Community Questions, Global Answers, and the Ethics of Environmental Responsibility

Amos Nascimento, University of Washington Tacoma

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This page first made public: Oct 9, 2012


This environmental ethics course will explore local and practical environmental issues and concerns in the Puget Sound area and relate them to theoretical discussions on environmental ethics and global policies. At the practical level, students will be encouraged to interact with the local community as part of the bioregion and present their empirical perceptions and individual concerns about bioregional issues in the Puget Sound area with their peers. At the theoretical level, they will study key texts and concepts of the global contemporary debate on environmental ethics, focus on principles that aim at guiding collective actions - such as sustainability, conservation, and precaution - and discuss the importance of environmental responsibility. In both levels, students will be reflecting about the importance of communication in environmental, scientific, academic, and political processes.

Learning Goals

The main point of the course is to exercise the "ability to listen and hear with intellectual openness" and promote the idea that environmental responsibility could lead us beyond sustainability, enhancing our "ability to respond" to environmental issues.

General purpose, academic goals, and activities

  1. To establish individual or community interactions with local environments in the Puget Sound area;
  2. Use various tools and media to gather and present data about specific locations and personal interests;
  3. Consider current philosophical, political, and social issues related to environmental ethics;
  4. Study texts on philosophical ethics and is applications to environmental themes;
  5. Focus on communication, community and responsibility as key principles in environmental issues;
  6. Apply these principles through interactions with community members and stakeholders interested in environmental issues in the Puget Sound region; and,
  7. Write a report, a project, or a final paper reflecting on the personal reflections, research, readings, discussions, and conclusions resulting from these activities.

Big Ideas:

Community: Students will interact with their communities, research on environmental issues in the bioregion, present their findings to their peers, and connect them to global ethical issues.

Communication: Students will reflect on their environmental interactions, scientific research, discussion of results with peers, and research project, realizing that all this requires communication.

Responsibility: Students will reflect on several philosophical ideas, focus on a few principles in environmental ethics, and consider the importance of environmental responsibility (beyond sustainability) as an "ability to respond" to practical environmental challenges and problems.

Context for Use

Bioregions are literally "life places" - defined by the intertwined natural and social systems upon which we rely for our well-being. Situating learning in our bioregion means encouraging students with the immediacy and significance of what is happening here, connecting classroom learning to local places, issues, people and practices.

Timeframe: This proposal can be developed in one day (a session) or throughout a longer period (quarter/semester).

This proposal presents both a course and an activity using the bioregion as a resource for environmental ethics. In both cases, the structure is similar, based on a communicative model.

The first part of both the class activity and the course is devoted to PRACTICAL QUESTIONS (fact gathering) related to the bioregion. Students are encouraged to define their environmental interests, listen and interact with others, and visit specific locations individually (near their homes and neighborhoods) and collectively (in locations assigned by the instructor). They are also requested to record their impressions about these visits by using different media (diaries, photos, recordings, interviews with people, etc) and then share this information with their peers.

The second part is THEORETICAL and focused on global ANSWERS. This part is based on technical readings on environmental ethics and discussions in the classroom, with opportunities to connect these discussions to the specific locations, people, and hands-on activities, and information gathered in the first part. The expectation is that through the activities students will be able to define which global environmental principles are more adequate to answer the bioregional questions asked during the first part and write reports and papers reflecting on all these answers.

Possible Use in Other Courses:
It may involve different disciplines such as philosophy, religion, history, environmental studies, biology, business, communication, and others.

Description and Teaching Materials

Class Activities

Two examples will be provided: one for a class activity and another for a course.

Visit to the Point Defiance Park
This activity is scalable.
There is room to invite a scientist or professional to collaborate in this activity.

See Description and Teaching Materials Tables, Table 1

Course: Bio-Regional Questions and Environmental Answers
  1. This current plan is proposed for a whole quarter, with two classes per week, totaling 5 hours/week.
  2. Lectures can be given by invited colleagues participating in the Curriculum for the Bioregion Initiative.
See Description and Teaching Materials Tables, Table 2


Interact with your environment and community, listen to community members, observe the environment, and gather facts about the bioregion. Then ask ONE PRACTICAL QUESTION you would like to discuss.

* This question is scalable:
  • It can be asked in one particular activity and be answered individually in a short report to be assigned as homework;
  • It may be asked in the first day of classes, and then again in the next two weeks, giving an opportunity for students to reflect on their themes and elaborate on this question before writing a proposal for a final papers.
Read and discuss the assigned texts, reflect on the points discussed in class, relate your practical question to the theoretical issues studied. Then search for ONE THEORETICAL ANSWER that seems adequate as a possible solution to your question and write a report.
  • Here, the answers may be given in several opportunities using reflections, journals, quizzes, and tests that motivate students to think about the best answers to their questions and start writing some ideas for a report or final paper.


  1. Completion of individual and group interactions with community members and community sites;
  2. Initial report (reflection on interactions on activity) or proposal or project to be developed in quarter;
  3. Participation in dialogue and activities;
  4. Reading of required and complementary texts;
  5. Presentation of research results and development of a research project based on them;
  6. Submission of a final report for the activity or a research paper for the class.


  1. Research in local community;
  2. Summary report or research project proposal.
  3. Journals, minutes, and reports showing student progress;
  4. Discussions, presentation of findings, peer-interactions, and peer-review;
  5. Report or research paper.

Description and Teaching Materials Tables (Acrobat (PDF) 48kB Nov7 11)
Global Frameworks for Environmental Justice: Searching for Global Responses to Global Problems (Microsoft Word 109kB Nov7 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Online Resources: The instructor may maintain a website to be accessed only by the participating students and other instructors.

Caution:The result of interactions with the community, such as interviews, pictures, and other documents can only be publicized if authorized by the persons involved. A form is available for such purpose and needs to be signed by the persons involved. Other issues not specified here will be discussed with the instructor.


Assessment will consider both the theoretical and practical processes and results of text readings, participation, timely completion of assignments, and completion of hands-on activities.


  1. Community interaction/engagement and participation in extra-class activities (20%);
  2. Assessment of activities/readings through reports, journals, and minutes (20%)
  3. Completion of activities using a key environmental ethics concept (20%)
  4. Communication/presentation of findings, peer-interactions project (20%);
  5. Final report or paper (10 pages/2,500 words) on the theme presented during activity/class (20%).
Informal assessments or feedback mechanisms, such as "classroom assessment" strategies
  1. Participation in discussions and activities;
  2. Individual reports, journals, and minutes;
  3. Other initiatives proposed by students.

References and Resources

References to Theoretical & Pedagogical Guidelines in Environmental Ethics

Collett, Jonathan, and Stephen Karakashian [Eds.] (1995) Greening the College Curriculum: A Guide to Environmental Teaching in the Liberal Arts (Washington, DC: Island Press).

Hargrove, Eugene (2000) "Toward Teaching Environmental Ethics: Exploring Problems in the Language of Evolving Social Values," Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 5(2000):114-133.

Keller, Gregory S.; Avery, Julian D., (2006) "How Teaching Institutions Can Help Conservation Biology," BioScience 56 (no.5, May 2006): 374-375 (2).

Light, Andrew, and Katz, Eric [Eds.] (1996) Environmental Pragmatism (New York: Routledge).

Maloof, Joan (2005) Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest (Athens: University of Georgia Press).

Palmer, Clare, [Ed.] (1992) Teaching Environmental Ethics (Leiden and Boston: Brill Academic Press).

Vitek, William, "Teaching Environmental Ethics," Teaching Philosophy 15 (no. 2):151-173. June 1992.

References on Bioregionalism

* References in and beyond the Northwest.

a) Curriculum for the Bioregion
(Compiled by the Washington Center:

b) Bioregionalism Report
(Compiled by Robert Thayer, Jr.:

c) Environment, Community, Bioregionalism

d) Bioregion Collection (Digital Archives - Oregon)

e) Pacific COSAT Bioregion of North America

f) World Resources Institute

g) Northwest Earth Institute

h) Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research

References on Environmental Ethics

* These lists offer a series of materials and approaches that could be used in this assignment.

a) Directory to the Subject Bibliographies in Environmental Ethics
(Compiled and edited by Timothy C. Weiskel in 1998 -

b) Bibliography on Environmental philosophy (ontology, aesthetics, ethics)
(Listed by the International Society of Environmental Ethics:

c) Bibliography on Environmental ethics by the Rock Ethics Institute
(At Penn State:

d) Bibliography on Environmental Racism
(Selected Bibliography by Irwing Weintraub:

e) Environmental History
(Available at:

f) Environmental Politics
(Prepared by Dave Roberson:

g) Environmental Theology
(Boston Univ.:


Local community partners:
- Pierce County and Chambers Creek Properties
- Fish & Wildlife Service; - Tacoma Parks & Recreation
- City of Tacoma Waterfront Project

- Local community partners
- Global networks (,
- International Society of Environmental Ethics (
- Others (,,)

Evergreen State College