COOL CLASSES: “The Earth: Ethics and Politics”

A political science course that asks how we should deal with clashes among environmental values, economic growth, and people’s desires

Class name: “The Earth: Ethics and Politics”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Thomas Donahue

Here’s what Donahue has to say about the course:

This course asks how we should deal with clashes among environmental values, economic growth, and people’s desires. Such clashes include the following: Should we invalidate contracts to dump waste made between corporations and poor and marginalized communities? Should we send all the waste to poor countries, if their standard of living is lower and, therefore—some economists say—the economic costs to them of the waste are less than they would be to rich-country inhabitants? Should the U.S. encourage Andean countries to spray pesticide on peasants’ coca farms in order to reduce the supply of cocaine? Why preserve species that nobody gives a hoot about? In deciding who should pay to fight the costs of climate change, how do we balance among the claims of currently rich countries that polluted in the past, and countries on the make that are polluting heavily now? We examine arguments for and against prominent answers to these questions, in order to help students come up with their own well-informed answer to the course’s central question: What are the moral consequences of a growth-centered society and its inevitable environmental impacts?

This course tries to give students the conceptual resources to give a complete and well-argued answer to that question. For almost every society on this planet is fixated on economic growth. Economic growth, we are told, is the key to improving the human condition, creating jobs, abolishing poverty, curing disease, ensuring well-being for all, reducing the strains of economic injustice, and putting a chicken in every pot. Unfortunately, the effects of economic growth as we know it have put enormous strains on our environment and the natural world. For example, an increase in the number of factories in this country means that new pollutants and new by-products will inevitably be produced. Take another example: An increase in national consumption of physical commodities means that more preferences are satisfied, but it also means that there is more trash or recycling to deal with when those commodities are used up. What are the moral consequences of these effects of growth? That is the question that unifies this course.


See what other courses the Political Science Department is offering this semester.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.