The following is a list of environmental studies courses drawn from the course catalog. For more specfic information on courses required for majors and concentrations, see their respective program pages.

Environmental Studies Courses

ENVI 101(F)Nature and Society: An Introduction to Environmental Studies

This course introduces environmental studies as an interdisciplinary field of learning. It will provide a survey of a broad range of environmental problems, cases, and questions, from climate change to sustainable agriculture, from toxic waste to species extinction. We will also examine the intellectual traditions, authors, and historical developments that have most profoundly shaped our understanding of these issues. Keeping a constant eye on the complexities of life in the twenty-first century, we will explore the many different theories and methods that inform environmental scholarship, activism, and policy-making in a variety of cultural arenas and across geographical scales. Along the way, we will read works by philosophers, economists, journalists, historians, sociologists, and many others. [ more ]

ENVI 102(S)Introduction to Environmental Science

Environmental science is the interdisciplinary study of the Earth's systems through the synthesis of physical, chemical, geological, and biological perspectives. This course introduces students to the scientific methods used to assess human impacts on the environment. This is important because with the human population expected to grow to more than nine billion people by 2050, we will continue to struggle to find ways to solve, or at least mitigate, the growing environmental consequences of our activities. In this course, we will take a problem-oriented approach to environmental science, focusing on five key questions: 1) Do we have sufficient material resources for the future world population? 2) How can we feed our growing population? 3) How can this population maintain a clean environment? 4) Do we have sufficient sustainable energy resources for a growing population? and 5) How will this growing population change our planet? Over the course of this semester, we will explore the science necessary to understand the underlying environmental systems involved and to develop effective scientific and policy solutions. We will also touch on how science can (and cannot) influence broader issues associated with complex environmental problems. Field and laboratory exercises will generate data that students will analyze, interpret and compare to historic data sets. Students will design and complete an independent project on an environmental science topic of their choice. [ more ]

ENVI 103(F)Global Warming and Natural Disasters

The destruction caused by recent storms such as Irene and Sandy, devastation of prolonged drought in the African Sahel, catastrophic flooding and mudslides in SE Asia and sea level encroachment on the Alaska coast are visible examples of natural disasters that may be modulated by climate change. Global climate change, together with environmental degradation and the explosive growth of urban areas, has the potential to increase the severity and impact of natural disasters. In this course we globally examine geological and climatological processes that "set up" natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, landslides, droughts, extreme temperatures, and coastal surges, as well as the processes that condition availability of water resources. We study in detail the causes and anticipated consequences of human alteration of global climate and its impact on the spectrum of natural hazards and resources. During laboratory sessions we use local field sites and computer models to analyze recent disasters/hazards, trends in weather and climate and options for mitigating future impacts. [ more ]

ENVI 104(S)Oceanography

The oceans cover about 72% of Earth's surface, yet we know the surface of Venus better than our own ocean floors. Why is that? This integrated introduction to the oceans covers formation and history of the ocean basins; the composition and origin of seawater; currents, tides, and waves; ocean-atmosphere interactions; oceans and climate; deep-marine environments; coastal processes; productivity in the oceans; and human impacts. Coastal oceanography will be investigated on an all-day field trip, hosted by the Williams-Mystic program in Connecticut. [ more ]

ENVI 105The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life

Not offered this year

Our planet is about 4.6 billion years old and has supported life for at least the last 3.5 billion of those years. This course will consider the inter-related nature of Earth and the life that inhabits it, starting with the first living organisms and progressing to the interaction of our own species with the Earth today. Students will investigate the dynamic nature of the Earth-life system, examine many of its feedbacks, and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We will ask questions such as: How did the Earth facilitate biologic evolution, and what effects did those biologic events have on the physical Earth? When did photosynthesis evolve, how can we detect that in the rock record, and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the environment? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and radiation of land plants affect world climate? How do plate tectonics, glaciation, and volcanism influence biodiversity and evolutionary innovation? What caused mass extinctions in the past and what can that teach us about our current extinction crisis? Labs will involve hands-on analysis of rocks, fossils, and real-world data as well as conceptual and analytical exercises; field trips will contextualize major events in Earth history and will help students learn to read the rock record. Through these investigations, the class will provide a comprehensive overview of Earth history, with special attention paid to the geological and paleontological history of the northeastern United States. [ more ]

ENVI 108Energy Science and Technology

Not offered this year

Energy use has skyrocketed in the United States and elsewhere in the world, causing significant economic and political shifts, as well as concerns for the environment. This course will address the physics and technology of energy generation, consumption, and conservation. It will cover a wide range of energy sources, including fossil fuels, hydropower, solar energy, wind energy, and nuclear energy. We will discuss energy use in transportation, manufacturing, building heating, and building lighting. Students will learn to compare the efficiencies and environmental impacts of various energy sources and uses. [ more ]

ENVI 134(S)The Tropics: Biology and Social Issues

Intended for the non-scientist, this course explores the biological dimensions of social issues in tropical societies, and focuses on specifically on the peoples and cultures of tropical regions in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceanea, and the Caribbean. Tropical issues have become prominent on a global scale, and many social issues in the tropics are inextricably bound to human ecology, evolution, and physiology. The course begins with a survey of the tropical environment of humans, including major climatic and habitat features. The next section focuses on human population biology, and emphasizes demography and the role of disease particularly malaria and AIDS. The final part of the course covers the place of human societies in local and global ecosystems including the challenges of tropical food production, the importance of organic diversity, and the interaction of humans with their supporting ecological environment. This course fulfills the EDI requirement. Through lectures, debates and readings, students confront social issues in the tropics from the perspective of biologist. This builds a framework for lifelong exploration of human diversity. [ more ]

ENVI 203(F)Ecology

This course combines lectures with field and indoor laboratory exercises to explore factors that determine the distribution and abundance of plants and animals in natural systems. The course begins with an overall view of global patterns and then builds from the population to the ecosystem level. An emphasis is given to basic ecological principles and relates them to current environmental issues. Selected topics include population dynamics (competition, predation, mutualism); community interactions (succession, food chains and diversity) and ecosystem function (biogeochemical cycles, energy flow). [ more ]

ENVI 205(F)Geomorphology

This course is designed for Geosciences majors and for environmental studies students interested in surficial geologic processes and their importance in shaping the physical environment. Geomorphology is the study of landforms, the processes that shape them and the rates at which surface processes change the landscape. This class emphasizes the influence of climatic, tectonic, and volcanic forces on landform evolution over relatively short periods of geologic time, generally thousands to a few millions of years. At this time scale, the influence of human activity and climate change on landforms may be strong, perhaps dominant, in many geologic environments. Many of our examples analyze human interaction - planned or unplanned-- with geomorphic processes. Labs focus on field measurements of channels and landscapes in the Williamstown area as well as on the analysis of topographic maps and stereo air photos. [ more ]

ENVI 206Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Campus

Not offered this year

Rising oil and electricity costs disrupt the economy and help fuel global insecurity. Extraction of fossil fuels degrades the environment. Clearer understanding of how fossil-fuel consumption contributes to global climate change is increasing the demand for renewable sources of energy and for more sustainable campus environments. What sources of energy will supply Williams College and nearby areas in the twenty-first century? How will campus buildings, old and new, continue to be attractive spaces while making far more efficient use of heat and light? How can the College's operations and purchasing become more sustainable? This course is a practical introduction to renewable sources of energy, including conservation, principles of sustainability, and to their application to the campus environment. Topics covered include: biological sources of energy (biomass, biogas, liquid fuels), wind energy, geothermal and solar energy, energy efficiency and the environmental impacts of using renewable energy. Lectures, field trips and individual projects emphasize examples from the campus and nearby area. [ more ]

ENVI 207(F)Earth Resources

The metal in your soda can, the plastic in your Nalgene, the components of your computer, the glass in your window, the hydrocarbons being burned to keep you warm in the winter or to transport you in cars or aircraft, the cars and aircraft themselves: all are made of materials mined from the Earth. Right now there are more people building more houses, paving more roads, making more vehicles, more electronics, and more plastic packaging--all with geologic materials. As demand soars in both established and growing economies, and as we realize the environmental damage that can result from resource extraction and processing, the importance of understanding Earth's resources increases. Finding new deposits and managing those we have requires insight into the geology that underlies the location and origin of strategic Earth materials. This class introduces the geologic processes that control formation, distribution, and extent of materials reserves: dimension stone and gravel, base and precious metal ores, gemstones, petroleum, nuclear energy sources, and specialty materials for medical, technological, and military uses. [ more ]

