Here in the States we are going through the seemingly endless warm up for our 2012 presidential election. President Obama is the candidate of the Democrats and the Republicans are trying to sort out who will be their person. The Republican candidates for being the presidential candidate are doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the folks who will anoint one of them.
In order to do this, a candidate must win over the folks who are focused on economic matters (mainly pushing for low taxes and less regulation) and those who are focused on what they regard as moral issues (pushing against abortion, same sex marriage and so on). The need to appeal to these views has caused most of the candidates to adopt the pro-life (anti-abortion) stance as well as to express a commitment to eliminating regulation. Some of the candidates have gone so far as to claim they will eliminate the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on the grounds that regulations hurt the job creators.
On the face of it, these seems to be no tension between being pro-life and against government regulation of the sort imposed via the EPA. A person could argue that since abortion is wrong, it is acceptable for the government to deny women the freedom to have abortions. The same person could, quite consistently it seems, then argue that the state should take a pro-choice stance towards business in terms of regulation, especially environmental regulation. However, if one digs a bit deeper, it would seem that there is a potential tension here.
In the States, the stock pro-life argument is that the act of abortion is an act of murder: innocent people are being killed. There are, of course, variations on this line of reasoning. However, the usual moral arguments are based on the notion that harm is being done to an innocent being. When people counter with an appeal to the rights or needs of the mother, the stock reply is that these are overridden in this situation. That is, avoiding harm to the fetus (or pre-fetus) is generally more important than avoiding harm to the mother. In some cases people take this to be an absolute in that they regard abortion as never allowable. Some do allow exceptions in the case of medical necessity, rape or incest. There are, of course, also religious arguments-but those are best discussed in another context.
If this line of reasoning is taken seriously, and I think that it should, then a person who is pro-life on these grounds would seem to be committed to extending this moral concern for life beyond the womb. Unless, of course, there is a moral change that occurs after birth that create a relevant difference that removes the need for moral concern. This, however, would seem unlikely (at least in this direction, namely from being a entity worthy of moral concern to being an entity who does not matter).
It is at this point that the matter of environmental concerns can be brought into play. Shortly before writing this I was reading an article about the environmental dangers children are exposed to, primarily in schools. These hazards include the usual suspects: lead, mercury, pesticides, arsenic, air pollution, mold, asbestos, radon, BPA, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other such things.
Currently, children are regularly exposed to a witches brew of human made chemicals and substances that have been well established as being harmful to human beings and especially harmful to children. They are also exposed to naturally occurring substances by the actions of human beings. For example, burning coal and oil release naturally occurring mercury into the air. As another example, people use naturally occurring lead and asbestos in construction. As noted above, it is well established that these substances are harmful to humans and especially harmful to children.
If someone hold the pro-life position and believes that abortion should be regulated by the state because of the harm being done, then it would thus seem to follow that they would also need to be committed to the regulation of harmful chemicals and substances, even those produced and created by businesses. After all, if the principle that warrants regulating abortion is based on the harm being done to the fetus/pre-fetus, then the same line of reasoning would also extend to the harm being done to children and adults.
If someone were to counter by saying that they are only morally concerned with the fetus/pre-fetus, then the obvious reply is that these entities are even more impacted by exposure to such chemicals and substances. As such, they would also seem to committed to accepting regulation of the environment on the same grounds that they argue for regulation of the womb.
It might be countered that these substances generally do not kill the fetus/pre-fetus or children but rather cause defects. As such, a person could be against killing (and hence anti-abortion) but also be against regulation on the grounds that they find birth defects, retarded development and so on to be acceptable. That is, killing is not acceptable but maiming and crippling are tolerable.
This would, interestingly enough, be a potentially viable position. However, it does seem somewhat problematic for a person to be morally outraged at abortion while being willing to tolerate maiming and crippling.
It might also be argued that businesses should be freed from regulation on the utilitarian grounds that the jobs and profits created will outweigh the environmental harms being done. That is, in return for X jobs and Y profits, we can morally tolerate Z levels of contamination, pollution, birth defects, illness and so on. This is, of course, a viable option.
