GV4H5      Half Unit
The Political Philosophy of Environmental Change

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kai Spiekermann CON.517


This course is available on the MSc in Environmental Economics and Climate Change, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Political Theory and Master of Public Administration. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


No formal requirements, but an interest in the formal analysis of political, philosophical and economic questions and a willingness to study contributions from various disciplines, including the natural sciences, is expected.

Course content

This course analyses political and philosophical questions arising in the context of environmental change. The approach will be interdisciplinary. While the focus is on normative-philosophical issues, we will also make use of positive-analytical and empirical literature. Among the topics discussed will be climate change, overpopulation, food and water scarcity, deforestation, desertification and the loss of biodiversity. Some of the questions to be discussed are: How should we balance the interests of current and future generations? How does climate change affect our obligations towards the global poor? How do we make policy decisions if the effects are uncertain but potentially severe? Are we individually or collectively responsible for causing climate change, and what follows from this? How do we relate to the environment and what precisely is valuable about preserving it?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Week 17 (week 6 of the LT) will be a reading and feedback week.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the LT.

Indicative reading

Nicholas Stern (2009) A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, London (Bodley Head)

John Broome (2012) Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, New York (W.W. Norton)

Mark Maslin (2004) Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford (Oxford University Press)

Stephen Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson and Henry Shue, eds. (2010) Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, Oxford (Oxford University Press) 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007 / 2013) Fourth and Fifth Assessment Report, Available at www.ipcc.ch

Dieter Helm and Cameron Hepburn, eds. (2009) The Economics and Politics of Climate Change, Oxford (Oxford University Press)

Robert N. Stavins, ed. (2005) Economics of the Environment, 5th ed. New York (W. W. Norton)

David G. Victor (2011) Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press)

Stephen M. Gardiner (2011) A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, Oxford (OUP)


Essay (100%, 4000 words).

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: 8

Average class size 2014/15: 6

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills