Next Gen Climate Ed - What's new for you?

Last week I jumped into MIT's Festival of Learning to check out the latest thinking on educating the next generation.  Lots of inspiration - as well as challenges!   Very encouraging that MIT is looking to revise its first-year undergraduate experience for the first time since 1964 (see here). 

Many of the insights from the "Faculty Lightening Round" (representing all 5 of MIT's schools) can be applied to climate education. The "flipped classroom," for example, seems even more relevant to climate education than ever - encouraging students to get teachers' lectures outside the classroom (most likely online) and devote in-person time to working with other students to apply knoweldge to solving problems that are meaningful to them.  I also ran into Professor David McGee whose Terrascope seminars for freshmen are an outstanding model of putting students in charge of their own learning, in community.  Terrascope's "big issue" this year is climate change.

What's new in your neck of the woods?  What courses, semiars or workshops do you think could help us make a quantum leap to climate action faster, with greater impact?  I noticed on bulletin boards around MIT two that definitely fit that bill

  1. The Ethics of Climate Change; and 
  2. Solving for Carbon Neutrality at MIT.

Let the ClimateX community know what you're spotting in your area!




Rick Shankman's picture

MIT 24.07 - The Ethics of

MIT 24.07 - The Ethics of Climate Change

"Deals with ethical questions raised by the way in which our climate is changing as a result of fossil fuel consumption.  Explores the moral problems raised by these effects, the obligations of individuals and governments, the difficulties involved in dealing with uncertainty, catastrophe, and the ethics of future generations."

Required Textbooks:

Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World by Broome, John

Let's take a closer look at Dr. John Broome (Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at University of Oxford)...

The Public and Private Morality of Climate Change
JOHN BROOME - The Tanner Lectures on Human Values

"Justice and Goodness in Public and Private Morality

I am now going to apply this distinction among sorts of duty to the moral duties that arise from climate change.  My first point is that the relative importance of justice and goodness differs between private morality and public morality.  Justice is relatively more important for private morality, goodness relatively more important for public morality.  Indeed, I shall argue that the private morality of climate change is governed entirely by the duty of justice, whereas public morality is also aimed at goodness. 

Why do I say this?  For two main reasons.  The first is known as the “nonidentity problem.”  It was made prominent by the philosopher Derek Parfit.  Remember that a duty of justice is [only] owed to particular people, who have a right to its performance.  Take a particular person who is alive 150 years from now—call her “Sarah.”  Suppose Sarah’s life is not very good because we, the current generation, allow climate change to go unchecked.  Could she claim we do her an injustice by our profligacy?  Could she say she has a right to a better life, which we deny her by emitting so much greenhouse gas?  She could not, for a reason I shall now explain.

Suppose we were instead to take the trouble to reduce our emissions.  By “we” I am referring to the present generation either in the whole world or within a particular nation. We would live lives of a different sort.  The richer among us would travel less by car and plane and buy fewer consumer goods.  The poorer would find farming easier and find less need to migrate to the cities; they would also find less need to move to higher ground to escape from the rising sea.  There would be many other differences. Indeed, everyone’s life would be different.  Consequently, many people would have babies with different partners. Even those who would have the same partner as they actually do have would conceive their babies at different times.

The identity of a person depends on the sperm and egg she originates from.  No one could have come from a different egg or a different sperm from the one she actually does come from.  To put it differently: anyone who originated from a different sperm or a different egg would be a different personConsequently, even the slightest variation in the timing of conception makes a different personA slight change in a couple’s lives means that they conceive different people. Were we to significantly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gas, it would change the lives of nearly everyone in the world.  Within a couple of generations, the entire population of the world would consist of different people.  Call this the “nonidentity effect.”

Our Sarah would therefore not exist at all, were we to take the trouble to reduce our emissionsIf she would not even exist were we to reduce our emissions, she cannot plausibly claim she had a right to a better life, which we violate by not doing soWe could not give Sarah a better life by emitting less gas, so we do not violate a right of hers by emitting profligately.  Suppose we did owe a duty to Sarah to reduce emissions.  Were we to carry out this duty, there would be no Sarah and therefore no duty.  It would be a duty that cannot be satisfied.  That makes no sense. We can conclude that our emissions do no injustice to Sarah.  The same goes for nearly everyone in her generation.

In a way, the nonidentity effect excuses us as a generation from a charge of injustice toward future generations.  Please do not think it excuses us from every moral duty to reduce emissions.  Our continued emissions make the lives of future generations much less good than they could be.  So they constitute a serious violation of our duty of goodness.  This is not in any way a minor violation of morality; making the world less good is a serious moral fault.  But it is not a violation of justice."

Yes, you really just read that.

"Climate Justice"... MIT 24.07 style!