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


Required: Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (5th ed.)

Optional: Ronald Sandler ed., Environmental Ethics

Optional: David Schmidtz and Elizabeth Willott eds., Environmental Ethics (2nd ed.)

Optional: James Salzman and Barton Thompson, Environmental Law and Policy (4th ed.)


Overviews of Environmental Ethics:


Read these over the course of the semester, verify that you understand all that they cover, and complete the outline assignment:

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. Claire Palmer, Katie McShane, Ronald Sandler, "Environmental Ethics", Annual Review of Environment and Resources

4. David Schmidtz, "Introduction to Environmental Ethics", in the Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbook to Environmental Ethics

Optional: Claire Palmer, "An Overview of Environmental Ethics", in Light and Rolston III eds. Environmental Ethics: An Anthology

Optional: Ben Minteer ed., The Nature Education Overview of Environmental Ethics

Required later in the semester: Dale Jamieson, "The Value of Nature", in Ethics and the Environment


January 17: Tradeoffs Between Humans and Ecosystems

1. Case 18: "Old Growth on Mount Wachusett", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics

2. Bryan Norton, "The Environmentalists' Dilemma: Dollars and Sand Dollars", in Schmidtz and Willott eds., Environmental Ethics

NASA astronauts, "Earthrise", 1968

Optional: Food footprints chart

Optional: David Tilman et al., "Global Food Demand and the Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture", PNAS

Optional: "Introduction: Why Cases? Which Theories?", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics

January 19: Tradeoffs Between 'Us' Humans and Other Humans

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

1. Angus Deaton, "Response to Effective Altruism", Boston Review

2. Case 11: "Mr. Cone's Woodpeckers", in Case Studies in Environmental Ethics

3. Bill Gates, "The Great Escape is an Excellent Book with One Big Flaw", gatesnotes.com

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 on Aid to the Poor

1. Angus Deaton, "How to help those left behind", in The Great Escape

Optional: Peter Singer, replies to objections: Chapters 3, 8, and 9 of The Life You Can Save (this subset of the book provides replies to other objections to Singer's main argument)

Optional: Angus Deaton and Nancy Cartwright, "Understanding and Misunderstanding Randomized Controlled Trials", NBER

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

2. Paul Ehrlich, Prologue and pp. 15-27 of The Population Bomb, Sierra Club (1968 edition)

3. Garrett Hardin, "Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor", Psychology Today

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

2. Paul Ehrlich, Prologue of The Population Bomb, Sierra Club (1975 edition) (note: one-page Prologue only)

3. Paul Ehrlich, "Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization", MAHB

Optional: Sarah Hannan, "On the Morality of Procreation and Parenting", in Permissible Progeny?

Optional: Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception

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

2. Julfikar Ali Manik and Mike Ives, "Bangladesh's Fishing Ban Leaves Coastal Towns in 'Nightmare Situation'", New York Times

Optional: Elinor Ostrom et al., "Revisiting 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. Elinor Ostrom, selections from Governing the Commons

2. Prisoner's Dilemma selection on Handout on Hardin and Ostrom

Optional: Elinor Ostrom, "A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems", Science

Optional: Carol Rose, "Ostrom and the Lawyers: The Impact of Governing the Commons on the American Legal Academy"

Optional: James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State

February 16: Market-Based Environmental Policy: Creating Property Rights

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)

Optional: Carol Rose, "Liberty, Property, Environmentalism"

Optional: David Schmidtz, "The Institution of Property"

Optional: Ronald Coase, "The Problem of Social Cost"

February 21: How Best to Understand the Goal of Sustainability

1. Robert Solow, "Sustainability: An Economist's Perspective"

2. Handout: strong vs weak sustainability - and is sustainability worth focusing on?

Optional: Genuine Progress Indicator

Optional: Donella Meadows, et al., Limits to Growth

Optional: Martin Krieger, "What's wrong with plastic trees?"

Optional: Some definitions of sustainability

Optional: More definitions of sustainability

February 23: Ostrom's Views in Practice: Contemporary Federal Environmental Resource Management

1. Lynn Scarlett, "Choices, Consequences, and Cooperative Conservation"

2. Elinor Ostrom, "A polycentric approach for coping with climate change"

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

1. John Muir, "Hetch Hetchy" in The Yosemite

2. Pages 10-15 and 48-53 of Peter Singer, on utilitarianism, equality, animals, and taking life, in Practical Ethics (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: reread Bryan Norton, "The Environmentalists' Dilemma"

March 2: Philosophical Objections to Deep Ecology and Environmentalism

1. Elliott Sober, "Philosophical problems for environmentalism"

2. Richard Routley, [Last Man Argument] "Is there a need for a new, an environmental, ethic?"

Optional: Christopher Stone, "Should trees have standing?"