However, if this approach is acceptable for regulating the environment, then it would seem to also be acceptable for regulating the womb. That is, if a utilitarian approach is taken to the environment, then the same would seem to also be suitable for abortion. It would seem that if we can morally tolerate the harms resulting from a lack of regulation of the environment, then we could also tolerate the harms resulting from abortion.
Thus it would seem that a person who is pro-life and favors regulating the womb the grounds that abortion harms the innocent, then that person should also be for regulating the environment on the grounds that pollution and contamination also harm the innocent.
Douglas Moore says
I am not against taxes or regulation. But shouldn’t regulations be proved to do what they are intended to do? One cannot justify a regulation by merely stating good intentions. If green house gas regulations are proposed, it shown be proven that this regulation would actually have a positive impact on the environment. The Kyoto Protocol is a perfect example. It didn’t do much in the way of affecting global temperatures, yet we know it negatively effected economies. Kyoto was passed knowing that this would be the case.
I do not think business should be freed from regulation. But I also don’t think that most business owners themselves want to breathe dirty air. In any event, I do believe, too, that the market is a far better regulator than you give it credit for. In the past you’ve said it is a “horrible” regulator. John Stossel, a former liberal who investigated corporations for product liability for 30 years, came to the conclusion that companies rarely hurt people. 99% of the time they benefit more than harm. I challenge government regulators to find the same about their profession.
Regulations are put in place to TRY to change something. You can’t be absolutely certain about their effectiveness until they are implemented (and workarounds are found & fixed). The Kyoto Protocol didn’t work because the US didn’t sign onto it and even some of the countries that did, ignored it. It was not passed “knowing that this would be the case”.
The conclusion of a single individual is hardly proof of anything, especially if they have an agenda. The market is not concerned with helping or not hurting people, it is only concerned with keeping itself alive through any means. The market only regulates itself when it kills off everything it feeds on.
Douglas Moore says
“The Kyoto Protocol didn’t work because the US didn’t sign onto it”
No, anon. The US did not sign it because we suspected it would not work and was bad for everyone who signed it, with very little benefit.
“But I also don’t think that most business owners themselves want to breathe dirty air.”
This is a great example of markets not regulating themselves. “Most business owners” don’t OWN the business that are causing most of the pollution. When we found out how bad the output of coal power plants could be do you REALLY think that the “owners” of them rushed to filter the output to make it as clean as possible? The owners didn’t care, they don’t live close to/directly downwind from of their own plants. They don’t care about the pollution they are causing because there is still “plenty of clean air” (for them), who care about the people who live close to the plant/work in it.
“The owners didn’t care, they don’t live close to/directly downwind from of their own plants”
May I amend your claim? The owners don’t care; the workers may care– but having a job is more important; the general public is indifferent or worse. If people really ‘cared’, the push and support for renewable energy would become more than an environmentalist’s wet dream and a political football.
Opinion: A determined push for renewable energy should not be rooted in the climate change debate, or muddled with worker safety issues, or tied to our dependence on foreign oil. I personally feel those are all valid issues, but I feel the most important issue is expressed in the phrase ” renewable energy”. Simply stated, non-renewable energy is not renewable; once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s less of it each time we use some. Eventually, there will be too little to matter.
Currently, the general public and its representatives don’t seem to give much of a shit.
If by renewable energy you mean wind and solar, I do not believe that it will work. They are intermittent sources of energy. I have searched in vain for careful studies which would show that interconnecting various sources of intermittent energy would result in a continuous, economical, and reliable source of power. Of course there are numerous claims that it would work, but those claims remain unproven.
The minimal support for renewable energy is in part be based on indifference to environmental problems, but it is also based on the fact that it makes no sense to invest hundreds of billions of dollars on unproven “solutions.”
It would make more sense to do a very careful analysis first to determine whether the approach would work, and so far as I have been able to determine, that has not been done. It would require placing wind and solar sensors in appropriate locations and, in real-time, transmitting the data to a central location for analysis to determine whether wind generators and solar systems in those locations could produce continuous and reliable power. Of course it would be expensive and time-consuming, but it would cost far less than investing hundreds of billions of dollars in an approach that doesn’t work.
From the countless hours I’ve spent studying energy related issues, I have concluded that the only practical solution is nuclear power. However, it should be based on the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR); I see our current uranium technology as a serious mistake that should be rectified ASAP. And, there is enough thorium available to last for centuries, so there is no reason to be concerned about running out of it.
There’s something of interest here, from Wikipedia:
“In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that ‘the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional cost of the of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared’.” Emphasis on the last two sentences. It’s not a solution. It’s a step. Away from fossil fuels. For us and the rest of the world.
A Google of research on wind energy produces some sources that aim at the same point.
As I wrote in an earlier post for a different article, I have no problems with nuclear energy. I own some nuclear-energy-related stock. I don’t want to see it fail. I do want nations that produce nuclear energy to make every effort to learn from past mistakes. That would include considering much more carefully the sites on which reactors are built. It would include more efficient and more effective regulation of the industry. It would include building in more redundancy in reactor safety systems– even if doing so increases the cost of power generation.
In sum, we have nuclear–thorium or otherwise–solar, wind, geo-thermal, etc. Fossil fuels will eventually diminish to the point where they’re of no use to us. Third world nations would like to industrialize, but as we see with Iran, separating nuclear weapon production from nuclear energy production can be problematic. As far as thorium, I’ve found with a quick Google two conflicting opinions. It can be used in a weapon. It can’t be used in a weapon. I’m not a nuclear expert. I didn’t see any sources that were convincing in either direction.
Obviously, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass 🙂 , etc. will not meet our immediate needs. But to remove them from the table would seem to leave us no options when the fossil fuels are gone. . .
Thorium itself CANNOT be used in a weapon; it will not fission.
When used for nuclear power, thorium indirectly transmutes to uranium 233 which, in theory, could be used for weapons. The problem is that U233 is contaminated with U232 which is a strong emitter of gamma rays. U235 and U238 don’t have that problem; they are only slightly radioactive and easy to work with, but the U233 which is contaminated with U232 would kill anyone who works with it. Even if a nuclear weapon could be assembled with U233 with robotic techniques, it still could not be used for weapons since the gamma radiation would destroy the electronics. The shielding necessary to prevent that would make weapons impractically bulky and heavy. Also, the high gamma radiation would make it impossible to conceal because the radiation could easily be detected.
Those opposing the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) are generally opposed to nuclear power as a matter of principal; opposing nuclear power is almost like a religion to them. On the other hand, a thorium reactor could be designed to be much like our current pressurized water reactors; India is working on that approach. However, the only advantage of that approach seems to be that thorium is far more abundant that uranium; it does not solve the safety problems or the problems which make PWRs so expensive to make.
Clearly there are multiple good reasons to move away from dependence on fossil fuels and we must work towards that goal. But it is essential to do the necessary research work to determine whether alternatives are practical; I have been unable to find any research work that indicates that wind and solar power would be practical except in certain limited situations where connecting to the grid is impractical or when they can be backed up by hydro power and prevent the hydro system from running out of water. Geothermal power may be practical in some locations, but it is not problem free either. It has been found to cause earthquakes in some location but, so far as I know, not greater than about 4.5.
I suggest visiting the following website and also ordering the related DVD which is available from Amazon.com:
Although the Internet is a good source of encyclopedic-type information, getting in-depth information on technical and complex subjects generally requires using multiple other sources.
Michael LaBossiere says
As a general rule, humans can weaponize anything. Solar collectors could, for example, be used as heat rays. Probably not very effective, but they could still do some damage.
“Thorium itself CANNOT be used in a weapon; it will not fission.” That’s good to hear. And now that we’re not in a nuclear arms race with anyone, perhaps more of the kind of research and money that was dumped into developing nuclear weapons can be devoted to support a strong push for thorium reactor development. Fossil fuel companies might object. . . and they have quite a bit of power in our government.
This http://www.physicsforums.com/archive/index.php/t-86601.html deals with the question of how long it takes to get a nuclear reactor online.
This http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/01/india-thorium-nuclear-plant indicates a 6-10 year time-frame for the first thorium plant in India.
