In Germany, I took a course called Environmental Ethics & Sustainability, a course I believe every engineering student should be required to take. I learned about deontological Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, and how these two theories of morality relate to the environment. The argument is centered around whether we take an ontological or deontological perspective, whether we look at humans as a part of nature or separate from it.
I liked this course because it reminded me of my IDEAS seminars at Lehigh. It was discussion based and students were free to express their newly-formed opinions. However, in our seminars at Lehigh, we discuss more so how ethics affects the growth of technology and vice versa.
The German people had a different attitude towards their land than Americans do. Part of the reason for this is because Germany is half the size of Texas, so they don’t have a lot of land to let go to waste. I remember being on a hike through a forest in Freiburg and asking the forester if Germany has the equivalent of what we call “Superfund Sites” in America. Superfund sites are environments made so toxic from spills and now-outlawed contaminants (like PCBs) that the government invests “super” funds into remediating them. The forester was dumbfounded that such sites exist, and proceeded to exclaim that because Germany is so small, the government takes extra care to ensure that such accidents do not happen. This is in fact why they are phasing out their nuclear energy. Being an environmental engineer is therefore a paradox at times because we tend to be people that enjoy being surrounded by clean air, water, and soil. It’s in these places that there is no work for us to do!
Even though Germany doesn’t seem to need environmental remediation expertise, I’m sure there’s enough demand in America for a couple of decades!