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Classics of the Sustainability Debate




Admission Requirements

There are no pre-requisites for this 100-level course, which is designed for ‘reflective connection’ with material from many other sustainability courses at LUC.


The course is organized in four ‘outlooks’, that is to say, four typical ways of perceiving the essential features of the world when it comes to sustainability problems and futures. These four outlooks are:

  • Looking at the world, I see RESOURCES

  • Looking at the world, I see NATURE

  • Looking at the world, I see SYSTEM

  • Looking at the world, I see OURSELVES.
    Each outlook has a certain history but also a certain perennial pattern of discourse. In the course, we will discuss both.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of the course, students can:

  • recognize, understand and work with alternative ways to perceive and frame sustainability problems and futures

  • can refer to classic authors of environmental science with critical understanding

Mode of Instruction

This is a ‘literature-based’ course, formatted in such a way that students will reach an active comprehension of the ‘classic’ pieces (articles, book excerpts etc.) that will be read and discussed. The pieces will be grouped in 7 clusters, meaning that each outlook will be covered in usually two clusters each. Each cluster will have a total number of pages such that it can be treated in one week.
The course meets for seven weeks. The literature will be studied in seven cycles, each composed of three sessions that hinge around the same cluster of literature:

  • Session 1 (2nd hour on Tuesdays) will introduce the literature of that week and introduce the instructor’s questions on the literature. All students get the same questions.

  • Session 2 (two hours on Thursdays) will be devoted to a discussion of the literature, based on the students’ answers to the questions.

  • Session 3 (1st hour on Tuesdays) will focus on presentation and discussion of response papers written at home by the students reflecting on the literature. Paper subjects are decided by the instructor but based on the students’ own proposals at the end of session 2. Papers are to be formatted in Powerpoint, with ‘Notes’ added to give more text if needed. Students to present their essays will initially be selected randomly in each session, with some room for selected cases later in the course.

Students work individually. On request and incidentally, permission can be given to work with two or three on a topic.




All literature will be made available on Blackboard, latest at the beginning of each Session 1.

The sages at CML are continuously deliberating, as sages do, on what are really the most classic classics, most fun classics, most relevant classics and so on. The list below is the present state of outcome, giving you a feel of what it will be, approximately.

Outlook A: “Looking at the world, I see resources”

  • Malthus: The principle of population

  • Meadows: Limits to growth

  • Brown: Outgrowing the earth

  • Tiffen et al.: More people, less erosion

  • Hardin: The tragedy of the commons

  • Ostrom: Governing the commons

  • Diamond: the collapse of civilizations

  • (meta-level) Brox: the epistemological status of grand theory
    Outlook B: “Looking at the world, I see nature”

  • White: the historical roots of our environmental crisis

  • Passmore: The traditions (mastership and stewardship of nature)

  • Van Arkel: Society and technology: 30,000 years in shorthand

  • Rolston: Philosophy gone wild

  • Sessions: Sources of the deep ecology perspective

  • Cheney: The neo-stoicism of deep ecology

Outlook C: “Looking at the world, I see system”

  • Commoner: The closing circle

  • Boulding: The economics of spaceship earth

  • Lovelock: The Gaia hypothesis 1979

  • Lovelock: The Gaia Hypothesis 2006

  • Holling: The new ecology

Outlook D: “Looking at the world, I see ourselves”

  • Haq: Islam and ecology

  • Cheney: An etiquette for being here

  • (meta-level) Dryzek: Framing the environmental problem

Contact Information

prof.dr. Wouter T. de Groot,

Weekly Overview

The weekly program has not been detailed yet. As said however, students can take it that each week focuses on a cluster of some three or four papers, going through the four outlooks (i.e. week 1 starts with Malthus, Meadows, Brown and Tiffen, and so on). Within the weeks we follow the schedule as given in Course proceedings (i.e. 2nd hour Tuesday goes to Introduction, Thursday 2 hours to Discussion and next week’s Tuesday 1st hour to Presentations).

Preparation for first session