Using Environmental Case Studies
in the Classroom
CASE STUDY METHOD has a long history in Western ethics, beginning with the development of medieval casuistry within Christian moral theology and spreading in the twentieth century to many different areas of ethics, religious and secular—especially professional ethics.1 Within environmental studies today, case study method is one of the most common, effective approaches to environmental ethics, for several reasons. Many case studies acquaint readers with particular situations in which the environment has been or is being threatened or damaged, thereby promoting environmental awareness. In addition, the fact that case studies explore a particular situation in some depth, examining a variety of different interlocking sets of relationships within the nonhuman environment and between humans and the rest of the environment, means that case study use contributes to the development of deeper knowledge of the complexity of ecosystems and the difficulty of treating any one element of an ecosystem— or, for that matter, of the entire biosphere—without impacting the rest of the system. Thus the case study method in environmental ethics helps to dispel the individualistic, unintegrated approach that is common among American university students in favor of an approach to problem solving that is more social, more systemic, and more open to interdependence.
Perhaps the most important reason for the prevalence of the case study method in environmental studies concerns the youth of that field. In most fields of ethics there is an established body of principles that is applied to