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Monday, April 7, 2014

Oil Liberation!

A longtime friend posted a link on Facebook to an article bearing the headline:

Vast oil trove trapped in Monterey Shale formation 

The article describes the difficulty of extracting the oil while still turning a profit, with passing mention of some of the environmental and social concerns associated with the extraction processes that might be involved.

This is not a blog post about hydraulic fracturing, per se, but a brief comment on the use of language: the headline reveals a way of framing the meaning of shale oil that cuts off any debate about the advisability of extracting the oil before it can get started.

It comes down to a matter of metaphor.

To trap something is to confine or limit it when it would otherwise move freely.

To say the oil is trapped is to suggest that oil in its natural state is free. The oil would be free, could be free, and should be free but for the damned, cruel, oppressive shale formation holding it back!

What's proposed then is not "fracking" - such an unpleasant word, "fracking" - it's Oil Liberation!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Value Compression

I have been reading an account of a research project in urban planning, an effort to develop a more adequate model of human travel behavior in response to particular urban forms.

As part of the pilot test for the project, which ultimately involved a survey administered to a rigorously stratified sample distributed across a major world city, the researcher conducted interviews with a number of city residents selected from the same sample. The idea was to refine the survey instrument to capture more subtle gradations in travel behavior.

As the researcher described it, the interview subjects seemed eager to tell their own stories of living in and moving through the city and, according to the researcher's account, some became quite animated in the telling.

But the researcher had taken a particular attitude toward the subjects, and the theory to which the researcher appealed made very specific, very stringent demands as to the kind of data that would be acceptable.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Urban Apocalypse!

Coming back around to the ethics of metropolitan growth, I have just submitted the abstract of a new paper for an urban affairs conference next year. It draws together some earlier threads from this blog and incorporates some further threads from the work I've been doing lately in curriculum development.

(More on that curriculum work another time.)

Here is the abstract:

URBAN APOCALYPSE!
or, What We Can Learn from Imagining the End of the City

It is not difficult to find stories about the end of the city. Weisman’s thought experiment, “The City Without Us,” is especially provocative, as is Kunstler’s tragic outlook for the next few hundred years; preppers produce guides for surviving the collapse of civilization, and any number of summer blockbusters have featured scenes of empty streets and crumbling buildings. But is there any real use in telling so many stories about the end of the city, aside from the illicit thrill of theoretical rubber-necking or any tactical advantage to be had from fear-mongering?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Transitory Places, part 3

Ethics in Transitory Places
What does it imply for the conservation project at Karori if the place in which it unfolds is, in some meaningful sense, transitory? What does the possibility of transitory places imply for projects in general, and for our evaluation of their means and ends? It seems to me there are at least three important lessons for environmental ethics to be derived from an acknowledgement that time and change can be unidirectional.

The first lesson is that the ends of the project at hand, not just its means, should be informed by a deep understanding of a particular place and the dynamics that shape it.  It may be obvious that the means for reaching a projects’ ends should be selected on the basis of what is available. That is just a matter of prudent, practical thinking. But that the ends should also be so shaped is less obvious. In this, the goals adopted by the Karori Sanctuary Trust are instructive.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Transitory Places, part 2

Karori Sanctuary as a Transitory Place

I paid two brief visits to Karori Sanctuary in early 2010, in high southern summer.  My visits were about two weeks apart, and I stayed for only a few hours each time, so my direct experience of the place barely amounts to a snapshot. I did not even visit the sanctuary at night, when the kiwi would have been active, or in the early morning, when I could have heard the “dawn chorus” of resurgent native bird life.  The relevant scale of my own visit, then, was a matter of minutes and hours, rather than days and weeks.

Had I been able to stay on in New Zealand to study the sanctuary, and perhaps even volunteer there, or should I be able to go back to visit sometime soon, the relevant scale would still only be a matter of months and years. This would amount to a narrow slice of the half-millennium scope of the conservation effort Karori.  Within that narrow slice, the broader context within which the restoration effort takes place might well seem to be relatively stable: Wellington and its surrounding region seem unlikely to change very much during that time, so those carrying out the project will know what to expect: as they attempt to push the sanctuary back in time, as it were, they can at least know what they are pushing against.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Transitory Places, part 1

Transitory Places

Very briefly, an experiential approach to ethics takes the project as its basic unit of analysis, considering what it is like to choose and pursue a project, and how people, alone and together, actually deliberate about whether a project is worth pursuing. By project I mean nothing more than a course of action aimed at a particular goal. Projects may run the gamut from the small, short-term, individual projects, like driving a mile to buy a cup of coffee, to large, long-term, group projects, like passing a vibrant culture on to the future. (Kirkman, 2010, p. 10).

All manner of normative questions may be asked about a given project, concerning its ends, its means, and even the manner in which it was chosen.  A variety of ethical frameworks may be brought to bear both in choosing a project and in evaluating its progress and its results, encompassing virtues, values, and obligations.

Projects do not take place in a vacuum, of course. In pursuing a project, a human agent is always interacting not only with other people but with a particular place, which presents itself as an array of opportunities for and constraints upon choice and action (see Kirkman, 2010, pp. 35-36).  Place, in this sense, is relative to the project, so that the meaning of any particular object – and its value – will shift as one project gives way to another (Kirkman, 2005, p. 44). 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Transitory Places: Introduction

My paper on the Karori Sanctuary has at last seen the light of day, in The Journal of Environmental Philosophy. Since the journal has a small circulation, the editors have encouraged contributors to share our papers more widely.

Below and in the subsequent three posts I offer the final typescript version of the paper, beginning here with the introduction.

*  *  *

Sic transit gloria mundi

“Thus passes the glory of the world.”

The phrase stole into my thoughts as I took my last walk through the Karori Sanctuary in Wellington, New Zealand, in early 2010, just before I returned home to Atlanta.  Even at the time, it struck me as an odd thing to be thinking, in that context. Nestled in a steep-sided valley only a few kilometers from the central business district, lush with vegetation and teeming with bird life, the sanctuary is, to all appearances, doing very well.