Climate change syllabus

I’m teaching environmental ethics for the first time this coming fall, focusing on climate change. This is a third-year course, which has our second-year general environmental ethics course as a prerequisite. So I’m not obliged to cover the basics. I’ll be using Eric A. Posner and David Weisbach’s book, Climate Change Justice, as more-or-less the textbook, with supplementary readings as I go along. Not everything I assign, I should add, is stuff I agree with, some is just to provoke discussion. Also, it’s not really environmental “ethics” so much as environmental “justice” & “policy.”

Anyhow, any suggestions would be welcome — I haven’t read more than a fraction of the literature that’s out there (beyond the usual suspects Shue, Gardiner, Broome, McKinnon, Moellendorf, etc.), so if I’m missing good stuff let me know. Also, the syllabus may not make sense for those who have not read Posner & Weisbach, because my presentation of topics really tracks their discussion, which seems to me quite well organized.


PHL373F Issues in Environmental Ethics

Responding to Climate Change: This course will introduce students to some of the more difficult normative issues that arise in our attempts to develop an effective policy response to the problem of anthropogenic climate change. We will begin with an introduction to the basic institutional dimensions of the problem, along with the major policy options available. This will include the analysis of collective action problems, the rationale for carbon pricing, and the primary institutional mechanisms available for achieving emissions reductions. We will then focus on the two major normative issues that arise, namely, how much mitigation should be undertaken, and how the benefits and burdens of this should be distributed. Difficult questions to be addressed include: determining how we should balance the interests of present against future generations, and deciding what, if any, role “historical emissions” or current economic inequality should play in determining future emission entitlements.

1. General introduction

2. The tragedy of the commons
Gareth Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, 162 (1968): 1243-1248.
Thomas Schelling, Micromotives and Macrobehavior (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), chap. 7.

3. The theory of regulation
Ahmed Hussen, Principles of Environmental Economics (London: Routledge, 2000) chap. 5.
Ronald Coase, The Problem of Social Cost,” Journal of Law and Economics, 3 (1960): 1-44.

4. Introduction to the climate crisis
Eric A. Posner and David Weisbach, Climate Change Justice, chap. 1
John Broome, Climate Matters (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012), chap. 2.

5. Policy instruments
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 2

6. Deontological approaches
Simon Caney, “Climate Change, Human Rights and Moral Thresholds,” in Stephen Gardiner et. al. (eds.) Climate Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 122-145.
Cass Sunstein, “Beyond the Precautionary Principle,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 151 (2003): 1003-1058.

7. Style over substance
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 3
Elinor Ostrom, “A Polycentric Approach for Coping With Climate Change,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5095 (2009).

8. Climate change and distributive justice
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 4

9. Punishing wrongdoers
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 5
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, “It’s Not My Fault,” in Stephen Gardiner et. al. (eds.) Climate Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 332-346.

10. Per capita emissions permits
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 6
Simon Caney, “Justice and the Distribution of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Journal of Global Ethics, 5 (2009): 125-146.

11. Future generations
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 7
David Pearce, Ben Groom, Cameron Hepburn and Phoebe Koundouri, “Valuing the Future,” World Economics, 4 (2003): 121-141.

12. Conclusion and review
Posner and Weisbach, chap. 8


Climate change syllabus — 3 Comments

  1. Try: Environmental Deceptions: The Tension Between Liberalism and Environmental Policymaking in the United States
    Chapter 1: The Political Economy of Liberal Public Policy.
    By: Matthew Alan Cahn (UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs) .

    Might hit a little close to home for you, but should get people thinking.

  2. 1) Lukas H. Meyer has published several interesting articles on the normative significance of historical emissions, including:

    Meyer, Lukas H. and Dominic Roser (2006). Distributive Justice and Climate Change, Analyse & Kritik 28, 223–249.
    Meyer, Lukas H. and Dominic Roser (2009). Enough for the Future, in Intergenerational Justice, ed. Axel Gosseries and Meyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 219-248.
    Meyer, Lukas H. and Dominic Roser (2010). Climate Change and Historical Emissions. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 13, 229- 253 (also in Democracy, Equality, and Justice, ed. Matt Matravers and Lukas H. Meyer (London: Routledge), 229-253).

    2) Dale Jamieson has published a fascinating book called Reason in Dark Times, which explores the ways in which the failure to address climate change may mean that people are no longer capable or willing of addressing practical problems rationally.

    In light of your interest in reason, Enlightenment, etc., I think that you’ll find Jamieson’s book appealing.