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Thomas C. Hilde

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Tom Hilde is associate research professor in the School of Public Policy, associate director of international programs, director of Peru and Indonesia programs, and senior fellow in the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). 

He teaches courses in sustainable development, environmental ethics, international environmental agreements, and policy and ethics. He also created and directs a graduate field course that, since 2011, travels each year to Indonesia (Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java) to study complex adaptive social-ecological systems, land use change, and sustainable development. He directs another course in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and Andes mountains that examines the conflicts between resource extraction, forest conservation, and native communities, as well as migration due to economic and environmental pressures.

Hilde was trained in philosophy, writing on philosophical pragmatism and global displacement (PhD, Pennsylvania State University). He moved to UMD from New York University, where he directed the Environmental Conservation Education Program and the Applied Philosophy Group, and taught interdisciplinary seminars in environmental politics and ethics, globalization, and international development. He has also taught symbolic logic and philosophy of technology at Texas A&M University. He has done work for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and has developed programs for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry and National Development Planning Agency. Hilde was a Fulbright scholar in Venezuela in 2005 and Edmond J. Safra Network Fellow at Harvard University in 2014-2015.

His research and publications involve conceptual and normative analysis and evaluation of complex adaptive social-ecological systems, and adaptive institutions and governance in the areas of international environmental policy and ethics, sustainable development, democracy and human rights, climate change adaptation, and agriculture and food security. Prof. Hilde edited the books, The Agrarian Roots of Pragmatism (2000 with Paul B. Thompson) and On Torture (2008), a subject on which he has also given congressional testimony. He also translated from French Stalinism and Nazism: History and Memory Compared (2004). His most recent and current work is on sustainable adaptation in Balinese rice and irrigation terrace systems (subaks), pragmatism and policy analysis, and illegal gold mining and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Areas of Interest
  • Political philosophy & ethics; norms & compliance in international environmental law; climate change adaptation & local indigenous environmental governance systems
3 Credit(s)

This course will broaden students’ understanding of the moral dimensions of public policy as well as their own individual moral perspective. Discussions will include the ideal of a just society, and the place of liberty and equality in it, while focusing on contemporary theories of ethics and justice.  It will develop students’ appreciation of the ethical challenges unique to the public service sector while building their skills in ethical analysis and decision-making. We will explore the increasing ethical challenges in a world in which technology, global risks, and societal developments are accelerating faster than our understanding can keep pace. A framework for ethical decision making underpins the course.
Schedule of Classes

3 Credit(s)

As a matter of national policy, resource-rich Indonesia aspires to self-reliant, just and democratic, and peaceful and united development consistent with a green, low-carbon pathway. This field course examines the complex, systemic interconnections between Indonesia’s environmental challenges and development strategies with a focus on the interface between local governance systems and global policies, especially in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. Understanding that most such challenges involve multiple stakeholders, including the historically marginalized, we study how issues such as land-use change and marine management are mitigated or exacerbated by national and global government policies and where local efforts may better inform policy, paying special attention to indigenous community systems and what they can teach us about sustainable development, human security, and adaptation to environmental change. Visiting several islands of the Indonesian archipelago – Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java – the course explores: indigenous systems of environmental management and knowledge such as the complex adaptive subak system of rice terraces, irrigation, and water temples in Bali; tropical forest conservation and land use change and their place in climate efforts, including issues of deforestation and the expansion of oil palm plantations, peatland burning, wildlife conservation, and policy responses such as REDD+; and coral reef systems, local fishing practices, and marine protected areas. In the Jakarta area, we meet with leading government officials, researchers, and NGOs to discuss Indonesian and global policy on climate change; land use, forests, and agricultural policy; and social and economic development in the country.

Not Offered Fall 2022

Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde
3 Credit(s)

Focuses on the theoretical and normative underpinnings of contemporary political philosophy, particularly theories of the legitimacy and proper function of nation states and global institutions. What role should ethics play in public policy formation and implementation? We will give special attention to ideals and institutions of national and global justice and how they are and should be related to ideals and institutions of democracy. What are the merits and demerits of democratic institutions in comparison with authoritarian ones? Do prosperous, liberal democratic states have reason to promote economic and political development in other countries and, if so, what are the best ways to do so? Key readings: Hobbes, Ober, Rawls, the Capability Approach (Robeyns), D. Bell, and Deveaux.

Not Offered Fall 2022
Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde
3 Credit(s)

Addressing the formidable challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and the unjust distribution of environmental harms and benefits necessitates a philosophical understanding and reassessment of the ethical frameworks, norms, and concepts that inform and drive public policy and shape society. This course examines diverse modes of valuation of and obligations to the natural environment, particularly as related to the normative bases of environmental policy. Topics discussed include the different roles of economic and environmental values and norms in policy, obligations to nonhuman animals and ecosystems, obligations to future generations, biodiversity conservation, and the “slow violence” of environmental harms towards the poor and marginalized. The course considers contemporary debates in climate justice, including questions about intergenerational and intragenerational justice, the distribution of responsibilities for mitigation and adaptation among countries, inequalities and vulnerabilities exacerbated by climate change, and moral hazard and other ethical problems involved in geoengineering solutions to the climate crisis.

Not Offered Fall 2022
Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde
3 Credit(s)

Development typically comes with environmental impacts, while environmental protection sometimes comes with human costs. Is it possible to decouple economic growth and ecological harm or to achieve both human and ecological well-being simultaneously? What would be required to do so? This course explores conceptions and practices of sustainable development particularly where “top-down” environmental and development policy frameworks and governance - e.g. the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - meet “bottom-up” practices and local knowledge systems - e.g. indigenous-managed complex social-ecological systems. The course examines different conceptions of poverty and economic growth consistent (or not) with environmental well-being. The course analyzes contemporary challenges of human and ecological vulnerabilities and system resilience at the intersection of development and climate change adaptation. We explore diverse perspectives, concepts, and policies on intersecting issues such as land-use change, food sovereignty, zoonotic disease, and resource conflict; environmental displacement and migration; and conservation, land rights, and post-colonial social justice.

Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde
3 Credit(s)

This field course in Peru studies the confluence of livelihoods, environmental protection, and human rights, particularly those of indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest and Andean regions. The central case we investigate is illegal gold mining and deforestation in the Amazon region of Madre de Dios, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Gold mining is a major problem throughout the Amazon region, causing deforestation and long-term harm to people and wildlife from mercury pollution. It is precarious labor associated with organized crime and human trafficking. In the Amazon, we stay at a research-oriented eco-lodge co-owned and operated by the Ese’eja indigenous community of Infierno and an ecotourism company. We study this cooperative arrangement as an example of employment-generating, self-managed local development and capacity-building that presents an economic alternative to extractive activities while protecting the forest. Guided by Ese’eja community members, we observe first-hand the natural richness of Peru’s Amazon rainforest and wildlife and learn about indigenous forest management. Resource extraction and conservation are part of a broader policy context and demographic dynamic in the country. Moving to the Cusco region in the Andes, we investigate the economic and environmental drivers of informal migrant labor from mountain communities to the Amazon gold mining regions. We meet with NGOs working to address poverty and migration in the Andes as well as the problems of persistent inequality and discrimination, rapid environmental change, and conflicts between local governance and national policy. We meet with farmers and others developing ways to gain income in line with their respect for nature and their communities. Through further discussions in Lima, we learn from top government officials and civil society experts about the national policy context and strategies regarding sustainable democratic development, environmental policy and resource management, marginalized peoples and human rights, and Peru’s law enforcement approach to stemming illegal mining and Amazon deforestation. 

Not Offered Fall 2022
Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde