RLST 133N: Ethics of Climate Change 2

RLST 133N: Ethics of Climate Change 2


Jonathan Brockopp

Days Taught:


Time Offered:


Semester Offered:

Fall 2023

Climate change is not only a political, economic, and social crisis, it presents one of the great moral problems of our time. This course will cover the science, policy, and ethics of climate change. It fulfills general science requirements by giving an overview of the role played by such diverse scientific disciplines as chemistry, earth systems, ecology, and geology in understanding our changing climate while also exploring mitigation and adaptation strategies being developed in the fields of engineering, forestry, agriculture, and others.

It fulfills humanities requirements by delving into the ethical dimensions of climate change, including religious and humanistic theories of human flourishing, deontological and teleological theories of ethics, and analysis of specific choices addressed by international negotiators.

A hallmark of this course is using Penn State as a ‘living laboratory’ by taking advantage of both faculty expertise and the realworld activities of the Office of Physical Plant. Every week, students will interact with experts from various quarters of the University in order to see how climate change is being approached in a multi-disciplinary fashion. The first third of the course will feature guest lectures by EMS faculty working on paleoclimate, modeling, carbon sinks, ocean acidification and other aspects of climate science.

The second portion will engage humanists, economists, historians, and artists at Penn State. The third will include tours of Penn State facilities, such as the East Campus Power Plant, and interviews with researchers developing new energy and sequestration technologies. In addition to exams and papers, students will prepare for a mock negotiation by learning about the energy profile and history of assigned countries. They will then have to set specific CO2 and temperature goals and come up with solutions to achieve these.

The goal is to understand the role placed by ethical ideals in the pragmatic process of producing an equitable solution. In short, this course will give students the tools to understand the basic science of climate change and its ethical implications. Students will come away with a better sense of the moral dimensions of this phenomenon and the implications for human civilization and for the biosphere.


Arts and Humanities