ENVI 208Science and Politics in Environmental Decision Making

Not offered this year

This course explores the relationship between science and politics in environmental decision-making. How do legislators know when a species is endangered and warrants protection? What precautions should be applied in allowing genetically modified foods onto our plates? Can we, and should we, weigh the risks of malaria against the impacts of pesticides used to control those mosquitoes that transmit the disease? How has the global community come together to understand the risks from global climate change, and how has this understanding shaped our policy responses? What are some of the limits of science in shaping policy outcomes? In addressing these and other questions, we will pay particular attention to how power relations and existing institutions shape what knowledge, and whose knowledge, is taken on board in decision-making, be it at the local, national or global level. We will delve into how these dynamics shape policy outcomes and we will also examine novel approaches for incorporating the knowledge of traditionally disempowered groups, including indigenous and local communities. [ more ]

ENVI 209Ecologies of Place: Culture, Commodities and Everyday Life

Not offered this year

This course will explore the environmental implications of everyday life in modern America. It will ask how cultural, political, economic, and ecological systems interact to produce ordinary places and vernacular landscapes, from campuses to cul-de-sacs, farms to forests, nation-states to national parks. Combining approaches from cultural geography, environmental history, and political ecology, it will focus on the hidden lives of "things"--the commodities and technologies that form the basic building blocks of place: food, oil, water, wood, machines. With strong emphasis on local-global relations, it will look beneath the surface of the ordinary to reveal the complex networks of power, meaning, and matter that connect "here" to "there," "now" to "then," and "us" to "them." In so doing, it will pursue parallel goals: to understand the socio-spatial processes shaping today's global environment; and to explore the cultural systems through which those processes are understood and contested. Topics will include the bottled water controversy, factory farming and local agriculture, the political economy of lawns, and the cultural politics of invasive species. [ more ]

ENVI 210Governing Nature

Not offered this year

This course analyzes the regulation of natural resources, primarily in today's United States. We will study how shared definitions of nature and, hence, nature's resources are instituted in law and policy and the extent to which these legal mandates shape actual landscapes. We will examine the workings of government bureaucracies--for example, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service--to see how their understanding and administration of natural resources operate on the ground and affect local communities. We will consider an array of questions: What is the relationship between nature and what anthropologists call "the State"? Does scientific expertise command authority? When is the governance of natural resources synonymous with the governance of people? To what extent are taken-for-granted terms like "endangered" in reality social and legal constructs? In order to unpack these and other puzzles, we will turn to historical works and ethnography, focusing on insights from political and environmental anthropology. We will also read legal doctrine, such as the Wilderness Act of 1964 and judicial opinions regarding tribal sovereignty and fishing rights. Our case studies will range from rivers and national forests in the American Southwest to local conservation issues in the Berkshires, including land trusts. [ more ]

ENVI 211(S)Race and the Environment

In contemporary societies, race remains an enduring impediment to the achievement of equality. Generally understood as a socially meaningful way of classifying human bodies hierarchically, race manifests itself in a number of arenas, including personal experience, economic production and distribution, and political organization. In this course, we will explore how race emerges in local and global environmental issues, like pollution and climate change. We will begin with a review of some of the landmark texts in Environmental Studies that address "environmental racism," like Robert Bullard's Dumping in Dixie and David Pellow's Garbage Wars. We will examine how and to what extent polluting facilities like landfills, oil refineries, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color; we will also pay attention to how specific corporations create the underlying rationale for plotting industrial sites. After outlining some of the core issues raised in this scholarship, we will turn to cultural productions--like literature, film, and music--to understand how people of color respond to environmental injustice and imagine the natural world. [ more ]

ENVI 213(F, S)Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

We'll use economics to learn why we harm the environment and overuse natural resources, and what we can do about it. We'll talk about whether and how we can put a dollar value on nature and ecosystem services. We'll study cost benefit analysis, pollution in general, climate change, natural resources (like fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels), and energy. We will take an economic approach to global sustainability, and study the relationship between the environment and economic growth and trade. [ more ]

Taught by: Sara Adler Mandelbaum, Sarah Jacobson

Catalog details

ENVI 214(S)Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems

This class provides a practical look at fast-evolving methods used to integrate information about the Earth's surface with spatial data collected by disciplines such as archaeology, economics, the field sciences, history and political science. Remote sensing involves collection and processing of data from satellite and airborne sensors to yield environmental information about the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere. Remote sensing allows regional mapping of rock materials, analysis of vegetation cover and measurement of urban areas and land-use change over time. A Geographic Information System (GIS) links satellite-based environmental measurements with spatial data such as topography, transportation networks, and political boundaries, allowing display and quantitative analysis at the same scale using the same geographic reference. This course covers concepts of remote-data capture and geographic rectification using a Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as principles of remote sensing, including linear and non-linear image enhancements, convolution filtering, and image classification. Principles of GIS include display and classification, spatial buffers, logical overlays and techniques of spatial analysis. Weekly labs focus on training in the application of techniques using data from the region and other areas of North America. [ more ]

ENVI 215Climate Changes

Not offered this year

In recent years, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in the Earth's climate and its variability. This interest reflects both concern over future climate changes resulting from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and growing recognition of the economic impact of "natural" climate variability (for example, El Ni?o events), especially in the developing world. Efforts to understand the Earth's climate system and predict future climate changes require both study of parameters controlling present day climate and detailed studies of climate changes in the past. In this course, we will review the processes that control the Earth's climate, like insolation, the greenhouse effect, ocean circulation, configuration of continents, and positive and negative feedbacks. At the same time, we will review the geological record of climate changes in the past, examining their causes. Laboratory exercises and problem sets will emphasize developing problem solving skills and using quantitative analyses to assess if a given explanation is possible and reasonable. These exercises will include developing and applying numerical models of the radiative balance of earth and the carbon cycle. [ more ]

ENVI 216(S)Philosophy of Animals

This course will investigate the mental lives of non-human animals. Throughout we will aim to fuse a rigorous scientific perspective with more humanistic themes and moral inquiry. Topics will include animal minds and cognition, empathy and evolution, the history of domestication, animal rights, cross-cultural views on animals, arguments against and for vegetarianism and veganism, and pets and happiness. [ more ]

ENVI 217(S)Environmental Humanities: Theory and Practice

How does culture shape our use and imagination of the physical environment? And how does the physical environment shape culture in turn? These are the central questions of the environmental humanities. This course will explore the various ways in which scholars from a broad range of disciplines have sought to answer these questions by incorporating insights from social theory and cultural criticism. Focusing on studies of land and landscape in the Americas from the time of European colonization to the present, it will examine key works from fields such as environmental history, ecocriticism, environmental philosophy, and cultural geography, and it will survey the major methodological and theoretical commitments that unite these fields. Emphasis will be placed on the ideological critique of modernity. How have scholars made environmental sense of liberalism, colonialism, capitalism, nationalism, sexism, racism, and speciesism? How have these "isms" influenced our relations with the natural world, and how can the humanities help us both understand and change these relations for the better? This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity requirement. [ more ]

ENVI 218(S)"Ecologismo": Literature, Culture and the Environment in Latin America

How have Latin American authors and artists responded to environmental concerns, from the logging and rubber booms that threatened the Amazon in the early 20th century to contemporary global warming? How do the realities of Latin American societies--including massive disparities of wealth and poverty; the cultural and political impact, of sizable indigenous populations; and the complex histories of colonialism, dependency and neoliberalism--inform Latin American responses to environmental issues? How does Latin America's "environmental imaginary" differ from those of the US and Europe? In this course we will explore these issues and more through literature and other cultural texts from Latin America. We will consider short stories and novellas by authors including Horacio Quiroga (Uruguay), Luis Sepulveda (Chile), Mempo Giardinelli (Argentina), and Ana Cristina Rossi (Costa Rica); poetry by Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua) and Homero Aridjis (Mexico); the paintings of Tomas Sanchez (Cuba); and feature films as well as shorter documentaries. In Spanish. [ more ]

ENVI 220(S)Field Botany and Plant Natural History

This field-lecture course covers the evolutionary and ecological relationships among plant groups represented in our local and regional flora. Lectures focus on the evolution of the land plants, the most recent and revolutionary developments in plant systemics and phylogeny, and characteristics of plant families and cultural and economic uses of plants, native species. The labs cover field identification, natural history, and ecology of local species. [ more ]

ENVI 221Introduction to Urban Studies: Shaping and Living the City

Not offered this year

Generally, cities have been described either as vibrant commercial and cultural centers or as violent and decaying urban slums. In an effort to begin to think more critically about cities, this course introduces important topics in the interdisciplinary field of Urban Studies. Specifically, we will discuss concepts and theories used to examine the peoples and structures that make up cities: In what ways do socio-cultural, economic, and political factors affect urban life and development? How are cities planned and used by various stakeholders (politicians, developers, businesses, and residents)? How do people make meaning of the places they inhabit? We will pay particular attention to the roles of race, ethnicity, class, and gender in understanding and interpreting urban communities. Texts include works by anthropologists, historians, sociologists, cultural critics, cultural geographers, and literary writers. [ more ]

ENVI 223 TColonial Landscapes: Latin America's Contemporary Environmental Literature

Not offered this year

"It is not by coincidence that our societies are both racist and anti-ecological," wrote the Chilean sociologist Fernando Mires in his now-classic study, The Discourse of Nature. This tutorial explores works of contemporary literature that implicitly and explicitly link Latin America's ongoing environmental crisis to the region's long and multi-layered history of colonialism: novels by Sylvia Iparraguirre (Argentina), Mayra Montero (Puerto Rico), Giaconda Belli (Nicaragua), Luis Sepulveda (Chile); poetry by Homero Aridjis (Mexico); essays by Octavio Paz (Mexico), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Brazil), and more. Representing a wide variety of geographies, literary styles and ideological perspectives, these writers nevertheless converge in challenging us to consider the effects of environmental crisis within structures of power that are radically unequal at the local, national, and global levels; and to recognize that consciousness of environmental vulnerability can prompt new forms of inclusion and community as well as exclusion. Topics to be explored also include the role of indigenous cosmologies in contemporary environmental politics, the place of urban ecologies within the environmental imaginary, and the ongoing debates among academic critics and others regarding the scope and methodologies of ecocriticism as an approach to Latin American literature. Students have the option of tutorial in Spanish or in English; partners will be assigned accordingly. Each tutorial pair will meet with me for one hour during the week, during which time we will discuss a 5-page paper that one of the partners has submitted the night before. This adds up to a substantial amount of (reading and) writing for each student in the course, i.e., six 5-page essays over the course of the semester. This tutorial meets the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by challenging students to position themselves, intellectually and imaginatively, in the space of those excluded from modernity's material benefits as they struggle to brace themselves against its catastrophic environmental effects. [ more ]

ENVI 224(F)The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

Over the centuries, philosophers and historians have asked how societies evolved from simple hunter-gatherer bands to complex urban civilizations. Human prehistory and history have shown the repeated cycles of the rise, expansion and collapse of early civilizations in both the Old and New World. What do the similarities and differences in the development of these first civilizations tell us about the nature of societal change, civilization and the state, and human society itself? The course will examine these issues through an introductory survey of the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Mesoamerica and South America. Classical and modern theories on the nature, origin, and development of the state will be reviewed in light of the archaeological evidence. [ more ]

