Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Sustainability. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sustainability. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Why the world cannot afford the rich

R. G. Wilkinson & K. E. Pickett
Originally published 12 March 24

Here is an excerpt:

Inequality also increases consumerism. Perceived links between wealth and self-worth drive people to buy goods associated with high social status and thus enhance how they appear to others — as US economist Thorstein Veblen set out more than a century ago in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Studies show that people who live in more-unequal societies spend more on status goods14.

Our work has shown that the amount spent on advertising as a proportion of gross domestic product is higher in countries with greater inequality. The well-publicized lifestyles of the rich promote standards and ways of living that others seek to emulate, triggering cascades of expenditure for holiday homes, swimming pools, travel, clothes and expensive cars.

Oxfam reports that, on average, each of the richest 1% of people in the world produces 100 times the emissions of the average person in the poorest half of the world’s population15. That is the scale of the injustice. As poorer countries raise their material standards, the rich will have to lower theirs.

Inequality also makes it harder to implement environmental policies. Changes are resisted if people feel that the burden is not being shared fairly. For example, in 2018, the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests erupted across France in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to implement an ‘eco-tax’ on fuel by adding a few percentage points to pump prices. The proposed tax was seen widely as unfair — particularly for the rural poor, for whom diesel and petrol are necessities. By 2019, the government had dropped the idea. Similarly, Brazilian truck drivers protested against rises in fuel tax in 2018, disrupting roads and supply chains.

Do unequal societies perform worse when it comes to the environment, then? Yes. For rich, developed countries for which data were available, we found a strong correlation between levels of equality and a score on an index we created of performance in five environmental areas: air pollution; recycling of waste materials; the carbon emissions of the rich; progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and international cooperation (UN treaties ratified and avoidance of unilateral coercive measures).

The article argues that rising economic inequality is a major threat to the world's well-being. Here are the key points:

The rich are capturing a growing share of wealth: The richest 1% are accumulating wealth much faster than everyone else, and their lifestyles contribute heavily to environmental damage.

Inequality harms everyone: High levels of inequality are linked to social problems like crime, mental health issues, and lower social mobility. It also makes it harder to address environmental challenges because people resist policies seen as unfair.

More equal societies perform better: Countries with a more even distribution of wealth tend to have better social and health outcomes, as well as stronger environmental performance.

Policymakers need to take action: The article proposes progressive taxation, closing tax havens, and encouraging more equitable business practices like employee ownership.

The overall message is that reducing inequality is essential for solving a range of environmental, social, and health problems.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Motornomativity: How Social Norms Hide a Major Public Health Hazard

Walker, I., Tapp, A., & Davis, A.
(2022, December 14).


Decisions about motor transport, by individuals and policy-makers, show unconscious biases due to cultural assumptions about the role of private cars - a phenomenon we term motonormativity. To explore this claim, a national sample of 2157 UK adults rated, at random, a set of statements about driving (“People shouldn't drive in highly populated areas where other people have to breathe in the car fumes”) or a parallel set of statements with key words changed to shift context ("People shouldn't smoke in highly populated areas where other people have to breathe in the cigarette fumes"). Such context changes could radically alter responses (75% agreed with "People shouldn't smoke... " but only 17% agreed with "People shouldn't drive... "). We discuss how these biases systematically distort medical and policy decisions and give recommendations for how public policy and health professionals might begin to recognise and address these unconscious biases in their work.


Our survey showed that people can go from agreeing with a health or risk-related proposition to disagreeing with it simply depending on whether it is couched as a driving or non-driving issue. In the most dramatic case, survey respondents felt that obliging people to breathe toxic fumes went from being unacceptable to acceptable depending on whether the fumes came from cigarettes or motor vehicles. It is, objectively, nonsensical that the ethical and public health issues involved in forcing non-consenting people to inhale air-borne toxins should be judged differently depending on their source, but that is what happened here. It seems that normal judgement criteria can indeed be suspended in the specific context of motoring, as we suggested.

Obviously, we used questions in this study that we felt would stand a good chance of demonstrating a difference between how motoring and non-motoring issues were viewed. But choosing questions likely to reveal differences is not the same thing as stacking the deck. We gave the social bias every chance to reveal itself, but that could only happen because it was out there to be revealed. Prentice and Miller (1992) argue that the ease with which a behavioural phenomenon can be triggered is an index of its true magnitude. The ease with which effects appeared in this study was striking: in the final question the UK public went from 17% agreement to 75% agreement just by changing two words in the question whilst leaving its underlying principle unchanged.

Another example of a culturally acceptable (or ingrained) bias for harm. Call it "car blindness" or "motornormativity."

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Techno-Optimism: An Analysis, an Evaluation and a Modest Defence

Danaher, J. 
Philos. Technol. 35, 54 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-022-00550-2


What is techno-optimism and how can it be defended? Although techno-optimist views are widely espoused and critiqued, there have been few attempts to systematically analyse what it means to be a techno-optimist and how one might defend this view. This paper attempts to address this oversight by providing a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of techno-optimism. It is argued that techno-optimism is a pluralistic stance that comes in weak and strong forms. These vary along a number of key dimensions but each shares the view that technology plays a key role in ensuring that the good prevails over the bad. Whatever its strength, to defend this stance, one must flesh out an argument with four key premises. Each of these premises is highly controversial and can be subjected to a number of critiques. The paper discusses five such critiques in detail (the values critique, the treadmill critique, the sustainability critique, the irrationality critique and the insufficiency critique). The paper also considers possible responses from the techno-optimist. Finally, it is concluded that although strong forms of techno-optimism are not intellectually defensible, a modest, agency-based version of techno-optimism may be defensible.

Here is an excerpt:

To be more precise, a modest, agency-based view of techno-optimism entails the following four claims. First, it is epistemically rational to believe that it is at least possible (perhaps probable) that technology plays a key role in ensuring that the good prevails over the bad. Second, whether this possibility materialises depends to some meaningful extent on the power of collective human agency. If we select the right goals, make the concerted effort, and build the necessary institutions, there is a chance that the possibility materialises. Third, by believing that we can, collectively, achieve this, we increase the likelihood of this possibility materialising because we make it more likely that we will act in ways that ensure the desired outcomes (this is the adaptation of Bortolotti’s agency-based optimism to the case for techno-optimism). Fourth, it follows from that that we should cultivate the belief that we can achieve this and act upon that belief. In other words, that our optimism should not simply be an inert belief but, rather, a belief that actually motivates our collective human agency.

If the agency-based view is incorporated into it, techno-optimism can then be an intellectually defensible view. It need not be an irrational faith in the inexorable march of technology but, rather, a realistic stance grounded in the transformational power of collective human agency to forge the right social institutions and to translate the right ideas into material technologies.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The corporate responsibility facade is finally starting to crumble

Alison Taylor
Yahoo Finance
Originally posted 4 March 20

Here is an excerpt:

Any claim to be a responsible corporation is predicated on addressing these abuses of power. But most companies are instead clinging with remarkable persistence to the fa├žades they’ve built to deflect attention. Compliance officers focus on pleasing regulators, even though there is limited evidence that their recommendations reduce wrongdoing. Corporate sustainability practitioners drown their messages in an alphabet soup of acronyms, initiatives, and alienating jargon about “empowered communities” and “engaged stakeholders,” when both functions are still considered peripheral to corporate strategy.

When reading a corporation’s sustainability report and then comparing it to its risk disclosures—or worse, its media coverage—we might as well be reading about entirely distinct companies. Investors focused on sustainability speak of “materiality” principles, meant to sharpen our focus on the most relevant environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues for each industry. But when an issue is “material” enough to threaten core operating models, companies routinely ignore, evade, and equivocate.

