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Planet in Peril: Exploring Human Relations with Nature


Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes. For the latest updates regarding corona virus, please check this link.

Skills: Researching, Analysing, Project-based working, Digital skills, Collaborating, Presenting, Societal awareness, Reflecting, Making a documentary video.
Disciplines: Biology, Ecology, Law, Philosophy, Psychology.
Themes: Biodiversity, Climate change, Waste, Plastic, Intergenerational justice.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Master Honours Class aimed at talented Master’s students. Admission will be based on academic background, GPA and motivation.


This course explores various aspects of our relation to nature, combining tools and insights from disciplines such as law, philosophy and biology. The course is organized around four key topics: biodiversity, climate change, waste, and the future. Each topic is introduced by a keynote lecture, followed by student presentations.

Biodiversity: The Earth’s biological diversity influences the functioning of ecosystems, and this in its turn influences the environment’s value to human beings. Hence, loss of biodiversity puts humanity at risk. Restoration ecology develops tools for assessing the damage and offers recovery strategies. We consider a number of such projects to discuss the deeper questions involved here. To which state should nature be restored, and why? Whose perspective should we take here? And is biodiversity really important?

Climate Change: Anthropogenic climate change is real, and scientists predict that it will have disastrous consequences for ecosystems and for human life all over the planet. It is now up to national and international politics to turn this information into action. What needs to be done, what can be done, and by whom? We discuss what makes it so hard to take effective action with regard to climate change.

Waste: Why do we have a waste problem? To answer this question, we need to understand waste before it became waste, i.e., we need to understand the social and economic developments that created the conditions for materials to become waste. We consider the particular example of plastic used as packaging material. The invention of plastic sparked off a whole range of inventions that shaped modern life as we know it; e.g., the rise of supermarkets.
Without changing ‘modern life as we know it’ the waste problem is not likely to be solved.

The future: Do we have a duty towards future generations to preserve nature as best as we can, and to make sure that future generations can lead a life that is at least as healthy and rewarding as our own? This raises general questions about intergenerational justice, and more specific questions about the role of nature. An alternative approach to our future on Earth is to leave traditional ideas about nature behind us, and embrace technological possibilities for transcending biological nature. This approach typically rejects the idea that nature should be ‘restored’, and explores instead how technology can be used to maintain a sustainable relationship with our planet.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • be able to identify different perspectives on environmental issues;

  • be able to describe and reflect on their own attitude in relation to nature;

  • show sophistication in their judgement and analyses of environmental issues;

  • have trained their skills in collaboration and project management.

Programme and Timetable

All meetings take place at 17.15 - 19.00 on the following Wednesdays and Fridays:

Friday, March 3: Introduction (Lipsius building, room 1.18)
Wednesday, March 8: Lecture Biodiversity (Old Observatory, room C0.03)
Wednesday, March 22: Student presentations Biodiversity (Old Observatory, room C0.03)
Wednesday, April 5: Lecture Climate change (Old Observatory, room C0.03)
Wednesday, April 12: Student presentations Climate change(Old Observatory, room C0.03)
Friday, April 14: Lecture Waste (Lipsius building, room 1.18)
Friday, April 21: Student presentations Waste (Lipsius building, room 1.18)
Wednesday, April 26: Lecture The future (Old Observatory, room C0.03)
Friday, May 12: Student presentations The future (Lipsius building, room 1.18)
Wednesday, May 17: Final project workshop (Old Observatory, room C0.03)
Friday, July 7: Closing event: Symposium (Lipsius building, room 1.18)

The final project has the form of a short video documentary made by a team of 4-6 students. The documentaries are presented to the honours community during the closing event.


Wednesdays: Old Observatory, room C0.03
Fridays: Lipsius building, room 1.18

Course load

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Class meetings 24h;

  • Preparing presentation 16h;

  • Readings 60h;

  • Final project 40h.


  • Participation 10%;

  • Presentation 30%;

  • Final project 50%;

  • Reflection report 10%;

Students could only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Reading list

The following readings may not all be used in the course, but they give an indication of what type of readings will be discussed.

– Cardinale, B.J. et al. (2012), Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486(7401): 59-67. – Cronon, W. (1996), The trouble with wilderness: Or, getting back to the wrong nature. Environmental History 1(1): 7-28. – Gardiner, S. M. (2004), Ethics and global climate change. Ethics 114(3): 555-600. – Gardiner, S.M. (2006), A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption. Environmental Values 15(3): 397-413. – Hall, C. (2016), Framing and Nudging for a Greener Future. In: The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory, Vol. 1 (Oxford University Press). – Haring, B. (2020), Why biodiversity loss is not a disaster (Leiden University Press). – Meijers, T. (2018), Justice between generations. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press). – Moellendorf, D. (2012), Climate change and global justice. Climate Change 3(2): 131-143. – Narveson, J. (1967), Utilitarianism and new generations. Mind 76(301): 62–72. – Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2005), It’s not my fault: global warming and individual moral obligations. In: Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Howarth, R. (2005), Perspectives on climate change: Science, economics, politics, ethics (Amsterdam/Oxford): 293-315.

Brightspace and uSis

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Master Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.


Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 30 January up to and including Sunday 12 February 2023 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Master Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.


Dr. Jan Sleutels: