Environmental Ethics: Sustainability, Public Policy, Global Justice

Spring 2017, University of Vermont


Contemporary environmental ethics, drawing on case studies from philosophy, public policy, and civil society in sustainability, animal welfare, land ethics, wilderness preservation, environmental economics, and resource management. Recurring questions are what fundamentally explains the value of nature and non-human animals, and how to integrate those values into decision-making analyses for society in which competing values may be at stake (such as human nutrition and wellbeing), and in which considerations of justice and sustainability may also loom large. Increasingly, such analyses must dovetail with analyses at a global scale -- for example, at the nexus of food, water, energy, and climate. Thus, values of local vs. global justice are increasingly at the forefront of environmental ethics, as well as concrete questions about the desirability and design of various international institutions.

"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to the effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it" - Barack Obama, inauguration speech, 2009


Textbooks

Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (5th ed.)
Optional: David Schmidtz and Elizabeth Willott eds., Environmental Ethics (2nd ed.)
Optional: James Salzman and Barton Thompson, Environmental Law and Policy (4th ed.)


Readings

Overview of Environmental Ethics:
OUTLINE ASSIGNMENT
Read these over the course of the semester, and verify that you understand all that they cover:
1. Patrick Derr and Edward McNamara, "Introduction: Why Cases? Which Theories?", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics
2. Andrew Brennan and Yeuk-Sze Lo, "Environmental Ethics", in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
3. David Schmidtz, "Introduction to Environmental Ethics", in the Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbook to Environmental Ethics
January 17: Tradeoffs Between Human Wellbeing and Ecosystems
1. Case 18: "Old Growth on Mount Wachusett", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics
NASA astronauts, "Earthrise", 1968
Optional: Food footprints chart
January 19: Tradeoffs Between Us and Others
1. Pages 36-43 of "Introduction to Global Hunger", in Anne Barnhill et al., Food, Ethics, and Society
2. Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", Philosophy & Public Affairs
Optional: the rest of "Introduction to Global Hunger", in Anne Barnhill et al., Food, Ethics, and Society

January 24: Unintended Consequences
Optional: selections from Muller and Mendelsohn on the Unintended Negative Distributional Consequences of SO2 Cap and Trade, in Using Marginal Damages in Environmental Policy

January 26 and 31: Deaton's Objections to Singer
Optional: Peter Singer, "The Environment", in Practical Ethics, 3rd edition

February 2: Overpopulation?
1. Jonathan Foley, "A Five Step Plan to Feed the World", National Geographic
Optional: Case 41: "Is the Lifeboat Full?", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics
Optional: Case 42: "Demography as Destiny", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics

February 7: Overpopulation?
1. Amartya Sen, "Population: Delusion and Reality", New York Review of Books

Optional: Julian Simon, introduction to The Ultimate Resource II
Optional: Sarah Conly, One Child

February 9: The Justification of Public Policy, and the Best Means of Achieving Sustainability: The Hardin / Ostrom Debate
1. Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons", Science

FIRST PAPER ASSIGNMENT: due Sunday, February 26 at 11:59pm via email

February 14: Ostrom's Objections to Hardin and Her Alternative View of How Best to Achieve Sustainability
1. Pages 3-11, 28-46, 62-68, 91-96, and 122-130 of Ray Hilborn and Ulrike Hilborn, Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know (readings are a proper subset of the pdf)

February 21: How Best to Understand the Goal of Sustainability
[Add Dennis Meadows et al., Limits to Growth]

February 23: Ostrom's Views in Practice: Contemporary Federal Environmental Resource Management
Optional: search online and read about the 'Paris Agreement' from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP21 meeting in Paris, NDCs, and the emerging 'bottom up' international climate regime, eg starting at the UNFCCC Paris Agreement Website
Optional: Austin Kiessig, "What 'Big Ideas' Get Funded in Silicon Valley?"
Optional: Michelle Paratore, "Rising the the Food Waste Challenge"

February 26: First paper assignment is due at 11:59pm via email

February 28: Utilitarianism vs. Competing Views of the Value of Nature; Intro to Reasons for Individual Action
Optional: Mineral king dissenting opinion
Optional: Feinberg Rights of animals and unborn generations
Optional: Clark Wolf intergenerational justice

March 7: no class, town meeting day
Recommended: Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind -- try to make it to and including the Aldo Leopold chapter

March 30: work on outline, paper 2, wilderness reflection journal -- consider meeting with other students to discuss papers and outlines
Recommended: Peter Singer, "Civil Disobedience, Violence and Terrorism", in Practical Ethics, 3rd edition
Optional: Paul Watson, "Tora, Tora, Tora"
Paul Watson, "Clarification of Where Director Paul Watson Stands on Various Issues"
Associated case study

March 9: Leopold's Land Ethic
1. Aldo Leopold, pp. 130-141, 72-77, 239-241, and 261-269 from A Sand County Almanac (mostly includes "On Top", "Thinking Like a Mountain", "Axe in Hand", "The Outlook", and "Wilderness") (readings are a proper subset of the pdf)
Optional: The Sierra Club, "Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer the Ceiling?"
Optional: Aldo Leopold Interactive Map, by Dan Styer and the Aldo Leopold Foundation
Optional: Mark Budolfson, "Why the Standard Interpretation of Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic is Mistaken"

March 14 & 16: No Class: Spring Break
Recommended: Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind -- try to make it past the Aldo Leopold chapter

MIDTERM EXAM: due Monday, March 27 at 11:59pm via email

March 21: Reasons for Individual Action, Virtue Ethics
March 23: More on Reasons for Individual Action, Virtue Ethics
March 27: Midterm Exam is due at 11:59pm via email

March 28: Fossil Fuel Divestment as a Case Study of Reasons for Action
Optional: James Baker et al., "The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends", online brochure

SECOND PAPER ASSIGNMENT: due Monday, April 17 at 11:59pm via email

OUTLINE ASSIGNMENT: due Monday, May 1 at 11:59pm via email

WILDERNESS JOURNAL: due Thursday, May 11 at 7:15pm via email

April 4: Manipulation of Ecosystems
1. Jeff Sebo, "Animals and Climate Change", in Budolfson et al. eds. Climate Change and Philosophy
Optional: Ben Minteer, "Is it right to reverse extinction?", Nature
Optional: Jeff McMahon, "The Moral Problem of Predation", in Chignell et al. eds. Philosophy Comes to Dinner
Optional: David Keith, selections from

April 6: Deontology and Reasons for Individual Action
Choose One of the Following:
1a. Tristram McPherson, "How to Argue for and Against Ethical Veganism", in Barnhill et al. eds. Food, Ethics, and Society

April 11: Population ethics, and applications to climate change and animal welfare
1. John Broome, "Climate change: life and death", in Moss ed. Climate Change and Justice
Optional: Torbjorn Tannsjo, "Its Getting Better All the Time", in Barnhill et al. eds. Food, Ethics, and Society
Optional: Hilary Greaves, "Population Axiology", Philosophy Compass

April 13: Instead of our normal meeting, attend the Kilian Moote lecture in Williams Hall 301 (starts at 4:30pm)

April 17: Second paper assignment due at 11:59pm via email

April 18: Utilitarianism, Cost Benefit Analysis, Justice 
1. Hausman and McPherson, "Ethics in Welfare Economics: The Example of Larry Summers's Memo", in Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy, 2nd edition
2. Debra Satz, "Summers, Sandel, and Egalitarian Theories of the Moral Limits of Markets", pp. 79-84, 94-99, and 109-110 of Why Some Things Should Not be For Sale
Optional: Kristin Shrader-Frechette, "Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy", in Willott and Schmidtz eds. Environmental Ethics, 2nd edition

April 20: Environmental Justice and Developing Nations
1. Ramachandra Guha, "Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique"Environmental Ethics
2. Kristin Shrader-Frechette, "Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy", in Willott and Schmidtz eds. Environmental Ethics, 2nd edition
Optional: Climate equity reference project

April 25: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Contemporary Climate Policy
1. Discounting and Climate Economics: A Very Brief Intro

April 27: Valuing Life, Cobenefits of Pollution Reductions, Unilateral Pollution Reductions in a Collective Action Problem
(Cobenefits are benefits that are not accounted for in standard models of the 'direct costs and benefits' of a policy, but that can be expected to be realized because of the way that beneficial things are correlated with and are thus a foreseeable side effect of that action. For example, by closing a coal power plant we not only get the direct climate benefit of eg less sea level rise in the future, but we also get cobenefits such as reduced air pollution that are a welcome side effect of closing coal power plants because of the way that reductions in regular air pollution are correlated with reductions in coal greenhouse gas emissions. If we take proper account of these cobenefits, then they might increase the magnitude of optimal policy. But it is not obvious how to properly account for them...)
1. Cass Sunstein, "US Should Act Unilaterally on Climate Change"
2.
pp. 1-5 and Chapter 2 of Cass Sunstein, Valuing Life (note: only pp. 1-5 and Chapter 2 are required)

May 1: Outline assignment due at 11:59pm via email

FINAL EXAM and FINAL PAPER and WILDERNESS REFLECTION JOURNAL: due at university assigned final exam time

May 2: Tradeoffs between Human and Non-Human Animals: Quantifying the Wellbeing of Humans vs. Non-Human Animals
1. pp. 11-40 of Kevin Wong, Counting Animals: On Effective Altruism and the Prospect of Interspecies Commensurability (note: only 11-40 is required; reading to page 63 is optional but recommended)
Optional: Animal Charity Evaluators, "Interventions We'd Like to See"
Optional: Animal Charity Evaluators, research homepage
Optional: John Mackey et al, "The CEO as Animal Activist: John Mackey and Whole Foods", in Singer ed. In Defense of Animals
Optional: Peter Singer, "Pushing the Peanut Forward", in Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement

May 4: Review
Review based on outlines (no additional assigned readings), slides on cobenefits, distributional issues and climate change
Optional: Thomas Schelling, "The Cost of Combating Global Warming: Facing the Tradeoffs", Foreign Affairs
Optional: Thomas Schelling, "Notes on Personal Ranking [of Humanitarian Interventions]", in Lomborg ed. Smart Solutions to Climate Change
Optional: selections from Muller and Mendelsohn on the Unintended Negative Distributional Consequences of SO2 Cap and Trade Policy, in Using Marginal Damages in Environmental Policy

May 11: 7:15pm (university-assigned final exam time): Final Exam, Final Paper, and Wilderness Reflection due via email



Additional Resources

One week module on environmental ethics

Top ten environmental ethics papers that are not required reading in this course