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Environmental Ethics: 2018 Final Exam Study Questions

Sample Short Answer Questions

A subset of these questions (not more than 10) will appear on the exam. Remember that these are
short answer questions!

1. In the context of environmentally motivated regulations on development and land use (e.g., in the
Lake Tahoe case) how does federal law define a “taking”?

2. Acccording to Adewusi, why do the US and EU support population control programs in Africa?

3. Briefly, what is one good definition of "sustainable development."

4. What do economists mean when they talk about “failure to internalize environmental costs”?

5. Very briefly, what are three main criticisms of Hardin’s “lifeboat ethics”?

6. According to Durning, what is the common goal of all commercial advertising?

7. According to the experts cited in “Mr. Cone’s Woodpeckers”, what is one major adverse
unintended consequence of the ESA?

8. Briefly, in the context of energy policy, what is “decarbonization”?

9. According to Wenz, just what (empirically) is “environmental racism”?

10. Briefly, according to Baxter, what is an ‘optimal’ level of pollution?

11. What are three major difficulties with RCBA as a tool for settling environmental policy questions?

12. According to Wenz, what moral principle (not process) should guide the siting of LULUs in
American society?

13. Briefly, in the context of energy systems, what is the difference between “renewable” and “green”?

14. According to Rauch, what are the main environmental benefits of GMO food crops?

15. What is one common, clear formulation of the principle of benefit/burden concordance?

16. According to Ashley Dawson, what are some of the problems with ‘carbon offsetting’ programs?

17. What are two (of the many) conclusions that Elinor Ostrom et alia offer regarding the
management of commom-pool resources?
18. According to Engel, what is the least that (morally) we owe to starving human beings?

19. What does McKibben mean by “Earth 2"?

20. What are two justice problems which might be raised by US vs. French policy regarding the
reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel?

21. According to Simon and other ‘cornucopians’, what is the only basic economic or material
resource which has become more scarce over the last several centuries?

22. According to McKibben, why (or how) are Simon and other ‘cornucopians’ wrong?

23. Briefly, in the context of RCBA, what is the “commensuration” problem?

24. Briefly, what is the “presumptive argument” against geoengineering, as described by Preston?

25. As formulated by Naomi Oreskes, what is the scientific statement about which we can say, “We
know we’re not wrong”?

Sample Essay Questions

Two of these questions will appear on the exam. You will be required to answer only one
question.

Question 1: Energy Decarbonization Subsidies

It is 2023. A recent scientific report to congress, using more evidence and improved theoretical
and computational models, has concluded that climate change is accelerating even more rapidly than
earlier models had predicted, and that the single largest factor driving the trend is the use of carbon fuels
in transportation and electrical generation. Your congresswoman, Jane Nobel, has called you seeking
advice on the social and ethical issues raised by two legislative proposals.

H.B.123 would reallocate green energy subsidies on an equal per-KWh basis between solar,
wind, nuclear and geothermal facilities. It would also override state and local barriers to spent nuclear
fuel reprocessing, encourage the construction of Gen-III+ nuclear plants, and fund research on Gen-IV
nuclear electrical/hydrogen plants. These initiatives would be funded by a new 20% ‘carbon tax’ on
coal, gasoline, natural gas, diesel fuel, heating oil, propane, biofuels, etc.

H.B. 456, would provide increased subsidies to encourage the construction of non-carbon, non-
nuclear energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydro. It would also limit state and local authority to
regulate offshore wind facility siting. These initiatives would be also be funded by a new a 20%
‘carbon’ tax on coal, gasoline, natural gas, diesel fuel, heating oil, propane, biofuels, etc.

President Sandal has asked that both bills be passed, but that the new tax imposed by each be
reduced to 10% (for a total carbon tax of 20%) in order to reduce economic disruption.

Your congresswoman wants help with the social and ethical issues the bills raise. Write a briefing
memo to Congresswoman Schwartz which: (1) identifies the major social and ethical issues raised by
each of these bills, and, (2) explicates and evaluates the main ethical arguments for and against each of
them. Finally, (3) offer and justify your own best recommendation: Which bill, if any, should
Congresswoman Schwartz support, and why?

Be sure to ground your analyses and arguments in both the facts and relevant ethical theories!
Keep in mind that Congresswoman Schwartz often talks about burden/benefit concordance and
regards herself as an advocate for class- and social- and global- justice.

Question 2: Environmental Racism

It is 2020. You are attending a White House conference on Environmental Justice as Special
Assistant in Ethics to Vice President Olivia Schwartz. One of the most controversial items on the
conference agenda is Section 17 of the proposed "Consensus Statement on Environmental Risk”. As
drafted, the two most controversial parts of this section read:

17.2. The principle of Benefit Burden Concordance is fundamental to social justice. All
decisions about the management of environmental hazards to human health must therefore be
guided by the principle that the burdens associated with the existence of toxic environmental
emissions must not be disproportionately borne by those who benefit least from the creation
of such environmental emissions. The unconsented, uncompensated and disproportionate
imposition of environmental health hazards on those populations which benefit least from their
creation is contrary to justice and violates fundamental human rights.
17.3. Regulatory attention, enforcement efforts and financial resources dedicated to remediating
health and environmental hazards should all be reallocated in a way that considers the cumulative
impact of past injustices, not just current risk. Communities and populations burdened by more
than their fair share of past toxic environmental exposures should be prioritized. This means that
the highest priority must be given to the disproportionate environmental burdens borne by poor
communities of color.

Write a detailed briefing memo to Vice President Schwartz which: (1) identifies the major ethical
issues raised by Section 17.2and 17.3, and, (2) explicates and evaluates the main arguments bearing on
these issues.

Vice President Schwartz is deeply concerned about issues of social justice and has recently
angered some environmental groups by suggesting that up to half of the federal funding currently
allocated to wilderness preservation should be reallocated to urban environmental remediation
programs. She would be grateful if you could offer some moral advice on this idea, too.

Question 3:

It is 2020. A recent scientific report to congress, using more evidence and improved theoretical
and computational models, has concluded that global warming is accelerating even more rapidly than
earlier models had predicted, and that the economic sector responsible for the largest anthropogenic
impact is agriculture and meat production. Your congresswoman, Nika Sandal, has called you seeking
advice on the ethical issues raised by a legislative proposal.

H.B 789 would phase out all government subsidies to animal feed production on a five year
schedule, and would terminate the ethanol mandate for gasoline on the same schedule. It would also
instruct the Department of Agriculture to prioritize the development and implementation of lower-
emission farming practices, and increase federal support for agricultural biotechnology research.

A preliminary CBO report estimates that H.B. 789 could double the cost of meat and dairy
products. It also predicts that – over a period of several years – it could modestly reduce the cost of
fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes intended for human consumption.

Write a briefing memo to Senator Sandal which: (1) identifies the major environmental, social, and
ethical issues raised by H.B. 789, and, (2) explicates and evaluates the main ethical arguments bearing
on these issues. Finally, (3) be sure to offer and justify your own best recommendation. Ground your
analyses and arguments in both the facts and relevant ethical theories.

Keep in mind that Senator Sandal likes to think of herself as a person who is sensitive to issues of
class- and social- and global- justice.