Let’s teach the Ethics of Climate Change

April 15, 2019 | 2 comments

The Ethics of Climate Change is the title of a new course at Penn State. Combining a basic introduction to the science as well as an overview of key ethical issues, this “integrative learning” course offers students either a General Science (GN) credit or a General Humanities (GH) credit upon successful completion of the class.

A two-day training workshop on May 9-10 will offer an opportunity for faculty members from across the Commonwealth to bring this course to their campuses. Sponsored by Penn State’s Office of General Education and the Sustainability Institute, participants will have the opportunity to work with the original designers of the course as well as experts, such as Professor Michael Mann, director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center.

Dr. Michael E. Mann will participate in the workshop to share current understandings on climate change science, communication, and his perspectives on the ethics of climate change.

It is well-known that Penn State boasts some of the world’s top climate scientists, with researchers like Mann working on glaciers, climate modeling, impacts on ecosystems, and much more. But the University is also home to scholars considering the many ethical issues at play with such a complex phenomenon.

In 2018 a new course, cross-listed with Philosophy, Meteorology, and Religious Studies, was approved as part of Penn State’s new Integrative Learning initiative. The course is designed to take advantage of Penn State as a “living lab” by incorporating both site visits and also lectures from faculty members. In this way, the class is truly interdisciplinary, as professors from Psychology, Geography, Meteorology, Engineering, and many other fields take part in the instruction. This also has the advantage of ensuring that the lead teaching does not have to be an expert in all the various disciplines involved.

With climate change increasingly in the news, students have flocked to the class. Even science majors have enjoyed the review of the science, which emphasizes systematic thinking that integrates contributions by chemistry, geosciences, biology and other disciplines. The ethics unit provides students with pragmatic tools for addressing the challenges of climate change, culminating in a “conversation project” where students lead, and then analyze, a discussion.

A mock international negotiation helps to integrate science and ethics, as students undertake research on several countries to understand specific challenges facing the world community. In this way, the class transcends partisan issues, pointing out that climate change is an issue that faces the international community, not just the United States.

The workshop is open to faculty members of any rank from every campus, including University Park. Participants receive a small stipend and individualized guidance that will extend beyond the two-day workshop. Meals and housing are covered, and there is no registration fee. For more information, contact Jonathan Brockopp (brockopp@psu.edu) or Peter Buckland (pdb118@psu.edu; 814-865-7445); or go to the registration page: http://sustainability.psu.edu/webform/sustainability-curriculum-workshop-registration



  1. Any chance you could offer this as an online course for professors around the US?

    • Hi Julie,
      We could think about that. Where are you located and what sort of platform or system would you be interested in?

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