Archive for November 5th, 2009


Attacking the Man

November 5, 2009

Now is the time to initiate a discussion of one of the great stand-by rhetorical tricks in politics, law, and advertising: the ad hominem argument. Bloggers love to throw the term ‘ad hominem‘ around, charging one enemy with lobbing ad hominem arguments, and then falling subject to nasty counter-charges that they are the ones instead who have made a “personal attack.”

It is clear to me, at least, that a good portion of those who throw out the charge of ad hominem often don’t understand the fallacy.  Joe Romm falls for the prank in his recent post in which he comes to Al Gore’s defense. Romm spends a fair number of words explaining that Al Gore isn’t poised to become the world’s first carbon billionaire.

My thinking? So what if he is? Whether Gore is or isn’t poised to profit off of climate change is a distraction, an irrelevance, a stupid sophistry used by ideologically-driven hacks to push their agenda.

The ad hominem is one of many fallacies of relevance. I spoke earlier about fallacies of relevance in the Cherry Ping Pong thread. Ultimately, fallacies of relevance are tricky li’l buggers, because some claims that smell like a fallacy of relevance are, in fact, relevant. What’s tricky is that when one encounters a fallacy of relevance, what has to be demonstrated is the relevance of the charge, not that such-and-such a charge is true. One has to demonstrate that it matters that Little Bunny Foo Foo is an alcoholic. One can’t just demonstrate that Foo Foo is an alcoholic.

So there’s that. And then there are other confusions as well…

Read the rest of this entry ?


Formidable Opponent

November 5, 2009

Stephen Colbert debates himself as Al Gore steps in to defend Stephen Colbert from himself, and his other self.


Greenhouse Development Rights

November 5, 2009

Ethics, Place The latest issue of the journal Ethics, Place & Environment is now out. I co-edit the journal with Andrew Light, and just took on responsibilities as co-editor over the summer. One ambitious thing we’re doing is inaugurating a new format for our environmental ethics articles, partly modeled off of the American Journal of Bioethics. Namely, every issue will have at least one “target article” that proposes a controversial position in environmental ethics. We will then invite open peer commentaries on that article from scholars across the spectrum.

For the next few days, I’ll release information in dribs and drabs about the responses of commentators.

Our target article for volume 12, issue 3 is on “Greenhouse Development Rights.” It was written by Paul Baer in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, in collaboration with his colleagues Tom Athanasiou, Sivan Kartha, and Eric Kemp-Benedict. We have open peer commentaries from a host of scholars — David Schlosberg, Marion Hourdequin, Jozef Keulartz, Steve Vanderheiden, Kenneth Shockley, Walter Block, and William Vanderburgh. University-based readers with library subscriptions to the journal may be interested in reading the full exchange.

Here’s the abstract to the Baer piece:

One of the core debates concerning equity in the response to the threat of anthropogenic climate change is how the responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be allocated, or, correspondingly, how the right to emit greenhouse gases should be allocated. Two alternative approaches that have been widely promoted are, first, to assign obligations to the industrialized countries on the basis of both their ability to pay (wealth) and their responsibility for the majority of prior emissions, or, second, to assign emissions rights on a (possibly modified) equal per capita basis. Both these proposals ignore intra-national distributional equity. Instead, we develop a policy framework we call ‘Greenhouse Development Rights’ (GDRs) which allocates obligations to pay for climate policies (both mitigation and adaptation) on the basis of an individually quantified metric of capacity (ability to pay) and responsibility (prior emissions). Crucially, the GDRs framework looks at the distribution of income within countries and treats people of equal wealth similarly, whatever country they live in. Thus even poor countries have obligations proportional to the size and wealth of their middle and upper classes, defined relative to a ‘development threshold’. While this method nominally identifies the ‘right to development’ as applying to people, not countries, as a proposal for a treaty among sovereign nations, there is no obvious way to give legal meaning to that right. In this paper, then, we raise some of the philosophical and political questions that arise in trying to quantify capacity and responsibility and to use the ‘right to development’ as a principle for allocating costs.