I’m pro-nuclear (with all necessary and possible safety considerations applied) including thorium. If the thorium reactors enter the energy market and survive and solar and wind and geothermal approaches don’t, well, that will be that. But, if, as you say, those sources haven’t been researched enough to prove their efficacy (and they should be, right) they likely haven’t been the beneficiaries of enough research to reach their maximum potential. Such research might encourage new invention that would make solar, wind, wave, geothermal, etc. more productive, less expensive, and, thus, more viable in the marketplace. Might. Meanwhile, additional passive architectural approaches may come along to add energy to the ever-diminishing non-fossil sources of energy.
If a free market, the more players the better. That philosophy has been at the core of America’s worldwide entrepreneurial and economic superiority. . . . . .
Actually, the present nuclear industry has no reason to support thorium nuclear energy. It makes much of its money by providing fuel rods for pressurized water uranium reactors and the liquid fluoride thorium reactor does not use fuel rods. It uses fuel at least 100 times more efficiently and the fuel it does use costs a fraction as much. That makes it difficult to raise the funds for LFTR development. In general, the politicians ignore LFTR technology. PBS, a few months ago, aired a program about the problems of nuclear waste but did not even mention LFTR technology nor to they even respond to letters pointing out that omission. However, the Chinese are committed to working on LFTR technology and if we don’t work on it, we will end up buying the technology from China just as we buy our soap, electronic products, and other items from China.
Although there is no absolute guarantee that LFTR technology will be practical when scaled up to the necessary size, prototype experience and other studies indicate that it will probably be practical and both far safer and far more economical than current technology. It would be a very serious mistake for us to ignore it.
I’d still be interested in reading about a study that evaluates the practicality of wind and solar power. One would suppose that if such a study actually existed and proved that wind and solar are practical, the supporters of wind and solar would be quick to site it. All they do is quote people who assert that it is practical, but they offer no proof. They accept it on faith and expect everyone else to accept it on faith also.
“Actually, the present nuclear industry has no reason to support thorium nuclear energy”.
So the current nuclear industry and the fossil fuel powers seem to be lined up on one side, while wind, solar, thorium etc. are struggling against a powerful tide of financial and politcal might and basic human inertia. Is that a compelling reason to put all of our efforts behind thorium and to allow the others to be dragged under? “. . . there is no absolute guarantee that LFTR technology will be practical when scaled up to the necessary size,” Do we have an absolute guarantee that any one of the other technologies will not make a breakthrough? New materials for photovoltaic cells. Or something to replace them? New technologies for building wind turbines? New methods of storing and transmitting energy?
Where was computer technology 35 years ago?
There might be something here on solar , wind, biomass, geothermal:
I agree with your basic devotion to thorium despite what’s contained in this article:
The Guardian, as a liberal-leaning newspaper, might be expected to carry an anti-fossil-fuel, pro-renewable- energy bias. They may see thorium as a more serious threat to progress in the area of renewable energy resources than traditional nuclear energy for any number of reasons.
We’re just wrangling here over what might be the appropriate fates of renewable energy sources, and I don’t think they’re any more deserving of being tossed aside than is thorium (a ‘distraction’ says Greenpeace in the Guardian article) . I don’t believe thorium is ‘the one answer’ any more than I would have believed the Titanic was unsinkable. They’re all (even traditional nuclear) important pieces of a larger puzzle that will in the long run not include fossil fuels (some 250 years from now)? But perhaps the climate change issue will have been settled one way or another by then and a whole new puzzle will appear. . .
There is a limit to what technology can do. A wind turbine could never create energy where it does not exist; all it can do is harness the existing power of the wind. So, although improved designs might cost somewhat less and be slightly more efficient, that would not be enough. Already environmentalists and others are objecting to wind farms. People are even objecting to building wind farms off-shore. So, we cannot put wind farms everyplace where wind might be available.
Solar thermal electricity, i.e., using solar heat to drive generators, appears to be more efficient than solar voltaic. But there again, there is only so much solar energy available. Probably doubling the efficiency would be impossible but even if it were doubled, the land area required would limit its availability. Already Senator Feinstein of California has objected to a photovoltaic system in the Mojave desert on environmental grounds. We cannot put solar systems just anywhere.
