Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
SPICE Publications


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International Environmental Politics

Full Unit

Published
2002 (111 pages)

For Secondary - Community College students.

Softcover - $54.95
includes Curriculum Guide / 4 CD-ROMS/ DVDs


Although the modern environmental movement is considered less than a half-century old1,environmental issues warrant daily political attention and media coverage in many areas of the world. As awareness of environmental problems grows, countries frequently find that many problems-ranging from preserving wetlands and wildlife to protecting the global atmosphere -cannot be solved through domestic policy alone. Achieving successful solutions to such problems requires the cooperation of nations with differing values, priorities, resources, and levels of wealth. In some issue areas, nations have reached international agreements; in others, treaties remain elusive. Addressing such crucial problems requires an understanding of causality, the ability to weigh environmental concerns with other considerations, and an appreciation for differing viewpoints on the environment.

Most people would agree that environmental problems should be solved; differences of opinion emerge over the issues of how much cost should be dedicated to solving these problems and how to solve them most effectively. This module encourages students to think critically about environmental problems, to consider multiple viewpoints on proposed policies to improve the environment, and to identify the policies that will be most effective in accomplishing the desired goal.

While this module focuses on environmental problems of a global scale, students also learn how their personal decisions can affect the state of the environment. Students' impact may be indirect, as in the case of supporting candidates and policies sympathetic to their point of view on how to improve the environment, or direct, as in daily transportation and food decisions. Throughout the module, students are encouraged to relate global environmental issues to their daily lives and to discover ways in which they might be able to improve the environment through personal choices.

In this module, students critically analyze five major environmental issues using a combination of print materials and lectures. Activities are based on selected lectures from a Stanford University course on International Environmental Politics. The lectures are available in both videotape and CD-ROM formats.

In addition to learning about specific topics, students will gain valuable critical thinking skills applicable to any subject. Causal analysis, compliance theory, and a set of policy evaluation criteria are introduced early in the module and are employed in many of the activities. After completing the module, students should have a firm understanding of several important environmental issues, improved critical thinking skills, and an appreciation for the complex challenge of solving environmental problems through international negotiations.

In the Context-Setting Lesson, students approach the module by deriving their own definition of the "natural environment" and drafting a list of environmental problems. They are then introduced to the concept of causal analysis and the use of counterfactual argumentation through a background sheet and five short prompts. Students gain practice in employing counterfactual arguments by examining a range of theories on why frog mutations are increasing across the United States.

Lesson One, Environment and Security, investigates the relationship between environmental scarcity and national security. Students first approach the topic of "security" by comparing personal security with national security. Next, they consider how warfare harms the environment. Students then learn about the debate between two scholars on environmental security, Thomas Homer-Dixon and Daniel Deudney, to gain a theoretical background on the subject. They "test" the arguments of the two scholars by examining South Africa under apartheid and then comparing six case studies.

In Lesson Two, Population, students consider how population growth affects the environment. They start by learning a formula that attempts to quantify the impact that population has on the environment. They then generate a list of factors that determine the number of children that couples choose to have. Students then learn about China's family planning policy, the most restrictive in the world. They are introduced to a framework for evaluating policies and apply these criteria to the measures of China's family planning policy. Students then consider which of China's approaches to reducing population growth are acceptable to them and formulate possible policies for controlling population growth. Finally, students ask whether their country should institute a population policy, and if so, what such a policy should be.

Lesson Three, Sustainable Development, examines an increasingly hot topic: How can improvement in quality of life be achieved without creating environmental harm? Students begin by considering how they measure "progress" and improvements in their own quality of life. Next, students look at the resources they use in their daily lives and compare them with those of previous generations in their family. Through the case study of China's Three Gorges Dam, students then attempt to reconcile economic development with environmental concerns in a broader context. Finally, students will use an "Ecological Footprint Calculator" to obtain an estimate of the amount of land required to sustain their lifestyle and possible ways to reduce their resource use. Two optional activities allow students to track the waste they generate in a week and to identify ways to reduce their families' utility usage.

Lesson Four, Free Trade and the Environment, tackles the often-contested issue of how free trade impacts the environment. Students begin the lesson by recording where some of their personal items originated and/or were manufactured and reflecting on the environmental costs of producing these goods in different countries. Next, they complete a causality chart that traces the many ways in which increasing free trade may affect the environment. After a brief introduction to strategies for ensuring compliance, students find articles on how specific free trade areas have dealt with environmental disputes and create posters that summarize their case study and the compliance techniques used. Finally, students will work in groups to draft environmental protection provisions to a fictional free trade agreement.

Lesson Five, Climate Change, involves students in a simulation of international climate change negotiations. In groups, students read a background piece on the history of these negotiations before assuming the roles of delegates of nine countries in two rounds of climate change negotiations. This activity requires students to draw upon their policy evaluation ability and knowledge of compliance theory. At the end of the negotiations, the class will vote on the text of a new climate change treaty. To better understand the nature of such negotiations, students can participate in two online simulations beforehand.

The Epilogue section of the module provides a context for students to tie together what they have learned in the module by researching and suggesting a solution for an environmental problem in their school or community. This activity allows students to put their knowledge to action in a personal, meaningful way and provides a means for assessment.

Module Goals

Each of the lessons in this curriculum has specific learning outcomes listed. The following are larger goals for the curriculum module as a whole:

Students will be able to

  • critically evaluate policy measures;
  • list several ways that governments and international organizations can work together to address environmental problems of a global scale;
  • use counterfactual arguments to make informed causation judgments;
  • generate a list of measures to promote compliance and judge the effectiveness of each measure; and
  • understand the importance of personal behavior changes in affecting environmental change.