Summer 2019 - ENV 320W J100

Ethics and the Environment (3)

Class Number: 5320

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sa 12:30 PM – 3:20 PM
    HCC 1800, Vancouver

  • Instructor:

    Jason Brown
  • Prerequisites:

    Students must have earned at least 45 units. Students who have taken PHIL 333-3 or ENV 399-3 "Special Topics in Environmental Ethics" prior to or in 2011 and students with credit in PHIL 328-3 may not enroll in this course for further credit. Philosophy Majors and Minors may not take this course for credit towards their major or minor degree.



An introduction to the field of environmental ethics for non-specialists. Addresses questions such as what obligations we have to future generations and the natural world, as well as the extent of these obligations. Writing.


This course will engage contemporary ethical discourse and environmental writing at an unprecedented juncture in human history. Faced with some measure of ecological disaster and catastrophe throughout our existence as a species, never before have the crises been so global, so inextricably interrelated and so…our fault. We are living at the dawn of the so-called ‘Anthropocene’ a controversial moniker which has been used to both celebrate and lament our rise to global ecological dominance. As the negative effects of climate change and species extinction continue, we are faced with an increasing sense of urgency, and a shrinking timeframe to course correct.

What role do our ideas about right and wrong play in the future of the planet? In other words, are ecological problems moral problems? And if so what is the best ethical framework for grappling with them? In this class we will explore three interrelated questions related to ethics:
1.     What is the appropriate moral relationship between human beings and the rest of the earth community?
2.     If the current state of affairs is lacking, what methods will most effectively achieve this optimal moral relationship?
3.     What role do creative and persuasive writing play in articulating, motivating and achieving this relationship between humans and the earth?

We will begin by learning the rudiments of classical philosophical approaches to ethics and morality, but we will focus most of our attention on contemporary environmental case studies and writers. For this reason some of the literature used in this course will be drawn from more popular sources, where most writing takes place. More strictly scholarly articles will be made available as supplemental reading. Because this is a ‘W’ section, your work as students will be primarily through, you guessed it, writing; however, reading, discussion, facilitation and presentation will also be important components of this course.


  • Attendance and Participation 5%
  • Ethical Theory Midterm 20%
  • Ethical Challenges (2x) 20%
  • Weekly Readings Roundtable Discussion Summaries (8x) 20%
  • Environmental Ethics Journal Article 25%
  • Journal Group Presentations 10%


Attendance and Participation: Participation in this course is mandatory. Only medically documented illness or family emergencies will be excused. Consistently poor participation in discussions will affect your participation grade. Misuse of laptops, texting during class, or visible cell phones risk deductions in your participation.  

Ethical Theory Midterm: There will be an in class midterm covering the basic ethical theories and movements as related to the environment, in the form of short paragraph answers.

Ethical Challenges: Pick two challenges and write a first person reflection of your experience in 1,000-1,500 words. Be sure to give background and provide appropriate documentation. Provide at least 3 academic citations in each Challenge paper.
·      Try eating vegan for a week. Document 3-5 recipes you tried out. Discuss how it made you feel and why people might advocate for this lifestyle.
·      Calculate your ecological footprint using an online footprint calculator ( Write a plan to reduce your impact in two dimensions.
·      Use only public transportation for week (If you own a car).
·      Spend 1 hour a week for three weeks in a sit spot in a regional or provincial park and record your observations. Discuss the value of wilderness and green space.
·      Compile all of the garbage you generate for a week in a single bad and weigh it. Were you surprised or pleased? Discuss how you might reduce your consumption. ·      Write a song, poem, short story or make a short film about a topic you are passionate about. Write an analysis of the work and the topic it addresses.
·      Convene a discussion group with friends and family on a topic you are passionate about. Summarize the content. And describe what conclusions you arrived at. Did you decide to do something together as a group to address the problem?
·      Or, propose your own ethical challenge!

Weekly Readings Roundtable Discussion Summaries: At the beginning of the semester, you will be assigned a Roundtable Discussion Group. Each week you will be responsible for submitting a 200-500 word overview of the readings focusing on the main ideas, writing style and arguments. Each week you will sign up for one of the following roles:
·      Fact Checker: Find at one proposition of fact in the readings and check them against 2 other sources.
·      Devil’s Advocate: Try to find the make a convincing argument that is opposite one of the main ideas in the readings.
·      Inquisitor: Write 5 questions that you would ask the author(s) if you had a sit down interview. If there are more than one reading, pose 3 questions each.
·      Cross Examiner: Find a current event from a reputable news source that gives an example of the main ideas in the readings but that is not discussed in the reading.

  You must sign up for one of these roles each week, regardless of how many members are in your Roundtable Discussion Group. You will turn in your individual summary (200-500 words) and your group role (100-200 words) on Canvas by 9 AM on the day of class. So each student is responsible for two things: A readings summary, and a summary of their particular Roundtable Discussion Group Role for that week.

Environmental Ethics Journal: In this course you will create a special edition of an environmental ethics journal. In a different group from your discussion group, you will brainstorm a topic, write individual ethical argument papers, and compile the essays into a single PDF formatted journal.   Each individual essay should be approximately 2,000-3,000 words in length. It will focus on a case study within the broader topic chosen by the group. For example if your group choses species extinction, a paper might examine the plight of the White Rhinos. These individual essays will then be compiled into your group’s unique environmental ethics journal. Your group will be responsible for dividing the tasks for making sure that the journal is well crafted, follows the provided style guide, creative, beautiful and scholarly rigorous.

  Journal Group Class Presentations: At the end of the semester your journal groups will present an overview of your topic in class as a public forum. Forums should be approximately 45 minutes and cover the basics of each individual’s paper topic, but not necessarily the minutia of each ethical argument. The idea is to provide the public with information about this particular issue and suggest what might be done about it.



Ronald Sandler (2017). Environmental Ethics: Theory in Practice (New York: Oxford University Press).

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University.