Tauriq Moosa is a tutor in ethics, bioethics and critical thinking at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the Centre for Applied Ethics, Stellenbosch University. He has published essays and articles on practical ethics, focusing on subjects like free expression, killing, sex, and religion in public life. He debated religion with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the BBC documentary, the Tutu Talks, and has been featured on local radio shows. He is also an avid comic book writer and reader.
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This seems to be a week of sex-focused controversy. But then sex tends to have that effect, even when it's just our own species.
Nelson Jones wrote about a German proposal to outlaw sex with animals.
It's surprising to find that sex with animals is not currently illegal in Germany. Nor is this the result of some historic oversight: it used to be a crime, but the law was changed in 1969, at the same time as sex between adult men was decriminalised.
He brings light to the existence of “animal brothels” as well as these animals’ “pimps” (i.e. owners). According to animal protection officer, Madeleine Martin, sex with animals is on the rise, though it’s not clear whether this is the flames of outrage speaking or a reflection on reality. Martin Kiok, who heads up the “zoophile pressure group” ZETA claims that animals are “partners” and not – this is the interesting part – “means of gratification”. Kiok points a harsher (and probably well-used) finger at the meat industry as being the worst offender.
Like many taboos, there is good reason to oppose legalising or decriminalising bestiality. One reason is an animal’s lack of consent, though consent is itself a very complicated ethical foundation: after all, certain paternalistic actions done for someone’s benefit, by definition, disregard her consent. These could include lying so she takes medication, ending her futile existence since she will never recover from a coma, and so on. Furthermore, certain animals, like dogs, appear to “express” consent in their desire for sex by engaging with owners in overtly sexualised ways, as Peter Singer pointed out in a now “notorious” essay.
Secondly, no one appears to ask the animals whether it’s OK to kill them en masse for meat consumption. Whether or not eating meat is ethical – I’m still not sure – is not the point: it’s that we have an entire industry that most people appear to happily participate in which disregards animals’ consent. So it is inconsistent to plead a lack of consent to oppose sex with them, but disregard consent for their deaths. Either consent matters or it doesn’t.
However, we can simply link opposing bestiality with child sex. Consent, treated broadly, can include important properties like awareness of the situation, realisation of the act about to be performed, uncoerced, personal decision to enter into the act/engagement, etc. This is why sex with children is, by definition, wrong: for sex to be moral – or not wrong – requires consent from living entities, which itself requires certain cognitive functions of the entity. Children are beings that lack these functions and capabilities. True: We would be denying evidence to assert that all children (and teenagers) that have sex – whether with each other or adults – are harmed, but overall it is a dangerous enough act to give it a blanket condemnation.
Many paedophiles recognise this and, as I pointed out, would rather urge help from society and a diminishing of stigma to keep opposing their sexual longing, than change laws to lower the age of consent.
Animals are Different
Non-human animals, unlike, for example, very young children do have sex: with each other and inter-species.
The latter is rarer, but not unheard of.
As National Geographic points out: “Recent research indicates that hybridization is not only widespread in nature but it might also spawn many more new species than previously thought.” Biologist James Mallet of University College London, wrote a review of this research for Nature, and told Nat Geo that “sex with another species may be very occasionally quite a good idea.” Genetic variability could arise, meaning better adaptations to new environments, increasing genetic fitness for offspring.
Of course, whether something is “natural” is not what makes it moral. But the point is, for animals, they do engage in hybridisation. Of course, if there is no chance of an offspring there is little evolutionary reason to engage in sex; but that doesn’t negate that animals do engage in sex between species.
Thus, since we are animals, too, why can we not be participants of sex with other animals? Why should it be the case that mere species membership determines morality, since animals themselves appear unharmed and “willingly” engage in inter-species sex? This appears to undermine the point, which Jones employs in his article, that sex with animals should be opposed just as we oppose sex with children.
Indeed, an adult dog, for example, and a young child differ in their cognitive and sexual appetites. Dogs do engage in sex “willingly”; if it is clear that they wish to have sex, what is wrong with doing so?
However, this argument appears to defeat itself.
If a child was to show signs of sexual longing, would that justify responding in kind? Then, if zoophiles wouldn’t have sex with children merely because the child showed an interest, why would they respond differently to an animal? Indeed, that the being is the same species but younger means the chances of comprehending their intentions should be greater, not lesser, than an different species!
A zoophile might say they would only choose animals who themselves are mature. Yet, one concern is, firstly, how would anyone know? With children, it is easy to identify one. Animals are harder, especially when there isn’t much difference between their adult-physical appearance and late childhood. Secondly, "maturity" in animals is no guarantee that the animal won't be harmed or deeply affected by the experience. Of course, there might be responses - such as using only specific animals who themselves show signs of wanting sex, etc. - but again these are much harder to prove.
All this does not deny that there might be individual cases, where it has been shown over time, that a particular animal is not suffering or harmed, that it has no psychological damage, and is genuinely cared for by its zoophile lover/owner/partner. But, like adults who have found mature children unharmed by sexual interaction, these are not sufficient for us to decriminalise bestiality.
Certainly what we should recognise is that a blanket condemnation doesn’t mean a blanket equating. What discussions like these should constantly do is undermine outrage - no matter which direction - but justify opposition or support (depending where the evidence lies).
Being "disgusting" is not a sufficient reason to oppose bestiality and is, in fact, insulting. Firstly, because there are actual justifications based on harm, consent, and so on. Secondly, it fails to take in to account the actual victims of assault, namely the animals. Third, it doesn’t help in cases where an act of bestiality has not harmed (which is not impossible and shouldn’t be given the same response).
The reason we oppose it is the hope that such harmful acts will be reduced (again, the non-harmful cases are difficult enough to take on anyway). And we do this by outlining carefully our reasons for opposition; basing it merely in disgust helps no one, except those who seek gratification of aligning disgust with law – which itself we must always oppose.
Image Credit: "The Nayika as the lovers of all creatures" / WikiCommons (source)
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
The world's getting hotter, and it's getting more volatile. We need to start thinking about how climate change encourages conflict.
- Climate change is usually discussed in terms of how it impacts the weather, but this fails to emphasize how climate change is a "threat multiplier."
- As a threat multiplier, climate change makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse.
- Not only do we have to work to minimize the impact of climate change on our environment, but we also have to deal with how it affects human issues today.
Human beings are great at responding to imminent and visible threats. Climate change, while dire, is almost entirely the opposite: it's slow, it's pervasive, it's vague, and it's invisible. Researchers and policymakers have been trying to package climate change in a way that conveys its severity. Usually, they do so by talking about its immediate effects: rising temperature, rising sea levels, and increasingly dangerous weather.
These things are bad, make no mistake about it. But the thing that makes climate change truly dire isn't that Cape Cod will be underwater next century, that polar bears will go extinct, or that we'll have to invent new categories for future hurricanes. It's the thousands of ancillary effects — the indirect pressure that climate change puts on every person on the planet.
How a drought in the Middle East contributed to extremism in Europe
(DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.
Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.
One of these other factors was drought. In fact, the drought in that region — it started in 2006 — has been described as the "worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilization began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Because of this drought, many rural Syrians could no longer support themselves. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians — many of them agricultural workers and farmers — moved into the country's major cities. With this sudden mixing of different social groups in a country where classes and religious sects were already at odds with one another, tensions rose, and the increased economic instability encouraged chaos. Again, the drought didn't cause the civil war — but it sure as hell helped it along.
The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.
Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"
This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.
Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.
Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.
What the future may hold
(NASA via Getty Images)
Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.
Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.
But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.
Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.
Climate change and its sociopolitical effects, such as refugee migration, aren't some poorer country's problem. It's everyone's problem. Whether it's our food, our homes, or our rights, climate change will exact a toll on every nation on Earth. Stopping climate change, or at least reducing its impact, is vitally important. Equally important is contending with the multifaceted threats its going to throw our way.
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