Coca-Cola’s most recent annual sustainability report acknowledges its most pressing issue is “obesity concerns and category perceptions.” Accordingly, it highlights its lower-sugar product lines and references responsible marketing. But it continues its vigorous lobbying against soda taxes, and of course continues to make products with known links to obesity and other health problems. Facebook’s sustainability disclosures focus on efforts to fight climate change and improve labor rights in its supply chain, but make no reference to the mental-health impacts of social media or to its role in peddling disinformation and undermining democracy. Johnson and Johnson flags “product quality and safety” as its highest priority issue without mentioning that it is a defendant in criminal litigation over distribution of opioids. UBS touts its sustainability targets but not its ongoing financing of fossil-fuel projects.

Monday, February 17, 2020

BlackRock’s New Morality Marks the End for Coal

Nathaniel Bullard
Bloomberg News
Originally posted 17 Jan 20

Here is an excerpt:

In the U.S., the move away from coal was well underway before the $7 trillion asset manager announced its restrictions. Companies have been shutting down coal-fired power plants and setting “transformative responsible energy plans” removing coal from the mix completely, even in the absence of robust federal policies. 

U.S. coal consumption in power generation fell below 600 million tons last year. This year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects it to fall much further still, below 500 million tons. That’s not only down by more than 50% since 2007, but it would also put coal consumption back to 1978 levels.

That decline is thanks to a massive number of plant retirements, now totaling more than 300 since 2010. The U.S. coal fleet has not had any net capacity additions since 2011. 2015 is the most significant year for coal retirements to date, as a suite of Obama-era air quality standards took effect. 2018 wasn’t far behind, however, and 2019 wasn’t far behind 2018.

The base effect of a smaller number of operational coal plants also means that consumption is declining at an accelerating rate. Using the EIA’s projection for 2020 coal burn in the power sector, year-on-year consumption will decline nearly 15%, the most since at least 1950.

Coal’s decline doesn’t exist in isolation. Most coal in the U.S. travels from mine to plant by rail, so there’s a predictable impact on rail cargoes. A decade ago, U.S. rail carriers shipped nearly 7 million carloads of coal. Last year, that figure was barely 4 million.

The info is here.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

UK ethical consumer spending hits record high, report shows

Rebecca Smithers
Originally posted 29 Dec 19

Ethical consumer spending has hit record levels in the UK, according to a new report that reveals the total market – including food, drinks, clothing, energy and eco-travel – has swelled to over £41bn.

Total ethical spending has risen almost fourfold in the past 20 years and outgrown all UK household expenditure, which has been broadly flat, according to the new study from Co-op.

The convenience retailer’s latest Ethical Consumerism report, which has tracked ethical expenditure year by year over the past two decades (adjusted for inflation) is a barometer of the extent to which UK consumers’ shopping habits reflect their concerns about the environment, animal welfare, social justice and human rights.

While back in 1999 the total size of the market was just £11.2bn, the report (which adjusts for inflation) says that, on a conservative basis, it has mushroomed to £41.1bn today. The average spend on ethical purchases per household has grown from a paltry £202 a year in 1999 to £1,278 in 2018. Over the same 20-year period, total general household expenditure has edged up by around 2% in real terms, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The info is here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Morality is the new profit – banks must learn or die

Zoe Williams
The Guardian
Originally posted September 10, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Ten years ago, “ethical” investing meant not buying shares in arms and alcohol, as if morality were so unfamiliar to financial decision-making that you had to go back to the 19th century and borrow it from the Quakers. The growth of banks with a moral mission – like Triodos (“quality of life, human dignity, sustainability”) – or investments with a social purpose – like Abundance, which finances renewable energy – has been impressive on its own terms, but remained niche, for baby boomers with a conscience. The idea that all market activity should have a purpose other than profit is roughly where it always was on the spectrum, somewhere between Marx and Jesus – one for the rioters, the subversives, the people with beards, unsuited to mainstream discourse.

But there is nothing more pragmatic and less idealistic than to insist on the social purpose of the market; banking cannot survive without it – not as a corporate bolt-on but as its driving and decisive motivation. The derivatives trade cannot weather the consequences of infinite self-interest, because there really will be consequences – extreme global ones. The planet cannot survive an endless cost-benefit analysis in which nature is pitted against profit. Nature will always lose and so will humanity as a result. Whatever the immediate cause of the next crash, if and when it comes its roots will be environmental. The Financial Times talks about “the insidious danger that pension funds deflate, leaving a generation without enough money to retire”. The most likely cause for that devaluation of pensions – leaving aside the generation that cannot afford to save for the future – will be stranded assets, pension funds having invested in fossil fuels that cannot be excavated.

