In the 18th century, extinction was believed impossible: nature’s design was perfect—it had no flaws. Now in the 21st century, we alter the metabolism of entire ecosystems and reinvent species to suit our needs and lifestyles. Is nature obsolete? At what expense do we increasingly expel it from our lives?
The present age is characterized by change and loss in the natural world, and many of the environmental patterns that have long formed a backdrop to our lives—from honey bee pollinators to Great Lake waterways to coyote predators—are disappearing or are forced to adapt quickly in order to survive.
Simultaneously, human prosperity and comfort, for some, has never been greater, and nature has never been more distant. Many of us relax in climate-controlled homes and eat prepackaged food, and what little nature we encounter is mediated by computer and smartphone screens. But don’t be fooled by the “distance:” even our most trivial actions have profound consequences for environments, both here and throughout the world.
This course examines moral theories for understanding the environment. Using a range of perspectives (Annie Dillard, John Berger, Wendell Berry, Elizabeth Kolbert, Barry Lopez, Wallace Stegner, Alan Weisman, and more) we’ll examine what implications global warming, species extinction, deforestation, resource extraction, and other environmental harms have for understanding our relationship with nature and ourselves.
First and foremost, we’ll consider the human concept of nature and what it means for humans to have moral obligations to nature.
Joel K. Jensen, PhD, University of Colorado, Denver, is a professor of philosophy at North Hennepin Community College, where he teaches courses in ethics, logic, peace, and the environment. He is the author of There Exists an X, X is a Sandwich (Sandwich Bar Press, 2012).