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News articles on philosophy
Mongabay.com news articles on philosophy in blog format. Updated regularly.
Employing shame for environmental change
(03/03/2015) Anyone who has ever felt the sting of shame, knows its power. Shame has long been used by societal institutions—families, communities, governments, religions—for making individuals tow the line of the majority. But a new book explores another—arguably more positive—side of shame: its potential to challenge rule-breaking and ethically-defunct corporations.
Why conservationists need a little hope: saving themselves from becoming the most depressing scientists on the planet
(08/19/2014) Here's a challenge: take a conservationist out for a drink and ask them about their work. Nine times out of ten—or possibly more—you'll walk away feeling frustrated, despondent, and utterly hopeless. Yet a few conservation scientist are not just trying to save species from extinction, but also working to save their field—their life's work—from slipping into total despair.
Predator appreciation: how saving lions, tigers, and polar bears could rescue ourselves
(01/29/2014) In the new book, In Predatory Light: Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears, authors Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Sy Montgomery, and John Houston, and photographers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson share with us an impassioned and detailed appeal to appreciate three of the world's biggest predators: lions, tigers, and polar bears. Through lengthy discussions, combining themes from scientific conservation to local community folklore, In Predatory Light takes us step by step deeper into the wild world of these awe-inspiring carnivores and their varied plight as they facedown extinction.
Butchering nature's titans: without the elephant 'we lose an essential pillar in the ability to wonder'
(09/12/2013) Africa's elephant poaching crisis doesn't just threaten a species, but imperils one of humanity's most important links to the natural world and even our collective sanity, according to acclaimed photographers and film-makers, Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson. Authors of the book Walking Thunder - In the Footsteps of the African Elephant, Christo and Wilkinson have been documenting Africa's titans in photos and film for several years. In 2011, the pair released a film Lysander's Song (named after their son an avid fan of elephants) which depicts the millennial-old relationship between humans and elephants.
How Tarzan created Jane Goodall and how Goodall then repaid the favor
(09/02/2013) The woman we know as Jane Goodall invites us to consider that she was created by Tarzan of the Apes. We should take Jane Goodall seriously when she says that she was influenced by the fictional ape man and that as a child set on a path in life by him to go to Africa to work with wild animals. And yet the influence Goodall finds in Tarzan likely goes deeper, anticipating the defiance of science and morality that allowed Goodall to become the remarkable scientist and a human being that she is. This connection also suggests a crucial, radical element of morality, that it depends ultimately on an act of the imagination.
Featured video: how tigers could save human civilization
(08/29/2013) In the video below, John Vaillant, author of the The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, tells an audience at TEDxYYC about the similarities between tigers and human beings. Given these similarities—big mammals, apex predator, highly adaptable, intelligent, and stunningly 'superior'—John Vaillant asks an illuminating question: what can we learn from the tiger? It turns out learning from tigers could help conserve the human race.
Coming to terms with the evil Jane Goodall and the mystery of the dragonfly incident
(08/04/2013) [The Ethical Ape Column by Shawn Thompson] It is the easiest of premises to make that Jane Goodall is a good person who has lived a moral life. It is more troubling to explain why that is. Even Jane Goodall herself has difficulty explaining it, and she is an authority on her own life.
Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
Doing good and staying sane amidst the global environmental crisis
(04/23/2012) Several years ago while teaching a course in environmental science a student raised her hand during our discussion of the circumstances of modern ecological collapse and posed the question, "what happens when there is no more environment?" At the time I had no response and stumbled to formulate some sort of reply based on the typical aseptic, apathetic logic with which we are programmed through education in the scientific tradition: that there will always be some sort of environment, that life has prospered through the five previous mass extinctions and that something will survive. While this may be the case, the time has come for more of us to consider the broader spectrum of what global humanity is facing as the planet’s ecology is decimated.
For Earth Day, 17 celebrated scientists on how to make a better world
(04/22/2012) Seventeen top scientists and four acclaimed conservation organizations have called for radical action to create a better world for this and future generations. Compiled by 21 past winners of the prestigious Blue Planet Prize, a new paper recommends solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems including climate change, poverty, and mass extinction. The paper, entitled Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act, was recently presented at the UN Environment Program governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.
Cinderella animals: endangered species that could be conservation stars
(04/18/2012) A cursory look at big conservation NGOs might convince the public that the only species in peril are tigers, elephants, and pandas when nothing could be further from the truth. So, why do conservation groups roll out the same flagship species over-and-over again? Simple: it is believed these species bring in donations. A new paper in Conservation Letters examines the success of using flagship species in raising money for larger conservation needs, while also pointing out that conservation groups may be overlooking an important fundraising source: "Cinderella animals."
Earth First! activist Nathan Coe: radical cultural shifts required to stave off ecological collapse
(02/21/2012) Many ideals, actions, and movements considered as fringe or radical by the standards of mainstream culture have gained prominence as global biodiversity withers and the biogeochemical cycles of the entire Earth System are upset by human activities. As endangered species and ecosystems are increasingly threatened, direct confrontation between activists and the entities that drive environmental damage seems also to be increasing. At the same time, concern that present global governance and distribution systems are unable to provide security, clean water, affordable food and a stable future to most of society, is spurring some to move toward new models, including sustainable, autonomous communities and decentralized production. Mongabay recently had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with activist and writer Nathan Coe.
Black Swans and bottom-up environmental action
(02/08/2012) The defining events shaping the modern world - economic, social, environmental, progressive and disruptive - are frequently characterized as "Black Swans."The Black Swan term and theory were characterized by author and analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb who explains, "What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." Taleb identifies the emergence of the internet, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the popularity of Facebook, stock market crashes, the success of Harry Potter, and World War I as among Black Swan events.
Cara Hoffman: Direct action is 'the only real solution' to environmental problems
(12/20/2011) Our generation of ecological writers, scientists, and activists confront a situation without historical analog. 21st Century naturalists and environmentalists genuinely concerned about enjoying and preserving wilderness are forced to accept the harsh realities that what little remains of untouched nature is increasingly subjected to seemingly unstoppable destructive forces. The magnitude of the situation is difficult to accept and understand. The perceptive abilities of the human mind and collective consciousness are thrust into a surreal and uncertain future. Even industrial society’s cornerstones of technological progress and institutionalized science have proven insufficient. Especially since the dramatic “big melt” of arctic ice in 2007, scientists have been forced to admit their models and predictions of climate change have been grossly understated.
Civilization shifting: a new leaderless era
(11/15/2011) For well over a decade global change scientists have ushered calls for urgent alteration in what they refer to as the “Business-as-Usual (BAU) paradigm” to cope with the interlinking social, economic, and environmental issues of the 21st Century. In 2001, one of the world’s largest Earth Science collaborative organizations, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), published their "A Planet Under Pressure" summary report for policy makers.
Sowing the seeds to save the Patagonian Sea
(09/07/2011) With wild waters and shores, the Patagonia Sea is home to a great menagerie of marine animals: from penguins to elephants seals, albatrosses to squid, and sea lions to southern right whales. The sea lies at crossroads between more northern latitudes and the cold bitter water of the Southern Ocean, which surround Antarctica. However the region is also a heavy fishing ground, putting pressure on a number of species and imperiling the very ecosystem that supplies the industry. Conservation efforts, spearheaded by marine conservationist Claudio Campagna and colleagues with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), are in the early stages. Campagna, who often writes about the importance of language in the fight for preservation, has pushed to rename the area to focus on its stunning wildlife.
The importance of recognizing viewpoints in a rapidly changing world
(08/16/2011) Is oil palm bad? Is protecting tropical forests more important than converting them for economic development? Should we spike trees to make sure no one cuts them down? Answers to these questions depend on which side of the argument you're on. But often people on either side of debates hardly know what their opponents are thinking.
Fearful Symmetry—Man Made, an interview with John Vaillant, author of The Tiger
(03/14/2011) In The Tiger, John Vailliant weaves a haunting and compelling true narrative of men who live—or die—with tigers. No doubt the story itself is on-the-edge of your seat reading. As well, the book provides factual information on the 400 or so Amur Tigers remaining, and the raw milieu that is Primorye, Far East Russia—a wilderness and people unto their own. What is special, transcendent even in this story, however, murmurs uncomfortably in the background. Questions emerge from deep taiga snow, not unlike the unseen Panchelaza Tiger. What exactly is our relationship with apex predators? How do people live with them? How would you live with them in your backyard? What if your pet dog disappeared? As we ourselves are apex predators, are we wise enough, tolerant enough, compassionate enough to share this planet with them? Evidence today points to the contrary, but this can change.
The ocean crisis: hope in troubled waters, an interview with Carl Safina
(02/07/2011) Being compared—by more than one reviewer—to Henry Thoreau and Rachel Carson would make any nature writer's day. But add in effusive reviews that compare one to a jazz musician, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin, and you have a sense of the praise heaped on Carl Safina for his newest work, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. Like Safina's other books, The View from Lazy Point focuses on the beauty, poetry, and crisis of the world's oceans and its hundreds-of-thousands of unique inhabitants. Taking the reader on a journey around the world—the Arctic, Antarctic, and the tropics—Safina always returns home to take in the view, and write about the wildlife of his home, i.e. Lazy Point, on Long Island. While Safina's newest book addresses the many ways in which the ocean is being degraded, depleted, and ultimately imperiled as a living ecosystem (such as overfishing and climate change) it also tweezes out stories of hope by focusing on how single animals survive, and in turn how nature survives in an increasingly human world. However, what makes Safina's work different than most nature writing is his ability to move seamlessly from contemporary practical problems to the age-old philosophical underpinnings that got us here. By doing so, he points a way forward.
Environmentalists must recognize 'biases and delusions' to succeed
(10/18/2010) As nations from around the world meet at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan to discuss ways to stem the loss of biodiversity worldwide, two prominent researchers argue that conservationists need to consider paradigm shifts if biodiversity is to be preserved, especially in developing countries. Writing in the journal Biotropica, Douglas Sheil and Erik Meijaard argue that some of conservationists' most deeply held beliefs are actually hurting the cause.
Madagascar's president calls on Adventists to be "green"
(05/08/2007) Madagascar's president Marc Ravalomanana told some 30,000 Seventh-day Adventists gathered at a church outreach event that they need to help make the country "green" again after decades of deforestation have left the Indian Ocean island nearly denuded, reports the Adventist News Network.