A Philosopher's Blog

Accepting Victory/Accepting Defeat

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on November 8, 2016

I am writing this on November 7, 2016. This is the day before the United States’ presidential election. While other matters are on the ballot, the main contest is between Hillary and Trump. While the evidence seems to show that Hillary will win, Trump has a chance that vastly exceeds his competence for the position. As such, the contest could go either way.

While I do regard Trump as morally and intellectually unfit for the office, I do not have a strong emotional commitment to Hillary. As such, a “victory” for me this election would be that Trump does not win. A defeat would be that Trump becomes president. While some might suspect that my negative view of Trump would cause me to spew “Trump is not my president”, this is not the case. If Trump is elected, he will be as much my president as Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and so on were. That is how democracy works. Since I am a philosopher, I do have a philosophical justification for my approach and certainly urge others to accept a similar view.

While democracy is ancient, more recent thinkers such as John Locke have worked out many of the key details in theory and practice. As Locke saw it, government is based on a social contract resulting from the consent of the governed. Since the political body must move in one direction, Locke argued for majority rule—the numerical minority is obligated to go along with the numerical majority. Or, in terms of the usual low voter turnout in the United States, the numerical minority of the voters must go along with the numerical majority of voters, even though the voters might be a numerical minority of the eligible voters.

His justification for this was fairly practical: if the numerical minority refused to go along, the society would be torn apart. Locke did recognize that there could be matters so serious that they would warrant a split, but he believed that these would be rather unusual. While I do believe that Trump would be the worst president in history, I do not regard this as a matter so serious that it would require sundering the nation. The possibility of disaster does, however, provide a potential justification for a sundering.

John Stuart Mill developed the notion of the tyranny of the majority—that the majority (or those passing as the majority) might wish to use their numerical advantage to oppress the numerical minority. In such cases, Mill rejected the idea of majority rule and argued that the restriction of liberty can only be justified on the grounds of preventing harm to others. Since Mill was a utilitarian, all this would be worked out morally on that basis. As such, if it were true that the presidency of Trump or Clinton would be worse than the sundering caused by the rejection of the election, then it could be justified. That said, while I do expect there to be many angry people on November 8, I do not anticipate large scale social disorder. In terms of the consequences, I believe that no matter how bad Hillary or Trump would be as president, their badness would not exceed the harm of rejecting the election. As president, Trump can only do so much damage—far less than a sundering would cause. Those who think that Hillary would be a disaster as a president should also take this same view: no matter how bad she is, she cannot be as bad as the consequences of a sundering. This all assumes, of course, that the election was a proper one.

In discussing obedience in the Crito, Socrates presents the argument that he is obligated to follow the laws of the state because he agreed to do so. He does allow for two exceptions: force or fraud. If the forced him into the agreement or if the agreement were a deceit, then he would not be obligated to stick to his agreement. This seems reasonable: agreements made under duress and agreements based on deception have no merit.

Despite having no evidence, Trump has been asserting that if he loses, then the election must have been rigged. If he wins, he has graciously promised to accept that result. While Trump’s approach is morally irresponsible, there is a philosophical foundation under his spew. Going back to Socrates, if the election is such that fraud or force is used to change the outcome, then this negates the obligation of citizens to accept the results. The question then is whether or not the election is being “rigged.”

While there are clear concerns about efforts at voter suppression, such suppression targets minorities who are far more likely to vote for Hillary than Trump—as such, this “rigging” is in Trump’s favor. If voter suppression impacts the outcome, then this would provide legitimate grounds for questioning the results.

Trump has embraced the Republican myth of voter fraud, but myths provide no foundation for claims of significant fraud. While Trump has made vague claims about rigging in general, informed and rational people have pointed out the obvious: elections are run by the states and direct operations are handled locally, so rigging the election would require a conspiracy across the states, counties and localities. While this is not impossible, it would be absurd to give this any credence—especially since Trump has provided no evidence at all. However, if it could be shown that fraud impacted the election, then there would be legitimate grounds for questioning the results.

While Trump has not (as of this writing) explicitly told his supporters to engage in voter intimidation, his critics have claimed that he is suggesting this. Given the attention being paid to the election, it is unlikely that voter intimidation will occur on a significant scale, but if it did, then there would be grounds for rejecting the results of the election.

