POL S 384 A: Global Environmental Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:00am - 11:20am
KNE 220
Joint Sections: 
Karen Litfin
Karen Litfin

Syllabus Description:

                Professor Karen Litfin                Office hours: Tu 1:30-2:30 pm, W 12-2 pm or by appt.

                Email:  litfin@uw.edu                   Office:  Gowen 33

               Teaching Assistants:  Brian Huang  bphuang@uw.edu   (Sections AA and AB)

                                                                 Lizzy Barker ebarker1@uw.edu   (Sections AC and AD)

What We Will Study

Global problems like climate change, the mass extinction of species, ozone depletion, etc. cry out for unprecedented levels of international innovation and cooperation yet traditional political institutions seem inadequate to the task at hand. In this course, we will study a range of intergovernmental, nongovernmental and business responses to the challenges posed by global ecological interdependence, with a strong emphasis on North/South relations. We will also "bring the material home" by exploring how these global problems challenge our sense of human identity, ethical responsibility, and personal efficacy. The dawning of the Anthropocene, the new geological era in which humanity is operating as a planetary force, compels us to ask not only, "What on Earth are we doing?" but even more fundamentally, "What on Earth are we?" The course integrates objective learning, subjective experience and a group action project.

What You Will Learn

If you participate actively in this course, including grasping content from lectures; readings and videos, engaging yourself dynamically in quiz sections; collaborating on an innovative group action project; and writing thoughtful blog posts and papers, I expect that you will improve your skillfulness in many arenas, most especially the following:

  • Critical thinking skills about the interpenetration of global human and ecological systems
  • Your ability to articulate ideas and feelings about these issues, in writing and conversation
  • Your capacity for collaborative learning
  • Your sense of social and political agency
  • A deeper sense of what it means to be a human being living at this moment in history

What You Will Do

Participation:  What you learn depends upon what you do. Please bring your full presence to lectures and quiz sections, having read the associated materials beforehand. You will read 100-150 pages per week. Please, no    laptops or other electronic distractions during class time!

Service Learning option: If you do service learning, you will work 20-40    hours during the quarter for a local environmental agency or organization.  You will write a 3-4 page mid-quarter assessment and a 4-5 page final           synthesis of your experience.

Research paper option: Students will write a 3-page proposal. Final papers will be 8-10 including bibliography. “W” credit is optional.

Action project option: Students will collaborate in groups of five to bring their learning to the larger polis. Groups will submit a 3-page group proposal and each student will submit a final 4-5 page paper.

Footprint paper: This 3-4-page paper will help you to consider your lifestyle in light of global environmental resources and constraints.

Midterm: Multiple choice, true/false and short ID questions. October 22.

Final exam: Monday, December 9, 10:30-12:20

Course Grading

Participation          25%

Footprint paper    10%

Midterm                    10%

Midquarter paper  10%

Final paper                 25%

Final exam                  20%


Required Texts

Paul Wapner and Simon Nicholson (eds.), Global Environmental Politics: From Person to Planet (Paradigm Publishers, 2014). [WN]

Peter Stoett, Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance and Justice, SECOND EDITION. University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Online readings posted to Canvas

One of the following daily or weekly international environmental news sources: enn.com; npr.org/sections/environment/theguardian.com/us/environment;  or  http://grist.org

Recommended Texts

Pamela Chasek and David Downie, Global Environmental Politics, Seventh Edition (Westview Press, 2016).

David Ciplet, et al. Power in a Warming World: The Global Politics of Climate Change and the Remaking of Environmental Inequality. The MIT Press, 2015.

Olaf Corry and Hayley Stevenson, eds. Traditions and trends in global environmental politics: international relations and the earth. Routledge, 2018.

Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World (Penguin, 2008).

Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (Longman, 2000).

Paul Hawken, Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. Penguin, 2017).

Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch (eds.), The Post Carbon Reader (University of California Press, 2010).

Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (Island Press, 2008).

Sikhina Jinna and Simon Nicholson, eds. New Earth Politics: Essays from the Anthropocene. MIT Press, 2016.

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Simon and Schuster, 2014).

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Henry Holt, 2014).

Sheryl R. Lightfoot. Global Indigenous Politics: A Subtle Revolution. Routledge, 2016.

Karen Litfin, Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community (Polity, 2014).

Joanna Macy, Active Hope: How the Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy (New World Library, 2012).

Kari Norgaard, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life (MIT Press, 2011).

Christian Parenti and Jason W. Moore. Anthropocene or capitalocene?: nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. PM Press, 2016.

Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates and Ken Conca (eds.), Confronting Consumption (MIT Press, 2002).

Sharon J Ridgeway and Peter J Jacques. Power of the Talking Stick: Indigenous Politics and the World Ecological Crisis. Taylor and Francis, 2015.

Stuart Rosewarne. Climate action upsurge: the ethnography of climate movement politics. Routledge, 2014.

Paul Steinberg. Who Rules the Earth? How Social Rules Shape Our Planet and Our Lives. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Paul Wapner. Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism. MIT Press, 2013.


Service Learning Option

Because one premise of this course is that a comprehensive approach to global problems must incorporate their personal and local dimensions, you may wish to integrate a hands-on experience into your course work. The Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center and I have chosen several local organizations where you can do so. Service-learning generally requires a minimum commitment of three hours each week. Students are expected to commit from the second week of the quarter through the last week of classes. Service-learning is seen as an essential “text” in your class; you are expected to reflect upon,and integrate the service-learning into your classroom experience . Building authentic relationships and consistent, weekly engagement with your community partner organization are essential components of successfully completing your service-learning.

To browse and register for positions, please follow the links found on the Carlson Center websiteBe sure to consider timing and transportation when you make your choice. Registration opens at 8AM on Friday, September 27 and will close at 5PM on Friday, October 4. You’re more likely to get your first choice if you register early!

Once your registration is confirmed, be proactive in contacting your organization to either 1) schedule an orientation or 2) confirm your attendance at an already scheduled orientation session. Carlson Center staff are available Monday-Friday 9-5 in MGH 171 to assist you. You may also email serve@uw.edu or call 206.616.2885.

If you have an existing relationship as a volunteer with a relevant organization, you might want to consider self-placement.  Please find approval instructions here

At mid-quarter, you will write a 3-4 page assessment of your service learning experience. You will also write a 4-5 page final paper integrating your service learning experience with the themes of the course.

Group Action Project Option

Like service learning, these projects take your in-class learning into the public sphere but they are also different in that they are self-initiated and self-implemented by a group of five students. They therefore generally entail more creativity, democratic deliberation, and agency.  The group’s purpose is threefold. First, it will help members assimilate and deepen their connection to the course material in a smaller social setting than in lecture or quiz section. Second, groups may wish to experiment with contemplative practices—either those introduced in class or others. Third, and most importantly, action groups will engage in a community service or educational project that they decide upon and implement collectively. 

Projects might be part of an existing endeavor or it might be entirely your group’s own creation. Either way, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with existing initiatives that your group might consider supporting. Whether the project is an educational effort, an artistic creation, a contribution to an existing initiative, or a simple act of service, it should have a political dimension. The point of this assignment is to somehow bring your group's concerns to the polis.

Action groups will meet with me before submitting their project proposal at the end of Week 3. The proposal is a group submission but final synthesis papers will be individual submissions. 

Research Papers Option

If you choose to write a research paper, you will first write a 3-page research proposal outlining your research question, how you will go about answering it, and citing at least five authoritative sources on your topic. Your question should be relevant to course themes and its scope should be within reason for a 7-9 page paper. Your paper may be theoretical or empirical, or both. You may approach your question through a range of methodologies: case study, comparative case study, quantitative analysis, or theoretical inquiry. Be sure to justify why you have chosen a specific approach. I will distribute a research paper writing guide.

You are encouraged to discuss your topic with your TA or me before writing your research proposal. Our feedback on your proposal will offer you some guidance in the research and writing stage of your project. Your paper will be evaluated on the basis of coherence, organization, clarity, thoroughness, grammar and style, as well as your responsiveness to your TA’s feedback. You will do better and have more fun if you choose a topic that truly engages your curiosity and excitement, so please choose wisely.


Modes of Communication

I generally check my Canvas inbox only a couple times a week so the best way to reach me is by email, which I check daily. During the week, I will make every effort to get back to you within 24 hours; on weekends, it could be 48 hours. I enjoy meeting students one-on-one. If you cannot make my office hours, I’ll work with you to find a time that works for both of us. If this is challenging, we can find a time to meet via Zoom teleconference.

Late papers and missed exams

Late papers are not accepted without a medical excuse. All requests on these matters must be made through me, preferably before the due date.  Similarly, a missed exam can only be made up if you have a written medical excuse. No exceptions will be made for holiday travel before our final exam date.

About plagiarism

In our society, taking another person’s words or ideas and passing them off as one’s own is a form of theft—so please do not succumb to this temptation! Any direct quote should be placed in quotation marks and cited appropriately; likewise, any ideas or paraphrasing of another author’s thoughts or information should be attributed to that author. When in doubt, cite! A good rule of thumb is to never cut and paste from an online source into your own paper.

The same tools that make it easy for students to plagiarize in today’s information age also make it easy for instructors to detect plagiarism. And, even if one is not caught, any marginal benefit gained is greatly outweighed by the harm inflicted upon one’s own character. In a nutshell, the university’s rules on plagiarism will be strictly enforced in this class. The UW Library provides a good definition and an overview of ten types of plagiarism.

Grade Appeals

If you wish to contest a grade, please follow the steps listed below:

  1. Carefully read and consider all comments. Wait 24 hours before contacting your TA.
  2. Provide a written statement to your TA within one week of receiving your grade, explaining your reason(s) for contesting it and why you deserve an alternate grade.
  3. Bring the exam/paper in question, along with a copy of your statement, to your TA during office hours (or by appointment). S/he will reread the material, regrade it if appropriate, and return it to you with comments during the first quiz section of the following week.
  4. If you are dissatisfied with your TA’s response, you may bring the matter to me. Please note that I may decide that the assignment merits a lower grade.

Note: When an exam or paper is “re-graded” it will be completely reevaluated, which means that your grade can go up or down as a result.

Disabled Student Provisions

If you wish to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, 543-8924.  If you have letter from DSS indicating that you have a disability that requires special accommodations, please present it to me.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available here.  Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request Form.  

Mental Health Resources

As a student, you may experience a range of challenges that can interfere with learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, substance use, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may diminish your academic performance and/or reduce your ability to engage with others inside and outside of the classroom. Counseling services are available and treatment does work. You can learn more about UW health & wellness services by contacting Student Coaching and Care at livewell@uw.edu or 206.543.6085. You might also benefit from the mindfulness resources available on campus and beyond.


Catalog Description: 
Examines the globalization of environmental problems, including climate change, ozone depletion, and loss of biodiversity, as well as the globalization of political responses to these problems within the framework of globalization as set of interlinked economic, technological, cultural, and political processes. Offered: jointly with ENVIR 384.
Department Requirements: 
International Relations Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm