POL S 384 A: Global Environmental Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
Karen Litfin
Karen Litfin

Syllabus Description:

Professor Karen Litfin, litfin@uw.edu   Office hours:  M 12:30-2:30 or by appt. here

Class meetings: Tu/Th 11:30-12:50 on Zoom: 934 1523 9116 (password: GEP)  

Syllabus, assignments, and other course materials on Canvas

Teaching Assistants:
Nela Mrchkovska nelam@uw.edu (AA & AB) Office Hours: T 3-4pm, Th 10-11am

Brian Huang bphuang@uw.edu (AC & AD) Office Hours: M 10-11 a.m., Th 1-2 p.m. Zoom  

What We Will Study

Global problems like climate change, the mass extinction of species, pandemics, ozone depletion, etc. cry out for unprecedented levels of international innovation and cooperation yet traditional political institutions seem inadequate to the task. 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 multiple dimensions of learning: objective, subjective, intersubjective, contemplative, and hands-on.  Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering this course online for the first time, blending synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

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 pivotal moment in human and planetary history

What You Will Do

Participation:  What you learn depends upon what you do. Please bring       your full presence to classes and quiz sections, having read and watched      the associated materials beforehand. You should expect to watch 2-4 short  (15-20 minute) prerecorded lectures and read roughly 60-100 pages per week. 

Footprint paper: This 3-4-page paper will help you to consider your lifestyle in light of living systems theory, sustainability, and politics.

Biweekly quizzes: These short (15-minute) quizzes will primarily test your understanding of lectures and readings. You will receive the highest three grades out of four quizzes.

Midquarter Paper: This short paper (3 pages) will give you the opportunity to report on your group project (or, in a few cases, service learning) and reflect on its potential significance in light of living systems theory. 

Action project, book club or service learning: Students will collaborate in groups of five to bring their learning to the larger polis. Book clubs and action teams will meet on Thursdays during class. All teams will post an engaging 10-minute online presentation about their project in the last week of class. Service learning is available to students who cannot attend regular class sessions and are not expected to do a group presentation. 

Final paper: A 5-6 page essay synthesizing what you learned from your group’s project and the course as a whole.

        Course Grading

Participation               20%

Footprint paper        10%

Online quizzes           30%  (highest 3 grades out of 4)

Midquarter paper.   10%

Group presentation  10%

Final paper                    20%


Required Texts

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

All other readings will be posted to the Canvas Course Calendar (see Navigation column on the far left.)

One of the following daily or weekly international environmental news sources: enn.com; npr.org/sections/environment/theguardian.com/us/environmenthttp://grist.org; https://www.ourdailyplanet.com/ or https://www.nytimes.com/section/climate. We will discuss relevant news stories in class.

The New York Times offer students a special digital subscription to the paper for as little as $1 a week. This steeply discounted price is available to all UW students who visit our campus URL at www.nytimes.com/uwashington.  


Accessing Course Materials

ALL COURSE MATERIALS, INCLUDING CLASS RECORDINGS, WILL BE POSTED TO THE COURSE CALENDAR. UW has released more information on course accessibility for students living in another country.  The page below mentions, for example, that load times for Canvas will be affected in China, but it is nevertheless available.  However, UW recommends against using the Chinese version of Zoom and directs students and instructors to use only UW Zoom. 

*  A note about the syllabus and time management in these uncertain times  *

Because we are working together during a pandemic, I want to empower you to do well in this course by prioritizing and maintaining the appropriate level of engagement. I understand that you will be logging in from different places, time zones, and countries. Many of you are facing enormous difficulties right now with your own health and the health of those you love.  I know that some of you are also potentially facing precarious economic challenges personally or in your family.  At the same time, I can’t think of a more exciting and consequential time to be part of a learning community dedicated to studying global environmental politics.

I therefore offer you a rich syllabus knowing that some of you will have the time and inclination to do a deep dive while others will need to do the minimum. At a minimum, I expect you to watch all online lectures and do the required readings and videos (including the contemplative practices, which I believe you’ll enjoy.)  Beginning in the second week of the quarter, you should expect to spend at least an hour each week outside of class on your group project. Readings and assignments for this class are significantly lighter than previous versions of this course.  While a 5-credit course is generally expected to require 15 hours of work per week, I estimate that most students will spend 10 hours per week on this course. The following is a rough breakdown of how you will most likely spend your time.

Class time (including group project meetings)  3.5 hours

Readings & prerecorded lectures    3 hours

Group project                     2 hours

Papers & quizzes           1.5 hours


Course Lectures and Sessions

While we will meet on Zoom during our regular class time, you will be learning both synchronously and asynchronously. We will devote Tuesdays to synchronous lectures, with the balance of our lectures being prerecorded and posted to the course calendar.  On Thursdays, we will discuss global environmental news stories, meet in small groups, and engage in contemplative practice. Class sessions will be held in the Zoom Meeting room 934 1523 9116 (password: GEP), which is posted to the course calendar. The course is being recorded and will be available for later playback only to students taking the course. Please do your best to watch and read the relevant materials before class. I understand that this might not always be possible – just do your best!

Having said that, one of my primary course objectives is to create a strong learning community for all of us, which I believe happens best in face-to-face interaction. Personally, I find it difficult to speak coherently and authentically to a screen of tiny black boxes. I also believe you will experience a greater sense of connection and solidarity from seeing and hearing one another. I therefore encourage you to share your video settings whenever possible, especially in breakout sessions, which will happen in most class sessions.

Group Action Projects (teams of 5, minimum of 2 hours/week)

I have spent a much of the summer working with about twenty environmental NGOs to design group action projects for most of you. These projects offer a creative hands-on collaborative learning experience and an opportunity to enjoy a sense of personal efficacy and group solidarity in the face of potentially daunting problems like climate change and the extinction crisis. You will work online on teams of five. One silver lining of the pandemic is that we are now able to work with major national organizations in unprecedented ways that amplify our efficacy. You will have time on Thursdays during class for weekly group meetings.  Please plan on devoting a minimum of two hours per week outside of class to your action project. Projects should grow out of a fair and sensible division of labor and be complete by December 4. Each group will present a short video to the entire class during the last week of class. 

In lieu of a group action project

I realize that a handful of students in distant time zones will be working entirely asynchronously and therefore be unable to attend group meetings. Thanks to the Carlson Center, these students will have the opportunity to do service learning on an individual basis.  You many explore service learning placements here. 

I also realize that some students will have a strong preference for reading rather than engaging in civic action, in which case you have the option of self-organizing into a team of five and forming a book club around one of the following titles:

Sarah Jaquette Ray. A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. University of California Press, 2020.

Clive Hamilton. Defiant Earth. Polity Press, 2017.

Charles Eisenstein. Climate: a New Story. North Atlantic Books, 2018.

adrienne maree brown. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK Press, 2017. 

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

Final presentations and papers

Each group will make a short presentation to the entire class about their team’s project during the last week of classes. Most of your group’s meetings will occur during on Thursdays during class. Details to follow! You will write a final 4-5 page paper integrating what you learn from the team experience with what you have learned from the rest of the course. Final papers will be due on Monday, December 14. 

Late papers

In general, I do not accept late papers without a medical excuse. Under the current circumstances, this seems unreasonable. Nonetheless, please do your best to submit your papers on time. If you can foresee that you will need an extension, please email me as far in advance of the due date as you can manage.

Recommended Texts

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

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.

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.

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. For paper submissions in this course, Turnitin's SimCheck plagiarism detector will be enabled.

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, 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: 
July 15, 2020 - 2:01am