Karen Litfin



ENVIR 100: Environmental Foundations

We face a paradox: while we need nature for our physical and psychological wellbeing, we are also degrading and destroying it. Where? How? Why? These questions comprise part of the field of environmental studies. They lead to hard interdisciplinary problems.  In turn, solutions involve understanding the science – the science, for example, behind biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles and ocean acidification. Solutions involve understanding people’s environmental values and where such values come from.  Solutions involve knowledge of economics, political theory, demography, evolutionary biology, history, philosophy, genetics, law – the list keeps going and going.  Solutions range in scale from local to global, and can span time periods short and long. 

This course offers an introduction to all of the above – to environmental studies, broadly conceived. You will be asked to integrate material from many different academic disciplines and apply those insights and methods to actual problems and situations, at scales from the local to the global. You will have the opportunity to discuss and debate ideas in lecture and in section; this work will culminate with a poster symposium. Your learning will be evaluated with exams, short writing assignments, a poster project, and class participation. 

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POL S/ENVIR 384: Global Environmental Politics

Large-scale environmental problems, whose resolution calls for unprecedented levels of international cooperation, pose numerous challenges to traditional political institutions and theories of world politics. This course will examine several international regimes: whaling, ozone depletion, toxic waste trade, and global warming. Do these issues enhance the prospects for coopera ­ tion among nations, particular ­ ly between North and South? Are existing institu ­ tions adequate to the challenge of global ecological interdependence? To what extent are non-state actors altering the world political system? How does ecological interdependence challenge our sense of personal identity and ethical responsibility? How does all of this affect you personally? This course will address these questions and more.

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POL S 203: Introduction to International Relations

World politics in the new millennium poses unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Globalization – of the economy, of communication and transportation networks, of terrorism and of ecological destruction -- bind humanity together as never before. A core question for the present era is: How can our ethical perspectives and political institutions rise to the challenges posed by technologically-driven globalization? The post-Cold War era, it was believed, would hold great promise for enhanced economic and military cooperation, and a "new world order" of liberal values and collective security. While some strides have been made toward these goals, enormous problems remain, including vast economic disparities between the Global North and the Global South, imminent global climate change, petroleum politics, the “War on Terrorism.” This course will focus on these four interrelated issues, viewing them through the lenses of the fundamental theories of international relations and relating them to our own lives as consumers and as citizens. The two central purposes of the course are: (1) to enable you to think theoretically about world politics; and (2) to explore the meaning of globalization in the context of real people's lives -- including your own. You should leave this course with a stronger awareness of yourself as an active participant in an unfolding human process.

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POL S 385/ENVIR 385: Political Ecology of the World Food System

This course will address these questions and more: Where does our food come from? What are the social, political and environmental roots and consequences of current agricultural practices? Who wins and who loses? To what extent are non-state actors altering the world political system? How does our planetary food web challenge our sense of personal identity and ethical responsibility? In particular, we will focus on the pivotal role of petroleum in the world food system, the political consequences of disrupting the global carbon and nitrogen cycles, the questions of meat and genetically modified food, and new social movements focusing on food.

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POL S 422: International Environmental Politics

Can existing institutions respond adequately to the challenge of global ecological interdependence? What are the underlying social, political and ethical roots of global environmental degradation? How does all of this play out in the context of global inequality and injustice? What challenges does global ecological interdependence pose with respect to our understandings of personal identity and ethical responsibility? This course will address all of these questions and more. This course will address these larger questions in light of recent practical efforts to deal with trans-boundary environmental problems like climate change, tropical deforestation, acid rain and ozone depletion. A significant part of the course will focus on some of the core principles and concepts relevant to the global ecological crisis, including modern notions of progress, efficiency and sufficiency, social hierarchy, anthropocentrism, individualism and holism, distancing, waste and sacrifice. We will also explore our personal relationships to global environmental issues, with an emphasis on consumption and waste. My deepest hope is to inspire your curiosity about and commitment to the unfoldment of human life on Earth.

Course Syllabus


POL S 525: International Environmental Law

The emergence of large-scale environmental problems, whose resolution may require an unprecedented level of international cooperation, poses numerous challenges to existing political institutions and traditional theories of world politics. This course will take up several theoreti­cal issues in light of international regimes for various environ­mental problems, including acid rain, ozone depletion, marine pollution, deforestation, and global warming. Do these "new" problems enhance the prospects for coopera­tion among nations, particular­ly between North and South? Can contempo­rary institu­tions respond adequately to the challenge of global ecological interdependence? How do existing monetary and trade regimes exacerbate and/or ameliorate environmental problems? To what extent can the empowerment of non-state actors be expected to stimulate changes in the world political system? This course will address all of these questions and more.

Course Syllabus