Massive energy storage would be required to make intermittent sources of power practical, but the land area problems and environmental objections would remain. Also, it will always be far more expensive to collect and distribute electricity from widely scattered sources than from a limited number of sources. To phase out fossil fuels for heating and transportation, we will need far more electricity than we use now, so merely replacing existing power plants capacity with wind and solar would be insufficient. And, using solar panels to collect heat for heating (which could be a reasonable thing to do especially considering that it is more efficient than using solar energy to generate electricity) would reduce the roof-top area available to generate electricity.
If price were no object, if there were no objection to covering huge areas with wind and solar systems, and if we were willing to sacrifice reliability and ration power periodically, perhaps wind and solar could be made to work. However, there has been insufficient research to determine that it could work.
In spite of the above, I think that research should continue; there are some situations in which the markedly higher cost of wind and solar can be justified, such as for small island nations and in remote areas where only limited amounts of power are required and connecting to the grid would not be practical. But there should be an energy survey to determine how much wind and solar power are actually available from places where installations would be acceptable so that we can better understand the limitations. So far as I know, there has been no such survey. Instead, we hear figures about how much solar energy strikes the earth each year, as if we could collect the energy incident on all the land and oceans. Or, we hear figures about how much solar energy strikes the entire U.S. as if we could cover the entire country with solar panels.
Michael LaBossiere says
I would agree that most corporations do not hurt people most of the time. Of course, this is true of most people. We have 1% of our population in prison which means that 99% of our population is not (either because they have not committed crimes or they have not been caught/sentenced to prison). However, we should probably still regulate criminal activity.
Douglas Moore says
There we have it. Corporations are no worse than people. Anon–do you agree?
Michael LaBossiere says
Well, why would people in corporations be worse than the general population? In fact, we would probably expect the same percentage of “active evil” across the human population (with presumably more evil in certain fields, such as the media).
You list toxic chemicals that create hazards in schools for students. Actually, it may be that bullying is a greater hazard for school children than chemicals. Bulling, in addition to making life miserable for school children, has actually resulted in deaths, probably far more deaths than asbestos and other substances. Perhaps bullying is not an environmental issue, but it is something about which pro-lifers should be concerned and there should be regulations to prevent it to the extent possible. Although bullying has occurred for centuries, it is only recently (historically speaking) that it has received significant, although still inadequate, attention.
Douglas Moore says
I saw bullying as the biggest problem in the schools that I attended. Some kids completely missed an education because of it. And teachers did almost nothing.
I myself was a victim of bullying. It is a greater problem than generally realized since often it is not reported. There have been cases where bullied students have taken guns to school and killed other students. It may be that the belated concern with bullying has been influenced by that.
Michael LaBossiere says
True-when kids start dying, people often notice.
Michael LaBossiere says
True. Kids need a moral education in addition to the academic education. They, as Aristotle argued, need to be trained in right and wrong.
Unfortunately, they often do not get an adequate moral education.
Some schools either say that it’s not their job to provide a moral education, or that the principal of separation of church and state makes impossible. They are wrong on both counts. There are moral principals on which there is general agreement regardless of religion. For example, people are generally against stealing and it could not reasonably be argued that teaching that stealing is wrong would violate the principal of separation of church and state. Also, if parents fail to provide an adequate moral education, then the schools, by default, must do so. Learning right form wrong is just as much a part of education as learning the three Rs.
Michael LaBossiere says
The moral education need not be based in a particular theology. For example, Aristotle’s approach does not require any religion at all-just habituation in virtue.
Douglas Moore says
There is little national unity, which makes it difficult to know what to teach. Most simply don’t know what it means to be an American other than thinking anyone can do or think what they want. There would likely be no consensus on what to teach. There is little consensus on anything anymore.
Democracy has its downside: A lack of national identity and focus.
I on the other hand am an unabashed American nationalist. We had something great, but we didn’t appreciate it.
Douglas, I partly agree with you. However, although there is not TOTAL consensus on what should be taught regarding morality, there are at least a few principals of morality on which there would be adequate consensus. Our freedom to do what we want has to be limited by its effect on other people, a principal on which there probably is general agreement except for some details (where the devil is). These principals should be identified and taught perhaps not as a separate subject, but integrated into all subjects into which they can be easily integrated. It could even be done surreptitiously by selecting the literature, history, and philosophy lessons to be assigned.
