GV4H5      Half Unit
The Political Philosophy of Environmental Change

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kai Spiekermann


This course is available on the MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MPA in Social Impact, MSc in Environmental Economics and Climate Change and MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

The course is capped at 2 groups. The deadline for applications is 17:00 on Tuesday 1 October 2019. You will be informed of the outcome by 17:00 on Wednesday 2 October 2019


No formal requirements, but some background in political theory or philosophy 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, especially climate 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, considering issues such as 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?


15 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 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

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

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

Denis G. Arnold, ed. (2011) The ethics of global climate change, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press);

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

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


Essay (100%, 4000 words).

Student performance results

(2015/16 - 2017/18 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 25.4
Merit 61.9
Pass 12.7
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Controlled access 2018/19: No

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