Trump’s supporters have pointed to Al Gore’s legal challenge of the 2000 election to justify Trump’s claim he won’t accept the results (unless he wins). Gore, however, did not claim the election was rigged—his concern was with the accuracy of the count and similar procedural matters. There was also the fact that my adopted state of Florida created an electoral nightmare of hanging chads and similar disasters. As such, there was a real problem to sort out. If an analogous procedural disaster occurs, it would be reasonable to contest the disaster. But this would not be a rejection of the electoral process or the legitimacy of the election—it would be a matter of sorting out a mess. Such a situation could, of course, escalate—but I do hope that the election goes smoothly. Or, failing that, that I hope neither my home state of Maine nor my adopted state of Florida play a role in any electoral disasters.

Assuming the election is not rendered invalid by fraud or force, then the results will properly determine the next legitimate president of the United States, whether this be Hillary or Trump. As citizens, we are obligated to accept the results of a properly conducted election—that is what we have agreed to by being citizens. Trump, in his dangerous, self-serving buffoonery, has assaulted this foundation of our democracy. My hope is that if he is defeated and refuses to accept the results, his supporters will take their duty as citizens seriously. If he wins, I intend to do just that and accept him as the legitimate president. Again, this is how democracy works and I have agreed, by being a citizen, to accept the results of the election. Whether I am on the winning or losing side.


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Trump & the Third Party

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 18, 2016

Trump’s ongoing success has created quite a disturbance in the Republican establishment. While some have merely expressed opposition to him, there is a growing “never Trump” movement. While this movement is currently focused on preventing Trump from becoming the candidate by supporting his few remaining opponents, there has been some talk of putting forth a third party candidate.

Third party candidates are nothing new in the United States. Ralph Nader made a bid on the left for president and Ross Perot made an attempt on the libertarian side. The main impact of these attempts was to pull voters from one party and enable the other party to win. For example, Ralph Nader helped defeat Al Gore. As such, the most likely effect of a conservative third party candidate running against Trump and Hillary would be a victory for Hillary. Given that the main concern of most political partisans is the victory of their party, it might be wondered why a third party option would even be considered.

One reason is that of principle. In the case of Nader and Perot, their supporters believed in them and supported them—even though it should have been obvious that doing so would not result in a victory and would, in fact, help someone they ideologically opposed reach the White House. In the case of Trump, there are those who oppose him as a matter of principle. Some oppose his apparent racism and bigotry while others contend that he is not a true conservative in regards to fiscal and social matters. As such, people would most likely be voting for the third party candidate because he is not Trump and not Hillary rather than because of who he is.

While politics is seen mainly as a matter of pragmatic power seeking, a moral case can be made for a Republican to vote for a third party candidate on the basis of principle rather than for Trump or for Hillary. If Trump and Hillary are both regarded as roughly equal in evil and the person wishes to vote, then voting for either would be wrong from that person’s perspective. After all, voting for a person makes one responsible (albeit to a tiny degree) for the consequences of their being in power. Voting for a third party candidate the person either supports or regards as the least evil of the lot would thus be the best option in terms of principle. If the person regards one of the two main candidates as the greatest evil, then the person should vote for the lesser evil that is likely to win, as I argued in an earlier essay.

A second reason to run a third party candidate is a matter of damage control. The predictions are that while Trump is winning the largest fraction of the minority of Republican voters who vote in primaries he will have a negative impact on voter turnout. While the third party strategy concedes that Trump will lose the general election, the hope is that a third party alternative who is popular enough will get people to vote. This, it is hoped, will help the Republicans do well on other parts of the ticket, such as elections for senators and representatives. As such, there is an excellent pragmatic reason to run a third party option to Trump—to reduce the chance that the never Trump voters will simply stay home to Netflix and chill on election day.

While this strategy might have some short term benefits to Republicans, running a third party candidate against the official Republican candidate would make the chasm in the party official—it would presumably be the potential beginning of the end of the party, splitting the establishment from a very active part of the base. This could, of course, be a good thing—the Republican Party seems to have been fragmenting for quite some time and the establishment has drifted away from much of the common folk.

A third reason to run a third party candidate is to hope for a Hail Mary. There is some talk that a third party candidate could cash in on the never Trump and Hillary Haters to create a situation in which there is no winner of the election. In such a situation, the House would pick the president and the Senate would select the vice-president. Since the Republicans control the House and Senate, the result would mostly likely be that the third party Republican would be president.

While this is a longshot, it is not impossible. The likely result of such a power play would be to break apart the Republican party—those who support Trump already loath the establishment and this would probably distill that into hatred. But, looked at pragmatically, the game is about holding power for as long as one can—so the power players would probably be content to take the win on the grounds that the party was probably going to split anyway.

This election could see a truly historic event—the end of the Republican party as it currently exists and perhaps the rise of a new party or parties.


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Food Waste

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on December 24, 2014

“CLEAN YOUR PLATE…THERE’S NO FOOD TO WASTE” – NARA – 516248 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many Americans my age, I was cajoled by my parents to finish all the food on my plate because people were starving somewhere. When I got a bit older and thought about the matter, I realized that my eating (or not eating) the food on my plate would have no effect on the people starving in some far away part of the world. However, I did internalize two lessons. One was that I should not waste food. The other was that there is always someone starving somewhere.

While food insecurity is a problem in the United States, we Americans waste a great deal of food. It is estimated that about 21% of the food that is harvested and available to be consumed is not consumed. This food includes the unconsumed portions tossed into the trash at restaurants, spoiled tomatoes thrown out by families ($900 million worth), moldy leftovers tossed out when the fridge is cleaned and so on. On average, a family of four wastes about 1,160 pounds of food per year—which is a lot of food.

On the national level, it is estimated that one year of food waste (or loss, if one prefers) uses up 2.5% of the energy consumed in the U.S., about 25% of the fresh water used for agriculture, and about 300 million barrels of oil. The loss, in dollars, is estimated to be $115 billion.

The most obvious moral concern is with the waste. Intuitively, throwing away food and wasting it seems to be wrong—especially (as parents used to say) when people are starving. Of course, as I mentioned above, it is quite reasonable to consider whether or not less waste by Americans would translate into more food for other people.

On the one hand, it might be argued that less wasted food would surely make more food available to those in need. After all, there would be more food.

On the other hand, it seems obvious that less waste would not translate into more food for those who are in need. Going back to my story about cleaning my plate, my eating all the food on my plate would certainly not have helped starving people. After all, the food I eat does not help them. Also, if I did not eat the food, then they would not be harmed—they would not get less food because I threw away my Brussel sprouts.

To use another illustration, suppose that Americans conscientiously only bought the exact number of tomatoes that they would eat and wasted none of them. The most likely response is not that the extra tomatoes would be handed out to the hungry. Rather, farmers would grow less tomatoes and markets would stock less in response to the reduced demand.

For the most part, people go hungry not because Americans are wasting food and thus making it unavailable, but because they cannot afford the food they need. To use a metaphor, it is not that the peasants are starving because the royalty are tossing the food into the trash. It is that the peasants cannot afford the food that is so plentiful that the royalty can toss it away.

It could be countered that less waste would actually influence the affordability of food. Returning to the tomato example, farmers might keep on producing the same volume of tomatoes, but be forced to lower the prices because of lower demand and also to seek new markets.

It can also be countered that as the population of the earth grows, such waste will really matter—that food thrown away by Americans is, in fact, taking food away from people. If food does become increasingly scarce (as some have argued will occur due to changes in climate and population growth), then waste will really matter. This is certainly worth considering.

There is, as mentioned above, the intuition that waste is, well, just wrong. After all, “throwing away” all those resources (energy, water, oil and money) is certainly wasteful. There is, of course, also the obvious practical concern: when people waste food, they are wasting money.

For example, if Sally buys a mega meal and throws half of it in the trash, she would have been better off buying a moderate meal and eating all of it. As another example, Sam is throwing away money if he buys steaks and vegetables, then lets them rot. So, not wasting food would certainly make good economic sense for individuals. It would also make sense for businesses—at least to the degree that they do not profit from the waste.

Interestingly, some businesses do profit from the waste. To be specific, consider the snacks, meats, cheese, beverages and such that are purchased and never consumed. If people did not buy them, this would result in less sales and this would impact the economy all the way from the store to the field. While the exact percentage of food purchased and not consumed is not known, the evidence is that it is significant. So, if people did not overbuy, then the food economy would be reduced that percentage—resulting in reduced profits and reduced employment. As such, food waste might actually be rather important for the American food economy (much as planned obsolescence is important in the tech fields). And, interestingly enough, the greater the waste, the greater its importance in maintaining the food economy.

If this sort of reasoning is good, then it might be immoral to waste less food—after all, a utilitarian argument could be crafted showing that less waste would create more harm than good (putting supermarket workers and farmers out of work, for example). As such, waste might be good. At least in the context of the existing economic system, which might not be so good.



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Climate Change & Skepticism

Posted in Business, Environment, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on September 7, 2011
Al Gore

While I am not a philosophical skeptic (I do believe that knowledge is possible), I am a practical skeptic (I require proof before I believe). While some folks are skeptical of climate change, the evidence seems adequate to support the claim that humans have had a measurable impact on the climate. Given the scale of human activity, this seems inherently plausible. The climate data and causal explanations also seem fairly compelling.

Naturally, there are skeptics regarding climate change. Some of these folks are rational skeptics. That is, their doubts are founded on legitimate concerns about the methodologies used in climate science as well as the data in question. This sort of doubt and skepticism is actually a rather important part of the scientific approach: just as Socrates argued for the importance of the gadfly in the context of society, there should also be gadflies in science. Scientists are, after all, only human and are subject to all the same cognitive biases and frailties as everyone else (plus are especially vulnerable to certain biases).

Some folks are, however, irrational skeptics. They base their doubt not on legitimate critiques of the methodology or the data. Some of these folks base their doubt not on logic, but on their emotions. They feel hostility towards the idea of climate change and the people who claim it is real. They feel positive towards the folks who deny it. However, feeling is not a good guide to the truth. John Locke argued quite effectively for this in his essay regarding enthusiasm. However, you can test this yourself: try taking a chemistry test or solving a complex engineering problem solely by how you feel about the matter. Let me know how well that works out. To be fair, there are folks who believe in climate change based on how they feel. While I am inclined to say that their belief is correct, I am even more inclined to say that they are not warranted to hold said belief since it is based on feeling rather than on actual reasons.

Some of the skeptics base their doubt on the fact that the truth of climate change would be contrary to their interests. In some cases, they are not consciously aware that they are rejecting a claim based on this factor and they might very well be sincere in their skepticism. However, this is merely a form of wishful thinking. Other folks are well aware of what they are doing when they express their “skepticism.” Their goal is not to engage in a scientific debate over the matter-that is, engage in argumentation to achieve the truth. Rather, their objective is to persuade others to doubt climate change and thus protect their perceived interests. To be fair, there are folks who push climate change because doing so is in their own interest. As Al Gore will attest, there is considerable money to be made in this area. This, of course, does not show that Al Gore is wrong-“reasoning” this way would be to fall victim to a circumstantial ad homimem fallacy. Saying that the climate change deniers are wrong because they have an interest in denying it would also commit this fallacy (the sword of logic cuts both ways).

Interesting, while whether climate change is occurring or not (and whether or not it is our doing) is a scientific matter, much of the fighting is done in the realm of politics and rhetoric. However, factual claims about climate are not settled by who has the best rhetoric or who can get the most votes. They must be settled by scientific means. As such, it is important to cut through the rhetoric (and fallacies) and get to the heart of the matter.

While the consensus of the experts is that climate change is real and is caused, at least in part, by humans, I am not an expert on climate change. But, I am rational and, as such, I will accept their view unless adequate contrary evidence is provided from unbiased sources.

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Posted in Business, Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 16, 2009
Secretary-General Opens High-level UN Conferen...
Image by United Nations Photo via Flickr

As the political theater plays out inside, folks are protesting outside the climate summit in Copenhagen.

On one hand, it is a good thing that representatives are meeting to engage in the political game playing that makes up a summit. After all, climate change is a matter of serious concern and can have a very significant impact on human civilization. While I am skeptical of the efficacy of political talk, that is (ironically enough) the starting point for action (or inaction).

On the other hand, it does seem like the elites are meeting to create more useless hot air: to posture and pontificate (and line up new political and financial deals). While there is a scientific consensus on global warming, the recent disclosure of the hacked emails has raised serious doubts. After all, if some scientists have allegedly engaged in duplicitous behavior then it would not be unreasonable to be concerned about how far this has spread. After all, climate matters are now intensely political and this means that bias is to be suspected-both on the part of those who contend for and those who content against the claim that global warming is real and worrisome.

Green is now a big industry and has generated vast sums of money for folks like Al Gore. While this does not prove that Al and folks are biased or making false claims, the fact that people stand to make a lot of money from green does create a situation of possible bias. After all, the need to go green rests heavily on assumptions about global warming. If global warming were not occurring, then the motivation to go green (and hence the green to be made from going green) would be substantially reduced.

That said, if global warming will be as harmful as some have claimed, then going green would be rather important to the well being of our species. The fact that some people (such as Al Gore) will profit greatly from this has no actually effect on the truth or falsity of these claims. Obviously, the scientific community has reached a consensus on the matter, thus lending credence to the claims about the dangers of global warming. But, as noted above, the leaked emails and the fact that green is now a major profit (and political) engine do raise concerns that are worth paying attention to.

I am for saving resources and I am against pollution. As such, I was “green” even before it was in to be green. However, I do not think that green should serve as a trump card and that our actions regarding the climate should be carefully considered in a realistic manner. Of course, part of being realistic is being aware that the matter is highly political and economic-so much so that the truth no doubt has been long lost amidst the green.

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Technology & The Economy

Posted in Business by Michael LaBossiere on May 6, 2009
Money Back Guarantee
Image by Roby© via Flickr

One of my former students emailed me and asked the following question: “what role do you think that our technology has on our current economic situation?” Being a professor, I cannot resist answering such questions.

The easy and obvious answer is that our economy rests heavily on technology (everything from the technology of the fry cooker to the web server) so it plays a huge role. Of course, this sort of answer is not particularly helpful.

One aspect worth considering is information technology: tv, web, newspapers and such. Since how people think and feel about the economic situation has an impact on the economy, it would follow that the use of such technology has an impact on the current economic situation. Since the news we get is mixed, the impact of the technology is mixed.

The information technology also impact the economy because of the use of online trading and other financial uses of technology. This allows for the rapid buying and selling of stocks and bonds as well as the exchange of financial information. This entails that more people influence the financial systems directly and that change takes place quite rapidly.

Since people can get information so quickly and react to it directly, this can result in amplified feedback. For example, if bad news comes up, people can lose confidence and start trying to dump stocks and bonds. This will serve to further weaken the economy, leading to more bad news and more weakening. Of course, there is the question of how much the individual traders impact the economy relative to the big players.

Speaking of information technology, it can be argued that the .com bubble paved the way to the latest bubble. In both cases, people tried to make money in ways that were not solidly grounded. Since technology was a key part of the previous bubble, it could be seen as indirectly setting a model for our current woes. And, if we push things, houses are technology and much of our woes arose from housing problems.

Depending on how technology is defined, it can be seen as quite instrumental in the economic situation. To be specific, if we consider complex financial constructs to be items of technology, then they had a huge impact.

One way to argue that these constructs are technology is to draw an analogy to computer software. While an application is not a physical object in the usual sense, it is still technology. likewise, the various financial constructs can be seen as economic technology. In fact, the analogy to software works out nicely: both can crash badly.

Looking to the future, some hope that technology will provide us with a way out the woes. The current big promise is that green technology will save us from global warming and the crisis. In any case, I’m sure it will save Al Gore from any financial crisis he might be experiencing.

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Where’s Al?

Posted in Environment, Science by Michael LaBossiere on March 9, 2008

The general consensus is that global warming is occurring and human activities are a significant causal factor in this matter. However, as with all hypotheses, it is always wise to consider the matter critically and rationally. To forestall any overly emotional reactions, I want to make it clear that I am not denying the consensus put forth by scientists. I am not a climate scientist and hence am not qualified to properly assess the technical aspects of the matter. However, my area of authority is philosophy and that includes expertise in critical thinking and causal reasoning. Hence, I am qualified to assess those aspects of the matter.

We have been told by Al Gore and others that global warming is occurring, that we are to blame (in part) and that this is a bad thing. Each of these claims bears proper scrutiny.

First, is global warming occurring? The statistical data seems to bear that out and I will not venture to claim any expertise in this matter. When dealing with statistics, it is important to have a sample that is large enough for the purpose at hand. In the case of climate, the sample needs to be rather large. Weather is a matter of what is happening outside your window right now. Climate is a matter of what happens in the long term. It is well established that the earth’s temperature varies and has varied in recent years (most famously during the Little Ice Age ) as well as quite radically in the distant past (in the ice age). To show that global warming is occurring what would be needed is evidence of a clear and enduring trend. Without such a trend, it could not be said that the earth is warming, cooling or staying the same. As noted above, the evidence seems to be that the average temperature has been increasing. However, as some are quick to point out, this year has included record colds and shows signs of being a cooler than average year. Some take this as evidence that global warming is not correct or even that it is a hoax. Some people have noted Al Gore’s strange silence now and have begun asking “where’s Al?”

It is reasonable to be critical in this. But, given that climate is a matter of the long term, it is important to be careful with such claims. Perhaps the cooling trend will give way to a warming trend. Perhaps not. Significant time is required to establish a trend in a meaningful way. Many scientists claim that this has been achieved and that we can be confident that the earth is warming. As such, this is the rational thing to accept. But, it is equally rational to retain a degree of skepticism-especially in a matter that is so fraught with emotions and politics.

The second concern is whether human activity is to blame or not. Even if warming is occurring, it is not the case that humans are the sole cause. After all, there are many other factors that contribute to the earth’s temperature and the extent of our influence on the world is not total. The important question is to what degree we are affecting the average temperature.

Causal reasoning is, as Hume argued, a rather tricky thing. It is difficult to determine the cause of an effect. Part of the problem is that working backwards from effect to cause is an inherently weak method of causal reasoning. This is why researchers prefer cause to effect controlled experiments. To oversimplify things, one main problem with going from effect to cause is that it is difficult to eliminate (control) other factors and thus find the actual cause or causes. In the case of a controlled experiment, these other factors are controlled so that any difference between the control group and the experimental group is most likely to be due to the alleged causal agent.

To use a specific example, consider the difference between a controlled experiment about running and a effect to cause study on health. If a researcher wanted to know about the effects of running, she would select a representative sample from the population and split this sample into two groups. The experimental group would be exposed to the causal agent in question-in other words, they would run. The control group would be matched as closely as possible to the experimental group (diet, genetics, weight and so on) but they would not be exposed to the causal agent in question-they would not run. After a suitable length of time, the two groups would be examined. The differences between the groups that are statistically significant would then be attributed to the difference between them-running. So, for example, if the blood pressure of the runners was lower than the non-runners at a statistically significant level, then it could be said that running lowers blood pressure.

Now, this can be contrasted with an effect to cause study. In this case, healthy people would be found and matched with comparable non-healthy people. The two groups would be studied to see what the relevant differences are between them. At the end of the study, the differences would be said to be the causal factor(s). Of course, it will be difficult to sort out what is a causal factor from what is a coincidence. It will also be rather unlikely that one factor will be found as the cause or even a primary cause. This is because, as we know from experiments, many factors are involved in health.

In the case of attributing climate change to humans, the overall model is an effect to cause study. We have global warming and it is inferred that human activity is a causal factor. However, we know that climate change occurred prior to the existence of humans as well as before we had achieved a significant level of technology. As such, there is room for doubt in regards to the claim that humans are a significant contributory factor in regards to climate change.

It can be countered that there is evidence that the by-products of human civilization (mainly CO2) are believed to cause climate change. This is known because non-human sources of CO2 are believed to have caused climate change in the past. Naturally enough, there is room for doubt here as well. This is because there are other factors that impact the climate, such as solar activity. As such, it is still reasonable to consider that other factors might be more significant than human activity. It is important to be fairly confident in our role before we start planning what we should do. If our role is significant, then we should take the appropriate action. Of course, the appropriate action is a matter of value and not science. Science, as scientists often point out when subject to moral criticism for things like nuclear weapons, is not concerned with ethics as a field of study. Hence, deciding what we should be aiming at doing is a matter of ethics and practical concern. This leads to the final concern.

The last area of concern is whether global warming is bad for humans. While this requires determining what is good and bad, it seems safe to begin with the assumption that what is harmful to humans can be considered bad. We have been told that global warming will flood cities, contribute to an increase in disease, lead to famine and all manner of other problems.

Obviously, if this is true, then we should do what we can to fight the temperature increase. This would be both prudent and right.

However, there is a concern worth noting. The Little Ice Age was rather damaging to humans. Crops failed, livestock died and people became sick. Cold is, as history shows, perhaps even more damaging than warmth. Perhaps it is the case that human activity is helping to prevent the cooling of the earth. If this is true, then it would be in our interest to keep things warm enough so that conditions remain to our advantage.

This does raise an interesting point to consider. If we, as a species, have the power to affect the environment on a global scale, then this is a power that we need to understand and learn how to control. While many would say we need to cut down on our impact on the climate, there might well be times when we should step up our impact. Again, consider the Little Ice Age as well as the time when much of the earth was covered in ice. Also consider the times when volcanoes radically affected the climate. These climate changes pose a threat to humans as well as other species. Unlike other species, we have the capacity to reason on a large scale and apparently the power to shape the climate. This means that we need not be passive victims of climate change-we can take an active role in protecting ourselves and other species. At this time, this role might be to act so as to offset global warming. If conditions change, our role might be to offset global cooling.

Obviously, we need to research this matter very carefully and take due care in our actions. As history has shown, it is all too easy to do terrible damage out of ignorance (witness the terrible pollution of the past and the present).

Some people might argue that we should not alter the environment. While I agree that we should not damage the environment, there is significant difference between damaging the environment and changing it in ways that are beneficial to us. As a species, we strive to survive and flourish. It would be unrealistic and actually immoral to expect humans to simply endure whatever the environment throws at us without taking action. Anyone reading this agrees with me-in behavior if not in belief. After all, you need to be using a computer to read this-think about what that entails.

Cell Phone Waste

Posted in Environment by Michael LaBossiere on February 4, 2008

The January 2008 issue of PC Magazine (page 22) has some interesting cell phone facts: The first cell phone sold for $3,995 in 1983. Now cell phones are, as they say, dirt cheap. Because they are so cheap and new versions appear so rapidly, people tend to “retire” their phones and get new ones about every year and a half. Somewhat less than 1% of the phones are recycled-most often by charity groups.  In 2006 about 146 million cell phones were sold in America alone. That means that there are now over 100 million additional cell phones being dumped into land fills. Of course, the exact number is hard to determine  because of various factors that might keep phones from being discarded. For example, some people, like me, resist the urge to buy a new cell just because the current one is not the latest and the greatest.

While cell phones are small and getting smaller each year, millions of them do add up to a lot of waste if they are simply discarded. Since such waste is morally questionable, the right thing to do would most likely be to recycle or re-use them. Of course, the fact that something is the right thing to do mainly just gets a few people to think “we should do that” and then nothing is done. What really gets people to do something is a profit motivation. Fortunately, there is gold (so to speak) in those old phones.

A typical cell phone contains about 70 cents of scrap metal. That is not much. Until, of course, you multiply that by a a hundred million. In short, a clever company could make a nice profit reusing the metal in the phones. If they could reuse the plastic and rubber parts as well, the profit could be even greater.

As Al Gore has taught us with his jet, his millions and his mansions, there is more than just green trees in going green-there is green money. It is great when the good thing and the profitable thing are one in the same. Someone will do the right thing. even if it is for the “wrong” reason.

In case you are wondering, I still have a four year old cell phone. It does all I need it to do, namely make and receive calls. Okay, mostly it just sits in my backpack, collecting missed calls and text messages.