Is Making Babies Immoral?

by Akim Reinhardt

Image by Per Kolm Knudsen
Image by Per Kolm Knudsen

A wave of friends is having babies. I’m 51 years old so this is nothing new. Friends of mine have been having babies for nearly three decades. However, this time it feels different, and not because I’m now old enough to be a grandfather. Rather, as we approach the year 2020, my ambivalence stems from the indisputable fact that humanity is destroying the planet.

Human beings have initiated a mass extinction. We’re probably closer to the beginning than the ending of the process, but it’s already worse than anything since the dinosaur die-off 65,000,000 years ago. Under normal circumstances, 1-5 animal species go extinct per year. But we’ve so damaged the planet’s ecosystems that on average dozens of species are now dying off every day. Just since 1970 we’ve wiped out 60% of all mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.

We’re facing a near-future (the mid-21st century) where half of all the planet’s animal species will be gone. And it’s not just animals. Plant extinctions are occurring at a rate 500x faster than we would normally expect, and twice the rate of all mammal, bird, and amphibian extinctions combined. It looks even grimmer going forward. Human activity threatens to render no less than one million animal and plant species, a quarter of all life forms on Earth, extinct.

How are we bringing about this devastation? It’s tempting to point the finger at climate change. But truthfully, to some extent warming temperatures are merely symptomatic of a larger problem. Read more »

Frugality, simplicity, and environmentalism

by Emrys Westacott

Many people today are drawn toward the ideals, values, and lifestyles that fall under the broad concept of “simple living.” ImgresDownsizing, downshifting, embracing radical frugality, building and living in “tiny houses,” going back to the land, growing one's own food, choosing greater self-sufficiency over consumerism, and seeking to preserve or revive traditional crafts: these are all part of this trend. So, too, is the Slow movement, a general term for the various ways in which people seek to combat the frenetic pace of modern life. The movement includes Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Sex (all originating in Italy), the Sloth Club (Japan), the Society for the Deceleration of Time (Austria), and the Long Now Foundation.[1]

According to some, the millennial generation (roughly those born between 1980 and 2000) are helping to boost this trend Compared to their elders, they are less interested in home ownership, happy to share cars rather than buy them, and savvy at using technology to save money and keep things simple through using companies like Zipcar (transport) Airbnb (accommodation), and thredUP (clothes).

A lot of people live frugally out of necessity, of course. But there are also philosophical arguments in favor of simple living. In a venerable tradition stretching that goes back to ancient thinkers like the Buddha, Socrates, and Epicurus, two lines of argument have been especially prominent.

1. Simple living is associated with moral virtue. E.g. It keeps us physically and spiritually pure, fosters traits like resilience and independence, cultivates sound values, and is typically viewed as a sign of integrity (think Gandhi).

2. Simple living is the surest path to happiness. E.g. It helps us be content with what we have, enhances our enjoyment of simple pleasures, allows us more leisure time by enabling us to work less, keeps us closer to nature, and generally promotes peace of mind.

In recent times an additional reason for embracing simplicity has come to the fore: namely, the environmentalist argument.

Read more »

Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

by Akim Reinhardt

You can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Lincoln quotesFor example, some people will always believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered this famous aphorism, even though there is no record of him ever having written or said those words.

A French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie authored an early incarnation of the adage in 1684.

In 1754, the French editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert helped cement its popularity.

The phrase doesn't show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885. Twenty years after Lincoln died.

Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln's words. It's not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?

My decision to title this article.

A little healthy skepticism is all it took. After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn't say everything I said.” Which he really did say.

So before titling and publishing this essay, I looked up the maxim at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure. And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.

You really don't want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time. Which brings us to Donald Trump.

He's very good at fooling people. At the moment, he's successfully fooling millions of Republican voters into thinking he'd be a good president generally, and more specifically, that if elected he could actually do many of the outlandish things he's claiming, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall.

Thus, the question lurks forebodingly: Are we living through “some of the time?”

Is this the moment when Donald Trump fools all of the people, or at least enough of the ones who call themselves Republicans, that he lands the GOP's presidential nomination?

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Divining Water

Jerrycan

By Maniza Naqvi

“Say: Just think: If your water were to dry up in the morning who will bring you water from a fresh, flowing stream?”

A sunflower yellow plastic container caught my attention as my cab weaved its way through morning traffic in DC. Exactly the kind carried every day of the year on the backs of camels, mules, women and children from Addis to Lemo to Jijiga to Woldia to Mekele-and all the places east, south, west and north of them. The kind like a jerry can used for selling cooking oil and recycled by millions to fetch water often over long distances and difficult terrain. I walked back later in the day in search of it. There it sat, just around the corner from the White House gracing the ledge outside a vending kiosk. The yellow color, radiant and hopeful in the sunshine set against the chrome exterior, of the tiny shop. There perhaps, as a memory or a talisman, or an offering. Inside, the kiosk, an Ethiopian woman selling hotdogs and chewing gum– and bottled water from New Zealand to passersby.

Thousands of miles and days later in Addis, my eyes focus on the yellow container strapped to the back of a slow moving woman in the crowd milling about a construction site, my eyes train on her, she is pregnant. Hundreds of dilapidated and messy kiosk sized houses, cafes, businesses have been removed, to find livelihoods elsewhere on the outskirts of attention, to make way for organized, tall and sprawling shiny corporate sized realities. Inside, one such air conditioned conference room, where I sit gazing out the window, the speaker has been talking about climate change—the rising temperatures, more rains, more floods and more droughts: this subject will lead all others from now on, he says, and will be the new theme for attracting financing for those whose business it is to reduce poverty. The answer is charismatic carbon— programs which have the potential to attract financing to support food for the poor through dispensing carbon credit to growth industries.

Someone whispers in my ear: “New theme? Nothing new at all! It seems like hostage taking of the poor by holding their condition up for their own ransom. We won’t create the conditions to allow people to grow their own food—and we won’t stop polluting or thinking only about growth and we’ll keep shoveling food aid at people whose weather risk we’ve increased because of our pollution. We’ll keep thinking of indebting further, credit this and credit that—now can you believe this? Carbon credit! Charismatic carbon! Burning up our planet–drying up our water for greed.!”

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