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 Thursday early-evening class (5-7:00 pm) 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 Friday class will then engage with readings that expand on the lessons learned on Thursday.  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.  Depending upon coronavirus risks (which may be prohibitive), we may also be able to enjoy one or more local field trips to relevant places of interest (organic farms, waste treatment facilities, the local dairy, a prairie restoration project, etc.).

IN THE EVENT THAT THIS BECOMES AN ON-LINE CLASS:  We will regularly meet by Zoom only on Friday from 3:00-4:20 pm.  When a guest speaker is scheduled during a Thursday evening 5-7:00 pm time slot, we will also have a class during that designated time--and the guest lecture and subsequent discussion will proceed via Zoom.  As often as possible (technology and viewing rights permitting), the films that would otherwise have been shown on a Thursday evening will be made available during the previous week so that students will be at liberty to watch it at their own pace.  Students will be asked to do a very short assignment about that film that will be due on the Thursday evening before the Friday class that engages the film’s topic (when we would otherwise have gathered together for the film).  These will not be onerous assignments; they will simply reward the careful viewing of each film.  They will consist of such things as very short reflection pieces, the compilation of a few discussion questions, and other very short but responsive submissions that will be efficient and straightforward once the film has been viewed.

Sequence and Prerequisites: None

Evaluation: Three short (750-word) Op Ed’s (worth 60%); in-class participation and other individual and group projects assigned and submitted during class times (worth 40%; 20% will go to film responses if the class is on-line and films are viewed privately, rather than as in-class as a group).

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