only Peace Corps but those who volunteered to do it, Fulbright scholarships, and it goes without saying, anyone associated with the U.S. Foreign Service. But this critique left no room for those who really were trying to do positive things, even if they might not have supported the revolutionary politics of those on the left.
I thought of this last night when I read this obituary of career Foreign Service officer Robert White, drummed out of government service by Al Haig after he blamed the rape and murder of 3 American nuns and a Catholic laywoman in El Salvador on the U.S. supported military government of that nation. Of course, White was correct.
Serving every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower as a career diplomat rather than a political appointee, Mr. White was distinguished by his dispassionate, boots-on-the-ground analysis and his blunt conclusions.
He once branded Roberto D’Aubuisson, the Salvadoran rightist, a “pathological killer.” And in a face-off that Mr. White had with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Mr. Kissinger blinked, revoking a reprimand he had ordered after Mr. White, at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Chile, delivered an unalloyed critique of the host government’s human-rights infractions.
“I was fired by the Nixon White House for opposing politicization of the Peace Corps, reprimanded by Henry Kissinger for speaking out on human rights, and finally, definitely dismissed by Alexander Haig for opposing a military solution in El Salvador,” Mr. White recalled.
Inspired to serve in Latin America by what he called President John F. Kennedy’s “creative response to the revolutionary fervor” sweeping that region, Mr. White lamented that once Kennedy was assassinated, Washington adopted a single-minded goal to thwart Communism, whether in Vietnam or in its half-century embargo of Cuba.
Maybe White was an anti-revolutionary. Still, quite a record of service there.
2014, the hottest year in world history. I’m sure the conservatives will find some way to say 1998 was still the hottest and thus global climate change is a hoax. Meanwhile, oil prices are collapsing so I am sure we will deal with these problems very very soon.
While I appreciate Duke University’s initial agreement to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer once a week, its quickly succumbing to the racist blatherings of Franklin Graham and the anti-Islam fanatics that dominate the American right show both that the acceptance of Islam anywhere in American society is tenuous at best and that college and university administrations will always cave in the face of the first conservative protest over anything that goes on at their campus.
Today’s installment of this continuing series:
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.
“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.
But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.
Yes, it’s climate change and changing those behaviors, well, that ain’t going to happen. But it’s also the industrialization of the oceans:
Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years. Bottom trawlers scraping large nets across the sea floor have already affected 20 million square miles of ocean, turning parts of the continental shelf to rubble. Whales may no longer be widely hunted, the analysis noted, but they are now colliding more often as the number of container ships rises.
Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and introduce pollution into the deep sea.
The oceans are so vast that their ecosystems may seem impervious to change. But Dr. McClenachan warned that the fossil record shows that global disasters have wrecked the seas before. “Marine species are not immune to extinction on a large scale,” she said.
The oceans are the ultimate in out of sight industrial production because the only people who can get down to see them are those with special equipment. Even those who live on the shore can’t see more than a few inches below the surface. But the companies know what’s down there and they will extract it all, leaving the oceans a giant jellyfish desert.
Louisiana is a really well-run state:
Public college and university campuses in Louisiana could close if the state ends up cutting $300 million or more out of its higher education budget during the next fiscal cycle.
Legislators and higher education officials said its college systems would have to shut the doors of multiple institutions and campuses if the schools have to absorb a funding reduction of that size. Around 15 locations — including three in the University of Louisiana system and six in the community and technical college cohort — could be directly affected.
“The magnitude of cuts being discussed for higher education could mean between 40 to 60 percent reductions of base funding for institutions in a single year. I do feel that all of our universities are critically needed for their regional economies and, especially, to meet the demands for workforce,” said Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system, when asked about the possibility of campuses shutting down.
Higher education is also not the only thing keeping legislators up at night about the coming state budget reductions. Legislators said Jindal is supposedly looking to take some $250 million out of state health services in the next fiscal year.
Since the state uses some of that $250 million in health care money to get matching federal funding now, the total net loss to Louisiana’s health care budget would actually be much higher, somewhere around $1 billion, according to Senate President John Alario.
“That would be devastating to state health care,” he said.
Well surely Jindal will provide the necessary leadership to stop this, right?
Even if the state Senate got behind a plan to generate revenue, it would still have to be approved by the Louisiana House and Jindal. Jindal, who will likely be running for president later this year, has already told several people that he won’t consider hiking anything resembling a tax, which will make it difficult to raise revenue.
Of course. The 2016 Republican Primary is going to be such a joy.
This spring, I am teaching Recent American History in Film. I have taught this before as a summer course, but those courses are unusual beasts without a lot of relevance for a traditional 15 week course. I don’t need suggestions on films, though I will put them up for you when I finish the syllabus. I do need some structural advice. This is a course that meets once a week for 2 1/2 hours. There are 30 students. Because I will be showing a film on a particular era or theme each week in class, I am going to require an unusual amount of out of class work from them (they are taking this because they think it will be easy. It will not.) Fine. But I also want them to watch another film outside of class each week, which they would have to write about before class starts on our course software website, and which would inform the week’s session. The problem is figuring out the access. We have an OK film collection in our library, but will students go in there to watch the films? And if they do, it’s all going to be the night before, so that won’t work. So then you have forcing them to subscribe to a streaming service. That’s fine, certainly. But which one? Neflix, Fandor, and the Warner archive all have their strong points, but none have the kind of library one would rely on for class. I can’t require Netflix discs I don’t think because it would overwhelm the system when I had 30 copies of Sullivan’s Travels coming all at once. I can’t realistically assign more than 1 service. I’m actually leaning toward Warner given the overwhelming number of older and American films, but that would still leave real weaknesses.
So what would you do in this situation? Surely some of you have taught film courses of various kinds, others have ideas too no doubt.
Traveling back to the U.S. today, so I won’t be able to respond much but I look forward to hearing your advice.