Philosophy, Humanities and Environmental Justice Join to Further Sustainability

Corey Katz

In Corey Katz’s studies of the philosophy of human rights and justice, he examines why solutions to pressing problem of environmental sustainability have moral implications for future generations.

Katz, a post-doctoral researcher in the ethics of sustainable development, found a perfect match for his expertise: a position within the Department of Philosophy and at the Center for Ethics and Human Values. He joined Ohio State in August 2016, after receiving his doctorate from Saint Louis University.

“Many environmental problems are long-term,” Katz says. “We must develop strong philosophical grounding for the view that our actions have moral implications for future generations.”

In 2015-2016, Ohio State’s COMPAS program (Conversations on Morality, Politics and Society) focused on the topic of sustainability. Those in the Center for Ethics and Human Values, which runs the COMPAS program, realized the need for a sustained campus-wide conversation on the ethical implications of meeting environmental challenges. Center Director Don Hubin and his colleague, Piers Turner, led a national search for the right person to facilitate this extended conversation and were fortunate to find Katz, whose expertise and interests made him uniquely qualified for the position.

“Corey has raised awareness of the significant moral values that are threatened by the formidable environmental challenges facing us,” Hubin says. “To meet these challenges wisely, and to avoid undesirable unintended consequences, these values must be understood, appreciated, and balanced against one another when they are in competition. This requires the expertise from many disciplines and Corey has done a terrific job of bringing together natural and social scientists, as well as humanists, to help to develop the broad and deep understanding necessary meet these challenges.”

Since Autumn 2016, Katz has worked on expanding what evolved from the COMPAS conversations on sustainability, while contributing an ethical perspective to the university's sustainability goals.

“This position is very unique,” Katz says. “Having a post-doc position gives me the time for research and time for teaching, networking and creating multidisciplinary connections.”

This academic year, Katz is teaching an environmental ethics class and leading a series of environmental values workshops for faculty and researchers. He also has developed a panel discussion on “Shale Gas Development in Ohio and Environmental Justice” with energy and environment experts from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

While the issues surrounding shale gas development have been examined and researched for years, Katz’s panel looked at the moral question of environmental justice. On November 17, experts discussed the local costs that come with industrial resource extraction, including public health problems, localized pollution, stresses on infrastructure and traffic, increased noise, and economic boom-bust risks. The panel also considered whether the burdens and benefits of shale gas development are shared fairly within the impacted communities and whether those most affected have effective voice in decision-making.

Ohio State’s Office of Energy and Environment agreed to fund Katz as the first post-doctoral fellow in the Ethics of Sustainable Development, with a grant from the Ohio State Sustainability Fund.

“It’s uncommon for an office charged with the challenge of enhancing energy and environmental issues to recognize the importance of the humanities and to put resources to support it,” Katz says.

Asked about his next “perfect job,” Katz says a full-time faculty position in philosophy or environmental studies would fit the bill.

“I want to help students work through positions on various environmental issues for themselves. How sound are the different ethical justifications given for environmental policies, or the lack thereof,” he asks. “How can students better understand and reflect on the ethical questions raised by environmental issues, now and into the future?”