“We had something great, but we didn’t appreciate it.”
Recommended amendment: We have something great. We don’t agree on how to keep it that way.
I will agree with your choice of the word “had”, if you can point to the time when we “had” “it” (and if we can agree that it was, indeed, a time when “we had something great”).
Good point, dhammett.
Often people talk about the good old days. Generally they have selective memories and have forgotten or never knew how bad the “good old days” really were.
Michael LaBossiere says
We do have something of a national identity, in that there are job creators and job fillers. That probably doesn’t provide much ground for patriotism, though. While people do value jobs, they often do not provide the foundation for being a people.
T. J. Babson says
Are we allowed to mention that Fathers are often needed to deal with bullying?
It would surely be nice if they more often accepted their responsibility for doing so.
Michael LaBossiere says
Well, yeah. Good male role models can be very important for boys. Perhaps any good role model would work-but there is probably some biological wiring in there that inclines young males to respond to older males in ways that are different from responding to others. But maybe not.
Michael LaBossiere says
I agree-bullying is a bad thing. While humans naturally view for dominance, kids lack the social restraints that adults are supposed to possess (although bullying never really ends) and they tend to be more sensitive than adults.
One problem is that people often see bullying as a natural part of childhood and there is the view that preventing a kid from being bullied is an unmanly thing (that is, if a boy is protected from torment, he will never be a proper man). However, there is a difference between allowing a little rough stuff and allowing torment.
Douglas Moore says
A teacher should begin his semester by telling his class that bullying will not be accepted, thus setting up a social stigma for the act. Social acceptance is very powerful in groups, especially to the young. The Army uses this by punishing a whole unit for DUI arrests on a single soldier. I would make the entire class write essays every time I witnessed an act of bullying as a teacher. Anyone who considered themselves strong because they bullied would quickly become a pariah and likely change their ways.
That would also provide students with badly needed writing practice.
Douglas Moore says
One problem is that people often see bullying as a natural part of childhood and there is the view that preventing a kid from being bullied is an unmanly thing (that is, if a boy is protected from torment, he will never be a proper man).
I’d be ok with this if the victim were allowed to punch the bully in the mouth. As Kenny Rogers said: Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.
My experience in school still informs my adult world view. When you’re willing to fight the bully, he finds another target.
When I was a boarding school preppy, I once punched a tormenter in the mouth. In doing so, I cut my knuckles on his teeth and had to see the school nurse. I was blamed!!
One reason I hid the bullying that I constantly faced was that I was afraid that I’d be blamed; it would be the bullies’ word against mine. That especially true when I had to fight against my roommate’s insistence that I fellitate him. Once I had to rescue another kid who was practically crying when my roommate was trying to get him to fellitate him. Fortunately, stopping it was easy; I simply walked over to the door, put my hand on the doorknob, and said, “Tom, this has gone on long enough.”
Having to deal with bullying for extended periods of time can have a very strong negative effect on victims. It undermines the ability to trust other people, a fact that I know from my own personal experience. That is especially true when there are observers who do nothing.
Pete Finney says
While the pro-life position may necessitate a pro-environment stance, I wonder if the reverse might be true. I’m inclined to think otherwise – at least in regards to human life. Homo Sapiens might well be the worst thing (aside from weather or geological events) for the environment. Therefore, assuming an extreme pro-environment position may require an anti-human position. This reminds me of the Onion article heralding ‘Environmentally-Friendly Cigarettes’ (They had much more tar, nicotine, deadly chemicals, carbon monoxide, etc.).
Of course, we might have an interest in protecting our own species. It’s just important not to slip into speciesism. So, a more reasonable pro-environment position may require an abandonment of speciesism. I see no reason why, in order to prevent speciesist consequences, human activity and reproduction might be plausibly regulated. That is, if any of this logic is cogent.
Michael LaBossiere says
I do agree that the reverse can easily be argued for.
While we do damage the environment, we can do otherwise. Of course, the environment does not care what we do-but we will, should we make things bad for ourselves.
radon bloomington says
My number one concern for everyone is radon gas, harms far more people then second hand smoke. I hope that people will become more educated on the subject!