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Climate Ethics (PHIL90029)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codePHIL90029
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

This subject will introduce you to the challenging philosophical issues raised by climate change. We will cover some of the following questions: is climate change a Tragedy of the Commons? Do our individual GHG emissions do harm? If they do not, do we have any reason to restrain our emissions? What is the non-identity problem, and how seriously should we take it? Does climate change have differential impacts on women and people of colour, and if so, what implications does that have for climate responsibilities? How should the burden of reducing global emissions be shared among states? What is the precautionary principle, and what does it tell us to do about climate change? What is the relative importance of action against climate change compared against other morally important goals? What (if anything) is wrong with geoengineering? What psychological obstacles get in the way of individual action on climate change? In this subject you'll learn both how to defend and criticize arguments relating to climate ethics and environmental activism, and how to articulate what actions might be required of individuals, companies, and states to mitigate climate change.

Please note: this is a research seminar, not a lectured course. We'll read two papers a week and discuss them together, structured around brief student summaries & criticisms.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who complete this subject will:

  • Understand philosophical treatments of our moral obligations to preserve the environment
  • Understand important conceptual distinctions between different ways in which the environment has value
  • Appreciate the difficulties associated with weighing environmental obligations against competing obligations and permissions;
  • Understand the moral significance of the difference between individual and collective action

Eligibility and requirements


This subject is available to students admitted into any Masters by Coursework programme at the University of Melbourne.



Non-allowed subjects


Core participation requirements

The University of Melbourne is committed to providing students with reasonable adjustments to assessment and participation under the Disability Standards for Education (2005), and the Assessment and Results Policy (MPF1326). Students are expected to meet the core participation requirements for their course. These can be viewed under Entry and Participation Requirements for the course outlines in the Handbook.

Further details on how to seek academic adjustments can be found on the Student Equity and Disability Support website: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/student-equity/home



  • A 1000 word short answer essay due mid semester (20%)
  • A 4000 word final essay, due at the end of semester (80%)

Hurdle requirement:

  • Students must attend a minimum of 80% of classes in order to pass this subject.

Dates & times

  • Semester 2
    Principal coordinatorHolly Lawford-Smith
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours24 hours: 1x2-hr seminar per week for 12 weeks
    Total time commitment170 hours
    Teaching period29 July 2019 to 27 October 2019
    Last self-enrol date 9 August 2019
    Census date31 August 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail27 September 2019
    Assessment period ends22 November 2019

    Semester 2 contact information

Time commitment details

170 Hours

Further information

Last updated: 14 August 2019