GV4H5      Half Unit
The Political Philosophy of Environmental Change

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Kai Spiekermann


This course is available on the MSc in Environment and Development, MSc in Environmental Policy and Regulation and MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

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, potentially 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?


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling 30 hours in the Lent Term. There will be a reading week in LT Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will submit a short formative essay (up to 1500 words) and will be given feedback on this before submitting their assessed coursework.

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 (2021-2) Sixth Assessment Report, Available at www.ipcc.ch.



Essay (100%, 4000 words).

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: 20

Average class size 2021/22: 20

Controlled access 2021/22: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

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