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Vol 2011 No2 (Posted August 2011)

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Images of Environmental Disaster: Information and Ontology
Charles Bonner, Department of Philosophy, Providence College

This paper examines the ways in which visual images of environmental disaster function in the context of our Information Age ontology. Following the analysis and typology of images associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico sketched out in a brief article by Peter Galison and Caroline A. Jones, I show, first, the essential incompleteness of those images that convey the picture of disaster to television and computer screens of a global public. As these authors emphasize, there are crucial aspects of the disaster necessarily left out of the picture: aspects which can not yet be rendered visible by existing imaging technologies. Granting the importance of these lacunae, the present study attempts a second step, beyond the not-yet-visualized aspects of disaster emphasized by Galison and Jones, in order to elucidate the ontological context in which an event such as environmental disaster becomes possible—or inevitable. This ontological context is constituted by the fundamental structure of reality as such, our “world” as manifest in the present Information Age.
If the fundamental ontological set-up is itself essentially in principle recalcitrant to visual imaging, the visual image itself claims a privileged place in our information-age reality. The Deepwater Horizon disaster, and the pragmatic necessity of looking beyond the surface images are situated here in a philosophical context that allows for more radical inquiry into the fundamental contours of the “world order” we presently inhabit (this term is to be understood in its ontological, not geo-politcal significance). This type of inquiry, sketched out in very preliminary terms, is contrasted with the technocratic framework in which the environmentalist problematic is currently situated. Concluding remarks point to the pragmatic implications of the attempt to shift this problematic onto ontological grounds: new stakes and new strategies emerge with the second step beyond the surface images of disaster. The new philosophical context sketched out here allows for a profound reorientation of assessment and response to environmental disaster as such, and to the fragility and essential instability of the world order in which such disasters occur.

Evolution and the Goal of Environmentalism
John H Dreher, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California

The goal of environmentalism is at least to protect the environment.  At a suitably high level of abstraction it is fairly clear what that involves:  for example, assuring that Earth remains a place that can sustain life.  Yes, but what sorts of life?  How should different life forms be distributed geographically?  The truth is that easy platitudes do not take us very far because they are insufficiently granular, and therefore it is not immediately clear how we can best satisfy the demand to protect the environment.  This paper is an attempt to identify plausible environmental principles that are politically possible to implement on a global basis.  To this end, principles will be based upon a vision of the relation of humankind to nature that appeals to all people and will be designed to minimize the sacrifices that implementation will require.   

Frank Lloyd Wright and Our Attitude toward Nature
Theresa Grupico, Lecturer, Department of Art and Design, Monmouth University

The attitude that humans have the right to subdue nature has been ingrained in the Western worldview since the Ancient Greeks gave birth to Western Civilization.  When the Greeks transitioned from a nomadic to an agricultural society and established city-states, they also set the pattern for understanding the civilized world as that which is centered on cities, towns, and the surrounding agricultural land, and for understanding the wilderness beyond these as deserving to be tamed and exploited. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright instead emerged from a cultural tradition that understood the United States as a Utopia not only in political or religious, but also in environmental terms.  Romantic writers, landscape painters, and the Arts and Crafts Movement to which Wright belonged reacted against the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution on America’s landscape as well as its people.  Instead of looking to the Classical world, Wright looked to nature as a model.  The result was an ‘organic’ architecture that challenged the Western worldview predominant since the Greeks and encouraged an attitude of coexistence with, rather than mastery over, nature.

Ideological impacts upon environmental problem perception
Jeff William Justice, Ryan Cheek, and Brandon Buckman, Tarleton State University 


Problem perception is the first stage of the policy process, and it is one often influenced by political ideology.  Government will not act upon a problem until the public perceives its existence and makes it a salient matter.  Senior political scientist Ronald Inglehart suggested that environmental policy issues are primarily the purview of those who adhere to what he calls “postmaterialist” ideology, a finding confirmed by subsequent scholarship. 
In this paper, we suggest that postmaterialism makes a limited impact upon perception of environmental problems, particularly when controlled by other factors, including the geographical distribution of the perceived problem.  Using Inglehart’s World Values Survey, we find that postmaterialist values impact perception of global environmental issues, but that no ideology dominates perception of local issues. 

Energy Consequences and Conflicts across the Global Countryside: North American Agricultural Perspectives
Simona L. Perry, Dickinson College


Ethnographic and interpretive policy analysis of four different geographic locations where agriculture and unconventional oil and gas development overlap spatially and temporally across North America is used to highlight some of the rural, place-based consequences and conflicts resulting from regional and national energy politics.  The analysis focuses on ways that family livestock farmers are currently responding to and being transformed by local, national and regional unconventional energy development policies and regulations across an emerging “global countryside.”






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