Law 792:  Ethics, Law, and the Environment

In this course, we will explore significant sources of environmental degradation and ask into promising means of reversing environmental trends that are likely to prove catastrophic if allowed to continue. We will talk about such topics as how today’s food systems impact the health of our soils, rivers, and oceans and raise serious questions about the morality of our animal husbandry; how our on-going dependence on fossil fuels is impacting our lands and contributing to the warming of the planet; how contemporary water-management practices threaten future water wars; and how permissive land use and urban development has increased the species extinction rate by as much as 1,000 times background rates. As we canvass these problems, we will pause to ask into the economic, cultural, religious, legal, and philosophical underpinnings of our unsustainable relationship with the natural world, and we will take up solutions that capitalize on these powerful forces of social change.

IN-CLASS FILMS, GUEST SPEAKERS, AND DISCUSSIONS. Each week, our Monday late-afternoon class will be devoted to viewing a documentary film or hearing from a guest-speaker whose expertise and research concerns an environmental topic of significance to the course. Our Tuesday class will then engage with readings that expand on the lessons learned on Monday. In addition to discussing excerpts from books and articles written by journalists, scientists, urban planners, environmental activists, lawyers, economists, and philosophers, we will have opportunities for active, in-class exercises that allow for creative thinking and engaging small group activities.

DIRFTLESS AREA FIELDTRIP OCTOBER 4-6, 2019. Over this early October weekend, we will go on an (optional) trip to Galena, Illinois, where we will learn lessons about the ecological treasures and sources of environmental degradation in the Driftless Area. This area is home to ancient rugged bluffs, primordial rivers, underground caverns, and sacred archaeological treasures, so it will serve as an important case-study in our discussions about the ways in which human behaviors impact on fragile ecosystems and can be altered (through legal, economic, and cultural mechanisms) to preserve invaluable environmental capital. (The details and (modest) cost of this trip will be discussed in a start-of-semester meeting.)

Sequence and Prerequisites: None

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