The info is here.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Why It’s So Hard to Be an ‘Ethical’ Investor

Jon Sindreu and Sarah Kent
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted September 1, 2018

In life, ethics are in the eye of the beholder. In investing, ethics are up to the whims of your fund manager.

With little regulation governing what a fund manager can call a “socially responsible” or “ethical” investment, a myriad of bespoke standards have popped up. Increasingly, these fund strategies are designed to beat the market rather than uphold morality.

This has created a dizzying of array possibilities when it comes to what these funds might hold. Fund companies can craft their definitions in such a way that they can simply rename existing products with an ethical allusion, without having to change their fund holdings.

Fund managers have rebranded at least two dozen existing mutual funds over the past few years, adding terms such as “sustainable,” and “ESG”—which stands for environmental, social and corporate governance, an industry buzzword.

The info is here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

What to do with those divested billions? The only way is ethics

Juliette Jowit
The Guardian
Originally posted March 15, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

“I would not feel comfortable gaining from somebody else’s misery,” explains company owner and private investor Rebecca Hughes.

Institutions too are heading in the same direction: nearly 80% of investors across 30 countries told last year’s Schroders’ Global Investor Study that sustainability had become more important to them over the last five years.

“While profitability remains the central investment consideration, interest in sustainability is increasing,” said Jessica Ground, Schroders’ global head of stewardship. “But investors also see sustainability and profits as intertwined.”

UBS’s Doing well by doing good report claims more than half the UK public would pay more for goods or services with a conscience. Many more people will want better ethical standards, even if they don’t want or can’t afford to pay for them.

“It’s in my upbringing: you treat others in the way you’d like to be treated,” says Hughes.

More active financial investors are also taking the issues seriously. Several have indices to track the value of shares in companies which are not doing ‘bad’, or actively doing ‘good’. One is Morgan Stanley, whose two environmental, social and governance (ESG) indices – also covering weapons and women’s progress – were worth $62bn by last summer.

The information is here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

How Much Do A Company's Ethics Matter In The Modern Professional Climate?

Larry Alton
Originally posted September 12, 2017

More than ever, a company’s success depends on the talent it’s able to attract, but attracting the best talent is about more than just offering the best salary—or even the best benefits. Companies may have a lucrative offer for a prospective candidate, and a culture where they’ll feel at home, but how do corporate ethics stack up against those of its competition?

This may not seem like the most important question to ask when you’re trying to hire someone for a position—especially one that might not be directly affected by the actions of your corporation as a whole—but the modern workplace is changing, as are American professionals’ values, and if you want to keep up, you need to know just how significant those ethical values are.

What Qualifies as “Ethics”?

What do I mean by “ethics”? This is a broad category, and subjective in nature, but generally, I’m referring to these areas:
  • Fraud and manipulation. This should be obvious, but ethical companies don’t engage in shady or manipulative financial practices, such as fraud, bribery, or insider trading. The problem here is that individual actions are often associated with the company as a whole, so any individual within your company who behaves in an unethical way could compromise the reputation of your company. Setting strict no-tolerance policies and taking proper disciplinary action can mitigate these effects.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

New VP will scrutinize Harvard’s investments

$30.7b endowment has faced calls to use its clout to do good

By Todd Wallack
The Boston Globe
Originally published February 19, 2013

Harvard University, which often faces pressure from students and alumni to shed controversial investments, has agreed to create a senior position at its investment management arm to consider the environmental, social, and corporate governance aspects of its holdings.

Harvard Management Co. recently began searching for a vice president for “sustainable investing,” a relatively novel position in the world of university endowments.

“We think this is a positive step,” said Harvard College senior Michael Danto, one of the leaders of Responsible Investment at Harvard, which has pushed Harvard to adopt policies to ensure its investments are consistent with the university’s values.

The entire story is here.