Seeking the Good Life at the End of the World: Sustainability in the 21st Century
What does it mean to live "the good life" in a time of rapid climate changes, mass extinction of plant and animal species, and the increasing pollution of our oceans, atmosphere, and soils? Is it possible to live sustainably, as individuals and societies, in what scientists are calling the Anthropocene, or this new epoch of human influence over the planet? Will sustainability require that we sacrifice the gains humanity has made in our quality of life? Or can we find a way to create a good Anthropocene? This course will attempt to answer these questions in four ways:
- By providing an overview of sustainability science, both what it says about human and natural systems and how it comes to make these claims
- By examining various conceptions of the good life, both individual and social, and how they intersect with the findings of sustainability science
- By exploring the conflicts that exist within and between differing visions of sustainability and the good life through case studies in energy, water, and food
- By pursuing collaborative research projects that will help students apply their knowledge and skills to current problems in sustainability studies
We will read widely in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to understand a range of historical and contemporary perspectives on these questions, and in doing so we will put abstract ethical principles into conversation with a diversity of specific cultures and environments. By the end of the course, students will have examined their own assumptions about personal and professional happiness, considered how these align with and diverge from societal visions and values, and explored innovative solutions to help sustain our productive economy and our planet.