Law 792:  Ethics, Law, and the Environment

In this course, we will explore the ways in which both personal life choices and the legal apparatus of a democratic economy contribute to the perils of our planet, and we will explore possible means of reversing environmental trends that are likely to prove catastrophic if allowed to continue. We will draw upon leading theories of justice and schools of moral thought in order to explore the obligations that we owe to one another, to those in countries around the globe, and to the millions of other species with whom we share the shrinking resources of our planet. And we will engage questions about how lawyers, legislators and policy-makers might translate those lessons into law. Industrial food production, climate-changing energy production, land use and urban development, deforestation, toxic/inorganic waste disposal, and the extinction of both species and indigenous cultures will constitute concerns of the course. But at every turn we will inquire into innovative means of achieving sustainable practices—from greening the energy sector to developing closed loop agricultural systems to reconceiving our urban spaces and practices. Throughout our discussions we will ask the hard philosophical questions raised by these very practical and very immediate issues. What is the value of the natural world? Are we entitled to Nature’s riches, or do we have obligations of stewardship that require conservation? What is the moral status of ecosystems, species, and individual plants and animals? How do we properly allocate scarce resources and who should bear the burden for past excesses that have caused environmental degradation and threaten future shortages?

In addition to discussing excerpts from books and articles written by legal scholars, economists, philosophers, scientists, urban planners, and environmental journalists, we will have opportunities for more “active learning.” We will watch documentaries that will take us to places that we cannot go in person. We will take field trips to local sites that make salient questions about the sustainability of our daily practices. And we will learn from award-winning guest lecturers who will bring their expertise to bear on questions raised by course materials. 

Sequence and Prerequisites: None

Evaluation: Take-home examination. 

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