LSJ 491 B: Special Topics in Rights

Winter 2024
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm / SMI 107
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
POL S 401 A , POL S 511 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Political Theory of the Climate Crisis
Advanced Seminar in Political Theory (Pol S 401/511/LSJ 491)
University of Washington, Winter 2024

**Reading quiz, January 29**
**First Short Essay Assignment**
**Long Paper Prospectus**
**Updated Proposal for Action Project**
**Action Project Instructions**
**Course Policy on ChatGPT and Other AI Text Generators**

Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld,
Seminar: MW 1:30-3:20, Smith 107
Office: Gowen 35
Office Hours: Tuesdays 1:30-3:00 pm; Fridays 11 am-12 pm. Visit in person, or by Zoom at

Overview:  In this seminar, we will study theoretical attempts to come to terms with the climate crisis. Among the questions we will consider: What is our responsibility to address the climate crisis? Why has humanity failed to respond adequately to the crisis? How does the climate crisis raise questions of justice? Does capitalism help or hinder responsible climate policy? Is socialism a better way? Does democracy provide resources to meet this challenge?


  1. 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).
  2. Discussion is an essential part of this course. Shy students must 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. Your course grade may be adjusted based on your quality of participation.

  3. Thoughtful questions and reading quiz.  (10% of your grade.) You are required to submit three “thoughtful questions” during the term.  Choose one of the assigned readings, and compose a two-paragraph response.  The first paragraph should summarize one of the author’s main arguments, and the second paragraph should formulate a thoughtful question or criticism elicited by the author’s argument.  The assignment is due at the beginning of the class in which the reading is discussed.  

    The first thoughtful question must be submitted on either January 8, 10, or 17.  The second must be submitted on either January 22, 24, or 31, or February 5, 7, 12, or 14.  The third must be submitted on either February 21, 26, or 28.  You may not submit a thoughtful question on the same day as your presentation.

    There will be a 30-minute reading quiz on Monday, January 29, which will test your understanding of the readings assigned for that day.

  4. 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 your major assignment (one of your two essays, your long paper, or your action project).

  5. Major Assignment. (70% 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, February 2, by 11:59 pm.  The second essay is due on Wednesday, March 13, 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, March 13, by 11:59 pm. You are also required to submit a prospectus on Friday, February 2, by 11:59 pm. Your prospectus, around 3-4 pages long, 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 15% and your final paper 55% 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. More detailed instructions here. 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.

Grading: The course grade will rest on the following components, with potential adjustments based on the quality of participation.

  • Thoughtful questions: 10%
  • Presentation: 20%
  • Major assignment: 70%

Texts: The following books are on sale at the University Book Store:

  • Stephen Gardiner and Arthur Obst, Dialogues on Climate Justice (2023)
  • Erik Olin Wright, How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century (2019)
  • Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, David Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (2019)
  • I may order additional books to be read and discussed towards the end of the course.

Additional readings are available as internet links and PDFs.

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 of any kind 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 or your TA. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism.

All use of ChatGPT and other AI text generators (including QuillBot) is prohibited. The only exception is for simple spell check or grammar-check, or Grammarly when used for simple grammar checks but not for extensive rewriting. (However, I discourage use of Grammarly altogether.)

By Friday, January 5, at 11:59 pm, you are required to submit a document stating that you will abide by the course policy on ChatGPT and other AI Text Generators. At the end of the course, no later than Friday, March 15, at 11:59 pm, you will submit a document stating that you have abided by this policy. Submitting both documents is necessary to earn credit in this class. Both documents must be truthful.  For more discussion of course policy on ChatGPT and other AI text generators, please visit this page.

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.


(later portions unfinished)


Ethical Challenges and Controversies

Wed. Jan. 3: Stephen Gardiner and Arthur Obst, Dialogues on Climate Justice (2023), Dialogue 1, pp. 1-43

Mon. Jan. 8: Gardiner and Obst, Dialogues on Climate Justice, Dialogue 2, pp. 44-88

Wed. Jan. 10: Gardiner and Obst, Dialogues on Climate Justice, Dialogue 4, pp. 133-175

Mon: Jan. 15: Martin Luther King Holiday – no class.

Capitalism versus Socialism

Wed. Jan. 17: Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1962), Introduction and chapter 1; Milton Friedman, “The Social Responsibility Of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” (1970), also available as PDF.

**Wednesday, January 17, by 1:30 pm: Initial action project proposal is due, for those choosing the action project.**

Mon. Jan. 22: Erik Olin Wright, How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century (2019), pp. 1-94

Wed. Jan. 24: Erik Olin Wright, How To Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century, pp. 95-145. OPTIONAL: Michael Löwy, “Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future” (2018)

Policy Debates

Mon. Jan. 29: 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), also available as PDF; Leah Stokes and Matto Mildenberger, “The Trouble with Carbon Pricing” (2020), also available as PDF.

Indigenous Theory

Wed. Jan. 31: Kyle Powys Whyte, “Way Beyond the Lifeboat: An Indigenous Allegory of Climate Justice” (2019)

** Friday, February 2: First essay, long paper prospectus, or updated action project proposal is due by 11:59 pm.**

Global Injustice, Climate Change, and Reparations

Mon. Feb. 5: Olufemi Taiwo, Reconsidering Reparations (2022), pp. 1-5, 18-29, 74-82, 104-17; Olufemi Taiwo, “The Fight for Reparations Cannot Ignore Climate Change” (2022)

Wed. Feb. 7: Mohamed Adow, “Climate Debt: What the West Owes the Rest” (2020); Adow, “The Climate Debt Keeps Growing” (2021).  

Socialist Visions of Climate Action 

Mon. Feb. 12: Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, David Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (2019), Introduction and chapter 1 (pp. 1-65).

Wed. Feb 14: Aronoff, Battistoni, Cohen, and Riofrancos, A Planet to Win, chapter 2 (pp. 67-100).

Mon. Feb. 19: Presidents Day – no class.

Wed. Feb 21: Aronoff, Battistoni, Cohen, and Riofrancos, A Planet to Win, chapter 3 and Conclusion (pp. 101-138, 171-81). Chapter 4 (pp. 139-69) is optional.

Direct Action and Sabotage

Mon. Feb. 26: Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2021), chapter 1 (pp. 5-63)

Wed. Feb. 28: Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2021), chapter 2 (pp. 65-123). (Chapter 3 is optional.) Also read Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash, “Why Blowing Up Pipelines Will Not Solve the Climate Crisis,” Forbes, May 1, 2023

Final Presentations

Mon. March 4: Final presentations

Wed. March 6: Final presentations, continued

**Wednesday, March 13. Second essay, long paper, or action report & reflection is due by 11:59 pm.**


Catalog Description:
Focused, comparative examination of topics in rights.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
May 28, 2024 - 2:41 pm