Module 2: Ethics, Justice, and Responsibility

Summary of Module

The concept of the Anthropocene suggests that humans have become primary environmental agents in transforming the earth and its geological and biological systems. This leads us to ask ourselves a few important questions. Are we all equally responsible for these changes? How have different peoples contributed differently to large-scale environmental change over the centuries? How should we respond to the challenges we face? Who should respond? What populations might be most threated by the Anthropocene? Who might the Anthropocene benefit? How do our ethical systems and moral frameworks shape our responses to the Anthropocene? How does our understanding of justice interact with our economic and political systems? These are just a few key questions that we need to ask as we reflect critically on the various and uneven experiences of the Anthropocene.


justice, responsibility, care, Capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, uneven development, racial geographies, accumulation, extraction, stewardship, green grabbing, green washing, Spaceship Earth, planetary thinking, species being, Earthly relations, Gaia, Cthulucene, anthropocentrism, intergenerational justice

Learning Outcomes (beginner, intermediate, advanced)

After completing this module, readers will be able

  • to compare and contrast several prominent ethical responses to the Anthropocene
  • to define the concept of “climate justice” and explain how it shapes various arguments about how to respond to climate change
  • to explain how histories of race and empire reshape our understanding of the Anthropocene as both a concept and a phenomenon
  • to construct a model of key ethical themes in the debates over the Anthropocene
  • to evaluate how our conceptualization of the Anthropocene also shapes our responses and attitudes towards it
  • to compare and contrast ethical frameworks and assess the degree to which they move beyond “business as usual” arguments and provoke more radical questions about the nature of justice, equity, and responsibility


Beginner Questions, Readings, and Activities
  • What are the primary effects of climate change on Bangladesh, and what does it mean to the people who live there?
  • How do different groups conceive the relationship between climate justice and human rights?
  • How have religious leaders responded to climate change, and how do they frame the relationship between morality and responsibility to the planet?
  • International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC). “Key Issues.” IIPFCC, 2008. .
  • Thomas Black, Sara, Richard Anthony Milligan, and Nik Heynen. “Solidarity in Climate/Immigrant Justice Direct Action: Lessons from Movements in the US South.” International Journal of Urban & Regional Research 40, no. 2 (2016): 284–98.
  • U.S. Intelligence Warns Against Security Implications of Leaving Paris Accord.” Accessed October 7, 2017. 

Create a list of all of the effects of climate change that you have encountered in your reading. In reflecting on these challenges, what policy responses do you think would be environmentally just and ethical?

Intermediate Questions, Readings, and Activities
  • How do histories of race and empire reshape our understanding of the Anthropocene as both a concept and a phenomenon?
  • What are the key ethical themes that are emerging in discourse about the Anthropocene?
  • In what ways do ethics and our notions of environmental justice matter in shaping our responses to the Anthropocene?

Create a list of the new concepts that you have encountered in your readings (e.g. Cthulucene, multispecies common worlds, etc.) and explain how they necessitate different ethical frameworks and stances.

Advanced Questions, Readings, and Activities
  • What are “multinatural ontologies,” and how do they open up new spaces for environmental ethical inquiry?
  • In what ways might universalist ethical narratives be in conflict with the diverse experiences, histories, worldviews, and lived realities of peoples around the globe?

Create a concept map that illustrates the multiple approaches to environmental justice that you have encountered in your readings. What concepts are missing and how would they alter the interpretation in the texts that you have read?