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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Elections, “Indians and the American Story”

With the Indian national elections (in which some 550 million individuals voted, a record turnout of two-thirds of the more than 800 million who were eligible) concluding weeks after my family’s recent trip to India, I wrote a brief article.

12:46 am edt 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Making Bets on the Planet, Climate

The sobering National Climate Assessment includes “resources for educators” to promote “climate literacy.”

As the Climate Assessment was released, this week I finished reading Paul Sabin’s book The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future.

Using as a point of departure a 1980 bet that Ehrlich and Simon made about the 1990 price of five metals (chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten), Paul Sabin elucidates the history of the global population and natural resource debates of recent decades – in the context of earlier figures such as Thomas Malthus.  Sabin identifies the virtues and the limitations of both Ehrlich’s and Simon’s arguments, suggesting how these rivals and their supporters contributed to controversies over such matters as abortion, immigration, and externality costs as well as climate change.  Blending economics, politics, and environmental science, the book is engrossing and enlightening – countering the oversimplification that often plagues portrayals of related subjects.

Paul Sabin (a New Haven neighbor) writes of Ehrlich and Simon: “Their bitter clash … shows how intelligent people are drawn to vilify their opponents and to reduce the issues that they care about to stark and divisive terms. The conflict that their bet represents has ensnared the national political debate and helped to make environmental problems, especially climate change, among the most polarizing and divisive political questions…. One problem with Ehrlich’s style of argument is that environmental pessimism often far exceeds reasonable predictions for how markets function and scarcity develops…. But by focusing solely and relentlessly on positive trends, Julian Simon made it more difficult to solve environmental problems.” (p. 217-222)

7:49 am edt 

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