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

1. Dale Jamieson, "The Value of Nature", in Ethics and the Environment

Recommended: Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind -- try to make it to and including the Aldo Leopold chapter

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: 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"

Optional: Roberta Millstein, "Debunking Myths about Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic"

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

1. Selection from Thomas E. Hill, "Ideals of human excellence and preserving natural environments" (optional: full article here)

Optional: Anne Barnhill et al., Introduction to Consumer Ethics, in Food, Ethics, and Society

Optional: Anthony Appiah, "Racism and Moral Pollution"

March 23: More on Reasons for Individual Action, Virtue Ethics

1. Julia Nefsky, "Consumer choice and collective impact"

Recommended: Tom Hill, "Symbolic protest and calculated silence"

Optional: Milton Friedman, "Let the protesters themselves divest"

Optional: Gerald Gaus, selection on the expected consequences of voting

March 27: Midterm Exam is due at 11:59pm via email

March 28: Fossil Fuel Divestment as a Case Study of Reasons for Action

1. Bill McKibben, "The Case for Fossil-Fuel Divestment", Rolling Stone

2. Robert Stavins, "Divestment is No Substitute for Real Action on Climate Change", Yale Environment 360

3. "Stanford and climate change: a statement from the board of trustees", 2016 Stanford University Press Release

Optional: "Stanford to Divest from Coal Companies", 2014 Stanford University Press Release

Optional: Michael Sandel, "It's Immoral to Buy the Right to Pollute" (with replies), New York Times

Optional: James Baker et al., "The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends", online brochure

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

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 A Case for Climate Engineering

Optional: Nick Bostrom, "Golden Retriever: Live on Larry King"

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

1b. Christian Barry and Gerhard Overland, "Individual responsibility for carbon emissions", in Moss ed. Climate Change and Justice

Optional: Pope Francis, "Why the only future worth building involves everyone"

Optional: Resources for the Future, collection of policy-relevant papers on USA climate policy and carbon taxes

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. Kristin Shrader-Frechette, "Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy", in Willott and Schmidtz eds. Environmental Ethics, 2nd edition

2. Corey Booker, questions at nomination hearing re minority health disparities in air pollution

3. Ramachandra Guha, "Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique", Environmental Ethics

4. Pascale Bonnefoy, "With 10 million acres in Patagonia, a national park system is born", New York Times

Optional: Climate equity reference project

April 25: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Contemporary Climate Policy

1. Neil Irwin, "Climate Change's Giant Impact on the Economy: 4 Key Issues", New York Times

2. "The Hidden Impact of Trump's Energy Executive Order", Politico

Optional: David Anthoff et al., "Thinking Through the Climate Change Challenge", VOXeu

Optional: selection from Heinzerling and Ackerman, "Pricing the Priceless: Cost-Benefit Analysis of Environmental Protection" [includes arsenic in water case study]

Optional: Hilary Greaves, "Discounting for climate change: a critical survey"

Optional: Discounting and Climate Economics: A Very Brief Intro

Optional: Climate Policy Simulator, Princeton Climate Futures Initiative

Optional: USA EPA, Arsenic in Water Regulation

Optional: USA EPA, Clean Power Plan Regulation

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)

3. Paul Koberstein, "The Most Dangerous Nuclear Power Plants in America", Cascadia Times

Optional: Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of Cass Sunstein, Valuing Life

Optional: Hilary Greaves, "The social disvalue of premature deaths"

Optional: Springmann et al., "Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change", PNAS

Optional: Scott Barrett, Environment and Statecraft

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: Mark Budolfson and Dean Spears, "Improving the Valuation of Nature: Adding the Intrinsic Value of Nature to Policy Analysis"

Optional: Wayne Hsiung and Cass Sunstein, "Climate Change and Animals"

Optional: Animal Charity Evaluators, "Interventions We'd Like to See"

Optional: Animal Charity Evaluators, research homepage

Optional: "The secret on the ocean floor" (especially section 6 "Lost creatures"), BBC News

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