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Should the United States Issue a Formal Apology for Climate Change?
It’s 2017 and the newly elected President of the United States is apologizing to the world for its contribution to environmental injustices at home and globally. Could this happen? Should it happen?
OP/ED from a UK Environmental Attorney
It’s 2017 and the newly elected president of the United States is apologizing to the world for its contribution to environmental injustices at home and globally. Could this happen? Should it happen?
There’s a long list of historic environmental injustices that the United States has inflicted upon its own peoples and cultures, and globally. Environmental racism (where environmental laws, policies and practices have differentially affected individuals, groups of communities based on race or colour), the watered-down approach of American companies toward corporate social responsibility, and its significant contribution towards climate change all form part of an embarrassing environmental scorecard.
As a proud and courageous nation, the United States should be honest with itself. It’s time for the damaging and dangerous notions, fantasies, and myths of American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny that continue to influence some elements of the nation’s political ideology to be confined to history.
Without doubt, some former presidents have shown the world the way of good environmental leadership, making a positive and lasting contribution to protecting the planet. Former President John F Kennedy, a true visionary, declared that more than any other people on Earth, the United States bears burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, including for all those who wish to be free.
Richard Nixon ushered in the decade of the environment and established the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton built on the public lands legacy started by Theodore Roosevelt. It was Roosevelt who recognised that the environment had a direct connection to democratic ideals and that the conservation of natural resources was a duty we owe to our children and our children’s children. For Roosevelt, conservation was a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.
But other presidents have advanced/pushed pro-growth, anti-regulatory, anti-environmental agendas, politicizing the scientific debate by ignoring scientific evidence, distorting facts, and leading to the censorship of scientists and reports — doing so at the peril of the United States and the world, leading to morality-based politics.
I believe the sense of belonging to a community and showing an allegiance to it carries with it a moral obligation to make amends for a nation’s past wrongs. That is patriotism. And with that sense of belonging comes responsibility. It is not really possible to claim national pride if there’s no will to acknowledge any responsibility for carrying the nation’s story into the present, and discharging the moral burdens that come with it.
So, why apologize?
Over the past few years, there have been a number of political apologies offered by nations for historical and more recent injustices.
As a nation, any empathy toward its neighbours brings with it feelings of shame and guilt for some aspects of its way of life. Through apologizing, that dignity and self-esteem could be restored.
Our fragile planet demands that we renew and focus our energies on the resolution of conflicts, and that it is done in a way that does not simply submerge the resentments that inevitably accompany such conflicts but acknowledges and responds to them. I believe that apologizing can help in that effort.
But apologizing is more than merely an acknowledgment of offences together with an expression of remorse. It is an ongoing commitment to change the nation’s behaviour. It is a process that requires of all parties attitudes of honesty, generosity, humility, commitment, and courage.
It is an inconvenient truth that the United States has contributed significantly more to current climate change than any other nation. The nation needs to find new ways to communicate with the peoples of the world, with belief in its hearts, to be better understood. The nation can invest in, and redefine, its spiritual and moral values. It must not let its past mistakes dictate its future. And it must right the wrongs of its past.
Paul Collins is an environmental lawyer and author of The Apology, to be published in the fall 2015 by Moon Willow Press.
 Byron, W. and Sussman, G. (2010) White House Politics and the Environment, Texas A&M University Press.
 Mihai, M. and Thaler, M. (2014) On the Uses and Abuses of Political Apologies, Palgrave Macmillan. Sandel, M. (2010) Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? Penguin.
 Lazare, M.D. (2005) On Apology, Oxford University Press.
Photo Credit: GABRIEL BOUYS / Getty Images
The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.
- Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
- The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
- Why this happens is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be due to a general inability to judge attractiveness.
There's no shortage of disparities between attractive and unattractive people. Studies show that the best-looking among us tend to have an easier time making money, receiving help, avoiding punishment, and being perceived as competent. (Sure, research also suggests beautiful people have shorter relationships, but they also have more sexual partners, and more options for romantic relationships. So call it a wash.)
Now, new research reveals another disparity: Unattractive people seem less able to accurately judge their own attractiveness, and they tend to overestimate their looks. In contrast, beautiful people tend to rate themselves more accurately. If anything, they underestimate their attractiveness.
The research, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, involved six studies that asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers. The studies also asked participants to predict how others might rate them.
In the first study, lead author Tobias Greitemeyer found that the participants who were most likely to overestimate their attractiveness were among the least attractive people in the study, based on average ratings.
Ratings of subjective attractiveness as a function of the participant's objective attractiveness (Study 1)
"Overall, unattractive participants judged themselves to be of about average attractiveness and they showed very little awareness that strangers do not share this view. In contrast, attractive participants had more insights into how attractive they actually are. [...] It thus appears that unattractive people maintain illusory self‐perceptions of their attractiveness, whereas attractive people's self‐views are more grounded in reality."
Why do unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness? Could it be because they want to maintain a positive self-image, so they delude themselves? After all, previous research has shown that people tend to discredit or "forget" negative social feedback, which seems to help protect a sense of self-worth.
To find out, Greitemeyer conducted a study that aimed to put participants in a positive, non-defensive mindset before rating attractiveness. He did that by asking participants questions that affirmed parts of their personality that had nothing to do with physical appearance, such as: "Have you ever been generous and selfless to another person?" Yet, this didn't change how participants rated themselves, suggesting that unattractive people aren't overestimating their looks out of defensiveness.
The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness. Does that bias sound familiar? If so, you might be thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency. Why? Because they lack the metacognitive skills needed to discern their own shortcomings.
Greitemeyer found that unattractive people were worse at differentiating between attractive and unattractive people. But the finding that unattractive people may have different beauty ideals (or, more plainly, weaker ability to judge attractiveness) did "not have an impact on how they perceive themselves."
In short, it remains a mystery exactly why unattractive people overestimate their looks. Greitemeyer concluded that, while most people are decent at judging the attractiveness of others, "it appears that those who are unattractive do not know that they are unattractive."
Unattractive people aren't completely unaware
The results of one study suggested that unattractive people aren't completely in the dark about their looks. In the study, unattractive people were shown a set of photos of highly attractive and unattractive people, and they were asked to select photos of people with comparable attractiveness. Most unattractive people chose to compare themselves with similarly unattractive people.
"The finding that unattractive participants selected unattractive stimulus persons with whom they would compare their attractiveness to suggests that they may have an inkling that they are less attractive than they want it to be," Greitemeyer wrote.
Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.
Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.
These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.
The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.
This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.
The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.
"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.
"This just hasn't been possible before."
Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.
New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.
"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."
"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."
Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.
Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.
"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."
Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.
- NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
- To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
- The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.
This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.
Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel: https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work