Bill specializes in animal and sustainability ethics as they interface with public policy. Exploring why and how we ought to care for people, animals and nature, this is practical research translating insights from his interdisciplinary training in ethics, geography and political theory into public dialogues over moral problems.
Graduating from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities with a bachelors in political science and a doctorate in geography, he is a research scientist in the Marsh Institute at Clark University, a research fellow at the social science think-tank Knology, and teaches graduate courses in the Anthrozoology program at Canisius College. He is also the founder of PAN Works, an independent non-partisan think-tank dedicated to the wellbeing of animals.
Animals are not simply resources for people or functional units of ecosystem services. They range from sentient to sapient and social beings who have an intrinsic moral value akin to our own. They deserve our ethical consideration and as human beings we owe them direct duties of care. This includes both wild and domesticated animals whether they are individuals or members of ecological and social communities.
Similarly, sustainability is not properly focused on preserving a global elite’s lifestyle or ensuring humanity’s mere survival. Rather it is helping people, animals and nature to thrive across the planet into perpetuity – deep sustainability. At the more technical level, this means that sustainability must be both scientifically and ethically sound. Its facts and values need to be transparent and accountable to society, while its goals must serve the good of the entire community of life. At a more political level, it means that sustainability must embrace social justice, animal protection, and ecological integrity if it is to truly respect the community of life in all it’s cultural and natural diversity.
Drawing on the interpretive tradition of ethics exemplified by Mary Midgley, Bill seeks to unearth the moral presuppositions and worldviews that are often latent in social and environmental issues. This involves helping us recognize and dialogue about our ethical points of view. Whether facilitating a class or public meeting, this is not a search for absolute truth or deciding who is ‘right’ per se. Rather, his engagement with students, the public and decision-makers seeks to help individuals and communities generate moral insights to help solve real-world problems. This ‘ethical capacity building’ attends to concrete cases, integrates theory with practice, and infuses public policy with ethical insights.
Bill was a professor at Green Mountain College, Tufts University and Williams College where he taught courses in animal studies, environmental studies, ethics, human geography, qualitative research, and public policy. He helped found the journal Ethics, Policy and Environment (formerly Ethics, Place and Environment), and was lead editor for the Political Animals section of the journal Society and Animals. He chaired the Ethics Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and conducted the first ethics review under the National Environmental Policy Act as originally intended by its authors. He founded the first undergraduate animal studies program at Green Mountain College, directed the Masters of Animals and Public Policy program at Tufts Unversity, and served as Senior Fellow for Ethics and Public Policy at the Center for Urban Resilience at Loyola-Marymount University.
Through his many academic and popular publications he has written about wolf recovery, outdoor cats and biodiversity, barred and northern spotted owls, the Canadian seal hunt, cosmopolitanism, the Earth Charter, compassionate conservation, precaution, rewilding, sustainability science, and urban ecology.
Bill also serves as an ethics advisor and facilitator, helping the nonprofit and public sectors make better policy decisions by using ethics. This work includes ethics-based facilitation and training, expert opinions and research briefs, ethics framing and strategic planning, and keynote presentations.