LSJ 491 D: Special Topics in Rights

Spring 2022
T 1:30pm - 4:20pm / SIG 230
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
POL S 511 A , POL S 401 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

"Political Theory of the Climate Crisis"
Pol S 401/511/LSJ 491
University of Washington, Winter 2022


**Interim Reading Responses**

Zoom link for weekly sessions:

Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld,
Seminar: Tuesdays 1:30-4:20, SWS 230
Office: Gowen 35
Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30-3:00 pm, in person or by Zoom; Thursdays 11:30 am-12:30 pm, in person or by Zoom.

Overview:  In this seminar, we will study theoretical attempts to come to terms with the climate crisis. Among the questions we will consider: What policies are needed to address the climate crisis? Why has humanity failed to respond adequately to the crisis? What political forces have obstructed effective climate action, and how have they done so? How does the climate crisis raise questions of justice? Does democracy provide resources to meet this challenge?


A. You are expected to complete the readings on time and come prepared to discuss them in class. The texts are challenging, but also rewarding.  You will get the most out of them though careful, critical reading (and re-reading).

B. Seminar participation. 10% of your grade will be based on the quality of your contributions to class discussion. Shy students should make an effort to speak up.  Talkative students may need, in some instances, to practice restraint.  I am looking for regular, thoughtful class participation, informed by knowledge of the assigned readings.

C. Interim reading responses. (10% of total grade.) To encourage early engagement with the readings, I am requiring interim reading responses. No later than 5 pm Friday before our next meeting, you will submit a thoughtful response on Canvas to a portion of the assigned reading. I will announce the required minimum reading, but you can read more if you like. Please compose a two-paragraph response (or more if you like). The first paragraph should summarize a central argument in the text, and the second paragraph should formulate a thoughtful question, challenge, or observation concerning the argument. Students are free to respond to each other, but only if they want to.

D. Presentation. (20% of total grade.) Each student will give a presentation, roughly 5-7 minutes long, on the assigned reading. The presentation should analyze and critically engage the argument (or an important part of the argument). Your presentation will be based on a 3-4 page double-spaced paper, which you are required to submit on the date of your presentation.  Presentations will be evaluated on the basis of accuracy, clarity, organization, and independent and intelligent engagement with the author’s ideas. 

Your presentation should not be a mere summary, but instead an original argument relating to the reading.  Your argument may be interpretive (offering an illuminating understanding of the argument in the reading) or evaluative (offering a positive or critical assessment of the argument).  Or it may apply the argument to some issue or question not raised in the text.  Whatever type of presentation you choose, please articulate a clear position and defend it with relevant reasons and evidence. 

You may if you like fold the content of your presentation paper into one your major assignment (one of your two essays, your long paper, or your action project).

E. Major Assignment. (60% of your course grade.) For your major assignment, you may choose any one of the following three options.

  1. Two essays. Write two short (5-7 page) essays focused on the assigned readings.  The first essay is due on Friday, April 29, by 11:59 pm.  The second essay is due on Wednesday, June 8, by 11:59 pm.  A set of questions will be distributed approximately two weeks before the due date. 

  2. Long paper. Write a long paper (10-15 pages) in which you explore an issue in greater depth. You can base your paper on the assigned readings or on external reading or both. Your long paper is due on Wednesday, June 8, by 11:59 pm. You are also required to submit a prospectus on Friday, April 29, by 11:59 pm. Your prospectus should state the central question or problem of your paper, discuss how you will investigate it, provide a list of your intended sources, and sketch the argument you intend to make in your paper. (The prospectus will be 10% and your final paper 50% of your course grade.)

  3. Action project. Work on a project that seeks to make a positive contribution towards addressing the climate crisis or tackling climate injustice. This work should (almost certainly) be pursued in conjunction with an existing climate organization. The reward of this activity will largely consist in the experience of working with others on making a meaningful contribution to climate justice. For purposes of the seminar, you will compile a portfolio consisting of an initial proposal, updated proposal, weekly journal entries, and a final report and reflection. The final report and reflection may be submitted as a 6-10 page paper or in an alternative format, such as a blog series, podcast, video, or art project. Details or how to compile your portfolio will be spelled out in a separate document. You have the option of completing this assignment as a group project together with other students.

Turnitin.  The University has a license agreement with Turnitin, an educational tool that helps prevent or identify plagiarism from Internet resources. I will require students to submit all written assignments electronically to be checked by Turnitin. The Turnitin Report will indicate the amount of original text in your work and whether all material that you quoted, paraphrased, summarized, or used from another source is appropriately referenced.  Please submit all written assignments electronically via Canvas.

Texts:  Readings are drawn from four books, on sale at the University Book Store, and a series of articles posted on the course website or accessible online.  The four books are:

  • Leah Stokes, Short Circuiting Policy (2020)
  • Olufemi Taiwo, Reconsidering Reparations (2022)
  • Lance Bennett, Communicating the Future: Solutions for Environment, Economy and Democracy (2021)
  • Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, David Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: The Case for a Green New Deal (2019)

A recommended text, which will help you in this and other classes, is Mika and Danielle LaVaque-Manty, Writing in Political Science: A Brief Guide (2015).  The book provides smart advice for approaching college writing assignments of various kinds.

Grading: The course grade will rest on the following components.

  • Seminar participation: 10%
  • Interim reading responses: 10%
  • Presentation and presentation paper: 20%
  • Major assignment: 60%

Maintaining a Respectful Learning Environment: This course will lead us into discussion of controversial social and political topics.  It is important for discussion be open to a wide range of perspectives and for everyone to feel comfortable about participating.  Learning will be facilitated if all class participants work to engage in class discussions with respect and empathy for one another.  Contradictory views are encouraged, and can contribute to learning as long as everyone remains open to new information and willing to learn from people with different perspectives and life experiences.  It is essential to avoid inflammatory, derogatory and insulting words and personal attacks. Such conduct inhibits learning and prevents the free exchange of ideas.

Disability and Learning: Your experience in this class is important, and the instructors are committed to maintaining an inclusive and accessible learning environment. If you experience barriers based on disability, please seek a meeting with Disability Resources for Student (DRS) to discuss and address your concerns. If you have established accommodations with DRS, please communicate your approved accommodation to the relevant instructor(s) at your earliest convenience so we can accommodate your needs. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. You can contact DRS at, 011 Mary Gates Hall, 543-8924 (voice); 543-8925 (TDD).

Academic Integrity:  Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against academic integrity and are subject to disciplinary action by the University.  Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own (by not attributing it to its true source).  If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism:

Religious Accommodations. Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available here: Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.


(subject to revision)


March 29: Julia Rosen, “The Science of Climate Change Explained” (2021); Jonathan Watts, “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” (2018); EITHER David Wallace-Wells, “The Uninhabitable Earth” (2017) OR Bill McKibben, “This Is How Human Extinction Could Play Out” (2019); Paul Steinberg, “The Big Trade,” from Paul Steinberg, Who Rules the Earth? (2015); Washington Post editorial board, “Want a Green New Deal? Here’s a better one” (2019); Matto Mildenberger and Leah Stokes, “The Trouble with Carbon Pricing” (2020)

April 5: Leah Stokes, Short Circuiting Policy, chapters 1, 3, 6, 8, 9. Interim reading response: at least chapter 1.

April 12: Stephen Gardiner and Arthur Obst, Dialogues in Climate Justice, dialogues 1, 2, 4, and pages 222-28 from dialogue 6. Interim reading response: at least dialogue 1. Gardiner and Obst have kindly allowed us to see their forthcoming book in advance of publication. The manuscript is provided solely for our course. Please do not circulate any parts of it. To read the draft, please click on this link and then download. The password to access the document is JamieM2022.

**Tuesday, April 12, by 1:30 pm: Initial action project proposal is due, for those choosing the option.**

April 19: Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy (2009), pp. 1-21; Louis-Gaëtan Giraudet et al., “Deliberating on Climate Action: Insights from the French Citizens’ Convention for Climate” (2021).  Interim assignment: at least one of these two readings.

April 26: Nancy Fraser, “Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode” (2014), or read as PDF; Nancy Fraser, “Climates of Capital” (2021), or read as PDF. Interim reading response: at least one of these two articles.

** Friday, April 29: First essay, long paper prospectus, or updated action project proposal is due by 11:59 pm.**

May 3: Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, “The State Will Not Save Us” (2018); Alyssa Battistoni and Jedediah Britton-Purdy, “After Carbon Democracy” (2020); Adam Tooze, “Ecological Leninism: Adam Tooze on Andreas Malm’s post-pandemic climate politics” (2021). Optional: William Laurence, “Understanding Sunrise, Part I: Strategy” (2002)

May 10: Olufemi Taiwo, Reconsidering Reparations (2022), pp. 1-103.  Interim reading response: at least pp. 1-32.

May 17: Olufemi Taiwo, Reconsidering Reparations (2022), pp. 104-222.  Interim reading response: at least pp. 104-46.

May 24: Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, David Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: The Case for a Green New Deal (2019), pp. 1-100, 171-91. Pages 101-69 are optional. Interim reading response: at least pp. 1-34.

May 31: Final Presentations

**Wednesday, June 8. Second essay or long paper is due by 11:59 pm.**




Catalog Description:
Focused, comparative examination of topics in rights.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
July 11, 2024 - 5:47 am