The effects of hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, wildfires in California, water contamination in Flint, Michigan, and drought in Cape Town, South Africa are among many recent environmental events that have received extensive public and media attention. Each of these examples also illustrates how environmental stresses and environmental exposures often have uneven impacts across communities, households, and social groups.
This course introduces foundational and contemporary modes of thinking about the relations between environment, society, and justice. Situating environmental issues and challenges within the context of a highly unequal and rapidly changing world, the course demonstrates how dynamic political, economic, and technological contexts can amplify environmental inequalities yet also present opportunities for transformative responses.
In the first section, we will explore “classical” approaches to thinking about the relationship between nature and society, with a focus on the social inequalities and environmental degradation generated by such approaches. In the second section, we will examine alternative approaches ranging from 20th century environmentalism to critical political economy to environmental justice frameworks. Finally, in the third section we will consider the interwoven problems of waste management, resource extraction, and climate change.
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