Center for Ethics Announces 2018-2019 Programming: "The Ethics of the Anthropocene: Crisis Earth"

The 2018-2019 Muhlenberg College Center for Ethics’ programming launches September 7.

 Monday, August 27, 2018 08:46 AM

The earth is experiencing an era of rapid environmental change. The impact of human activity is the dominant influence on the planet’s environment and can be found in the soil, water, air and rocks. Scientists have dubbed this new geological era the Anthropocene and are scrambling to understand how these changes affect ecosystems.  

Some businesses, communities, societies and political systems are responding to this change while others are not. Are these responses, or lack thereof, ethical? Who are the winners and losers as humans face down environmental catastrophe in the era of the Anthropocene? How can we face these environmental challenges ethically? When and why do we fail? This year’s Center for Ethics event series, The Ethics of the Anthropocene: Crisis Earth, will explore the ethical implications of addressing the environmental damage that humankind has produced.

The fall programming, which will include a number of lectures and a gallery exhibition, will take place from September until November. Additional events will be held during the spring semester. All events are free and open to the public.

This year’s program begins on Friday, Sept. 7 with a series of interdisciplinary lectures and interactive lessons by Muhlenberg faculty on aspects of the Anthropocene. A talk by James Hansen, titled “Global Energy, Climate and Health: Young People’s Burdens and Opportunities,” will follow. The program runs 2:00–5:00 p.m. in Moyer Hall’s Miller Forum and surrounding classrooms. Hansen will speak 3–4:30 p.m., followed by a reception.

A climatologist, activist and one of the first to study global climate change, Hansen directs the Program on Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Fossil fuels provide a remarkably dense, convenient, form of energy. Their discovery powered the industrial revolution, spurred the elimination of slavery, and raised the standard of living of half the world. Unfortunately, fossil fuels also have consequences via their effects on human health and climate, consequences that are delayed and potentially devastating for young people if they are not addressed.

Also a former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Hansen is best known for his testimony on climate change in the 1980s that helped raise awareness of global warming. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and has received numerous awards, including the Sophie and Blue Planet Prizes. Hansen is recognized for speaking truth to power and for outlining actions needed to protect the future of young people and all species on the planet. Hansen may be joined by his granddaughter, Sophie Kivlehan, a plaintiff in the climate lawsuit brought by Our Children’s Trust against the US government.

Subsequent fall Center for Ethics events include:

Exhibition: Peter d'Agostino, COLD / HOT - Walks, Wars & Climate Change
August 27-November 3
Public Reception, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 5–6:30 p.m., Martin Art Gallery, Baker Center for the Arts  
Public Talk, Monday, Sept. 17, 5:00 p.m., Baker Center for the Arts, Recital Hall

D’Agostino’s exhibition focuses on the theme of COLD / HOT as it relates to walks, wars, and climate change, drawing from a selection of his works, in particular his World-Wide-Walks / between earth & water installations, ICE / WETLANDS / DESERTS. D'Agostino has performed the Walks on six continents over the past five decades. Initiated as video 'documentation/performances' in 1973, the Walks evolved into video/web projects in the 1990s and mobile/locative media installations in the 2000s, probing and examining climate change during the last decade. World-Wide-Walks explore natural, cultural, virtual identities: mixed realities of walking through physical environments and virtually surfing the web.

Lecture: Andrew Revkin, “The Good, the Bad, and the Anthropocene”
Friday, Sept. 21, 1:30 p.m., Trumbower, Room 130 (Lithgow Auditorium)

Have we become so potent a force on earth that a geological epoch should have our name? Can there be any kind of good path for our species in a time of such rapid and disruptive environmental change? Andrew Revkin, strategic adviser for environmental and science journalism at The National Geographic Society, is one of America’s most honored and experienced journalists, focused on environmental and human sustainability. Revkin will describe his learning journey, from the Amazon to the North Pole to the Vatican, and offer a prescription that is both unnerving and hopeful.

Lecture: Atiq Rahman, “Resilience Building in the Anthropocene: Lessons from Bangladesh”
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m., Trumbower, Room 130 (Lithgow Auditorium)

Atiq Rahman is a prominent environmentalist, scientist, and development expert from Bangladesh. He is well-known worldwide for his pioneering role and contribution to environment and nature conservation, climate change, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. In 2008, he was honored with the highest UN Environmental Award, the Champion of the Earth, and with Bangladesh’s National Environment Award for Innovative Environmental Research and Technology Development. He is a long-standing lead author and convening lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and as such, was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Lecture: J.R. McNeill, “Global Environmental Change since 1800: Are We in the Anthropocene?”
Monday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m., Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Environmental historian John McNeill will summarize the broad outlines and driving forces of environmental change in the industrial era, and explore the controversies surrounding what it might mean. Should we consider that the earth has entered a new epoch in its history? McNeill, currently at Georgetown University, has held two Fulbright awards, fellowships from Guggenheim, MacArthur, and the Woodrow Wilson Center. His books include “Something New Under the Sun” (2000), listed by the London Times among the 10 best science books ever written (despite not being a science book); “The Human Web” (2003); and “Mosquito Empires” (2010), which won the Beveridge Prize. In 2010 he was awarded the Toynbee Prize for “academic and public contributions to humanity,” and in 2018 the Heineken Award for History from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. McNeill is past president of the American Society for Environmental History and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association for 2019.


Lecture: Dr. Susan Shaw, Woodrow Wilson Visiting Scholar
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m, Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Shaw is a marine toxicologist, author, explorer, and founder/director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute. A Fulbright Scholar with dual degrees from Columbia University in film and in public health/environmental toxicology, Shaw was commissioned by Ansel Adams in 1980 to write “Overexposure,” the first book on the health hazards of photographic chemicals. For the past two decades, Shaw has conducted pioneering research documenting the effects of hundreds of human-made chemicals in the ocean environment. Shaw will be visiting as part of the Woodrow Wilson program.


Lecture: Mona Bhan, “Ecological Anxieties and Imaginaries on the India-Pakistan Border”
Early November, 7 p.m., Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Bhan, associate professor of anthropology at DePauw, is co-author of the forthcoming “Climate without Nature: A Critical History of the Anthropocene,” with Cambridge University Press. Her ongoing work in the border provinces of Kashmir analyzes the relationship between dams, environmental and ecological imaginaries, and India’s counterinsurgency politics.

During the spring 2019 semester, the Center for Ethics will continue to explore the theme of the Anthropocene, beginning in early February. 

Through thematic lectures and events, the Center for Ethics serves the teaching and study of the liberal arts at Muhlenberg College by providing opportunities for intensive conversation and thinking about the ethical dimensions of contemporary philosophical, political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific issues. In service to its mission, the Center for Ethics hosts special events and programs, provides faculty development opportunities, and provides support for student programming. The Center for Ethics and thematic programs are directed by full-time faculty members.

Brian Mello, associate professor of political science, serves as Center for Ethics director; Kimberly Heiman, senior lecturer, biology, and Kammie Takahashi, associate professor of religion studies, serve as program directors.