Environment and Society in a Changing World



About Module 3

In Module 2, we learned some fundamentals of how humans are impacting the environment and the environment is impacting humans. These are key components of this course, but equally important to our work this semester is assessing whether these human-environment relations are sustainable. We will explore more about the concept of sustainability in this module, but as with the neomalthusian debates from Module 2, there are many competing ideas about what is (and is not) sustainable. At the heart of many of these sustainability debates (as well as many others in life) are competing ethical positions.

Ethics is a common word, and you probably associate it with intuition, concepts of right and wrong, or more formal discussions of morality. This is true. But why you feel that something is right or wrong, moral or immoral, is much more complex than intuition.

This module introduces the concepts of ethics and democracy as part of our thinking on how we should make decisions about the environment. It provides an overview of fundamental ethical views, understandings of the concept of sustainability, and the nature and role of democracy. Key concepts are introduced through readings, discussions, and activities based on important environmental topics.

What will we learn in Module 3?

By the end of Module 3, you should be able to:

  • understand the relationship between ethics and science;
  • explain the differences between major types of ethical positions;
  • define key ethics terms: distributive justice, procedural justice, anthropocentrism, ecocentrism, speciesism, democracy;
  • identify ethical viewpoints implicit in definitions of sustainability and other texts;
  • develop and refine your own ethical views;
  • begin to recognize how ethical viewpoints inform specific decisions we face.

What is due for Module 3?

For due dates for Module 3, please see Canvas. 

There are a number of required activities associated with this module, including your first Written Assignment. The chart below provides an overview of the activities for Module 3. For assignment details, refer to the location noted.

Module 3: Lesson Assignments
Requirement Location Submitting Your Work
Reading Assignment: Muir and Pinchot Fundamentals of Normative Ethics No Submission
Reading Assignments: Warner & DeCosse, Sibole, Davis Sustainability No Submission
Written Assignment 1: Arguing Environmental Ethics Written Assignments Submit in Canvas


If you have any questions, please post them to our Course Q & A discussion forum in Canvas. I will check that discussion forum often to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate. If you have a more specific concern, please send me a message through Inbox in Canvas.