Environmental Political Theory

We currently live amidst the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth. The last mass extinction event is known as the K-T event, and it occurred 65 million years ago. It resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs and most other large land animals. Unlike the K-T event, however, our mass extinction event is due to climate change caused by human activities (principally, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels). 2015 is the hottest year on record (followed by 2014), and recent years have been marked increasingly by extreme weather events and their consequences. In this context, turning to the study of environmental political theory is both pressing and warranted.

This course aims to introduce students to the emerging field of environmental political theory. The course explores the extent to which political life necessarily relies upon ecological and material conditions, which can outstrip many of our conventional or traditional assumptions about what is political and what isn’t. Specifically, we will examine various ways in which climate change both forecloses upon and opens up a range of political opportunities and possibilities. We will discuss the meaning and role of political theory, including how different political theoretical approaches can shape what we think about climate change and how we respond to it, both collectively and individually. Accordingly, students will encounter and engage questions such as the following: Is climate change a threat to human life and ways of living? Can the catastrophes and disasters entailed by climate be survived? What are suitable responses to climate change – and why? Why and how is climate change a distinctly political problem (rather than a merely technical one)? What are some ways in which our understanding of politics – and, therefore, of ourselves – can be expanded or improved when faced with climate change? What might our future during the era of climate change look like?

Throughout the course, we will give particular attention to the depth and seriousness of the problems that climate change poses for political life (and, indeed, the survival of life as such), as well as to novel and powerful responses to this problem drawn from a range of popular and theoretical sources.

Mike Uhall

PDF: PS199finalsyllabus.pdf

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