ENVI 226 TThe Oceans and Climate

Not offered this year

The oceans are a fundamental part of Earth's climate system. Ocean currents redistribute heat and water vapor around the globe, controlling temperature and precipitation patterns. Marine phytoplankton blooms and air-sea gas exchange modulate the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The dynamic interaction of the atmosphere and the sea surface results in multi-year climate variations such as the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation. This course will examine gradual and abrupt climate shifts from Earth's history and the ocean's role in driving, amplifying or dampening the changes, the ocean's response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the projected impacts of continued emissions and climate change on the ocean in the coming decades and millennia. We will analyze articles from the scientific literature that lay out the theory on the ocean's influence on climate, reconstruct past climate and ocean changes, test the mechanisms responsible for those changes, and with that knowledge, project the consequences of continued anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Topics may include the climate effects of opening and closing seaways with plate tectonics, ocean feedbacks that amplify the intensity of ice ages, the instability of ocean circulation during ice-sheet retreat, the evolution of the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation with changing carbon dioxide through the geologic past and the next century, ocean heat and carbon dioxide uptake during the last century and into the future, and the impact on sea level, seafloor methane reservoirs, ocean acidification, oxygenation and marine ecosystems. [ more ]

ENVI 227Utopias and Americas

Not offered this year

Where does the term "new world" come from? What do we mean by "utopia," "utopian," and "utopianism?" What relationships exist between the people who imagine utopias and the lands they inhabit? This course considers the relationship between utopian imaginations and the imaginations of the lands and peoples in the Western hemisphere. We will spend some time studying utopian theory, ancient proto-utopias, and utopias in Latin America, though our main focus will be on particular examples of utopianism in the U.S.A. We will attend to particular instances of utopian social dreaming that re-imagine time, space, environment, gender, family, education, and power. While the U.S.A. is the main focus of the class, students are encouraged to pursue and bring to class utopian perspectives from other parts of the Americas. Students are also strongly encouraged to take questions from class and engage utopian images not listed on this syllabus but pertinent to our classroom learning. [ more ]

ENVI 228 T(F)Water as a Scarce Resource

For a variety of reasons including environmental pollution, urbanization, changing agricultural techniques, resource mismanagement, and the consequences of climate change, water is becoming a scarce resource even in places where it was relatively plentiful in the past, and it is likely to become an increasingly scarce resource over the coming decades. In this course we will use basic economic models to consider policy issues relating to water: Is access to water a basic human right, and if so, what market and non-market mechanisms should play a role in water allocation? Does public ownership of water improve the way it is provided and used? Why do societies differ in their approaches to allocating water and are some systems better than others? What does it mean to have a property right to water? Could private property rights to water help address the water pollution problem? How can societies change their water-related property rights, regulations and social institutions when individuals have implicit or explicit rights to the institutional status quo? Who has the right to water that crosses international boundaries? How should societies allocate water across generations? [ more ]

ENVI 233(S)The Industrial Animal

This class is inspired by a January 2015 New York Times expose written by the food journalist Michael Moss. "At a remote research center on the Nebraska plains," he wrote, "scientists are using surgery and breeding techniques to re-engineer the farm animal to fit the needs of the 21st-century meat industry. The potential benefits are huge: animals that produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise. There are, however, some complications." There are always complications. In this class, we examine the historical development of the industrial animal. Exploring the physical, scientific, and political infrastructures that support American industrial meat production, we pay critical attention to the biological complications that have arisen in shaping animal life to fit the needs of the modern factory. We examine the methods--from synthetic vitamins and artificial light to antibiotics and artificial insemination--industrial producers use to overcome the obstacles of biology. Finally, we consider the industrialization of the meat animal in the context of the industrialization of feedstuff crops like corn and soy, changing US consumption patterns, local and national food politics, and the human labor that makes it all possible. [ more ]

ENVI 234(S)Economics of Developing Countries

The leaders of poor countries almost universally proclaim "economic development" to be their eventual destination, but it is not easy to visualize the journey. Is rapid economic growth sufficient to generate development, or do governments need to pro-actively invest in health and education? When does globalization facilitate development? Is it true that corruption is major obstacle? Has the climate crisis upended our traditional models to the point where we need to rethink the notion of development? The class will introduce this set of issues, as analyzed by economists. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENVI 235Environmental Political Theory

Not offered this year

What is the relationship between politics and nature? Today, this question has been given special urgency by the reality of environmental degradation and the efforts of social movements that seek a more sustainable future. But the nature-politics relationship is also a longstanding source of controversy and insight within the history of political thought. In this class, we will consider the efforts of both canonical and contemporary political theorists to fashion political principles suited to organizing the comportment of human communities towards non-human nature. The texts we read will prompt us to question common presuppositions about human nature and the material settings of political life. They will also challenge us to reconsider the actors, spaces, and knowledge that constitute politics. By putting contemporary scholarly and activist visions of environmental justice and sustainability into dialogue with works by Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, and others, we will become more familiar with the theoretical roots of contemporary debates about the environment and better equipped to notice elisions in both past and present conceptions of nature and politics. The course will primarily be driven by discussion, often introduced by 15-20 minute lectures. [ more ]

ENVI 236(S)Demigods: Nature, Social Theory, and Visual Imagination in Art and Literature, Ancient to Modern

This course traces the obscure history of demigods (satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, Pan, etc.) from its origins in ancient Greek art and poetry until today. We pay special attention to three points: the relationship between the mythology of demigods and ancient political theory concerning primitive life; the relationship between the mythology and evolving conceptions of the environment, and the capacity of the visual arts to generate and transmit mythology that has a limited literary counterpart. Individual demigods occasionally interact with gods or heroes, and end up in the pages of a book. But animal-human hybrids are usually envisioned en masse and exist primarily in visual art, where they thrive to this day. The interpretation of demigods has changed over time, keeping up with developments in ethics and evolving hierarchies of genre and taste. Demigods have been subordinated to the status of decoration, or banished altogether. In antiquity, they are hardly ornamental. Embodied in satyrs, nymphs, Pan, and the others is a collective vision of an alternate evolutionary trajectory and cultural history. In this parallel world, humans and animals not only talk to each other, they live similar lives, intermarry, and create new species. The distinction between nature and culture is not meaningful. Male and female are more or less equal. The industrial revolution never happens. How much of the ancient conceptual framework informing the representation of demigods survives along with the visual imagery? We will examine the origins and mythology of the demigods in works of ancient art, including sculpture and painted vases, such as the Francois vase and the Parthenon, and ancient texts, such as Hesiod's Theogony and Ovid's Metamorphoses. We will contextualize the representations within ancient intellectual history via texts ranging in genre from Old Comedy and political theory to theology, religious history, philosophy, and ethics (e. g., Aristophanes, Demokritos, and Lucretius). We will investigate the survival of the ancient myth of evolutionary alterity. This will include consideration of the imagery of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian painters such as Piero di Cosimo, Dosso Dossi, and Titian, the reevaluation of nature by the Romantics, Nietzsches' Birth of Tragedy and twentieth-century artists such as Picasso. We will also explore the function of demigods in modern literature from C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling. Students who have some knowledge of the history of art (e. g., ARTH 101-102) will be well prepared to take this course. But it is designed to be comprehensible and meaningful to students with no background in art history. The requirements of the course include: attendance; preparing and answering questions for discussion; one midterm, one final exam, and one final paper. [ more ]

ENVI 239Introduction to Ecocriticism: North-South Dialogues on Nature and Culture

Not offered this year

This course will introduce students to the study of the relationship between literature and the environment, often referred to as 'ecocriticism,' through careful examination of Jean de Lery's 1577 History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil and related texts. Lery's fascinating account of a yearlong stay among the 'cannibals' of Brazil gets at many of the themes and debates taken up by ecocritics today: How do political, economic, religious and philosophical factors influence individual and collective conceptions of 'nature' and its value? How do acts of reading and writing inform (or deform) our understanding of the 'natural' world? What is the role of aesthetics in environmental politics, and how can unspoken assumptions about race, gender, and cultural difference influence representations of global environmental issues like deforestation and global warming? Envi 239/Comp 238 fulfills the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by contextualizing current questions of international environmental policy within the long history of colonialism, challenging students to think about cultural diversity as well as economic inequality as relevant to contemporary debates about the value and distribution of natural resources. In addition to Lery's History, we will also read landmarks of ecocritical theory by scholars including Lawrence Buell, William Cronon, Candace Slater and Jorge Marcone, as well as more recent literary interventions into environmental issues in the Americas. [ more ]

ENVI 244 T(S)Environmental Ethics

What ethical standards should guide our individual and societal choices when those choices affect current and future environmental conditions? This course will introduce students to fundamental concepts, methods, and issues in environmental ethics. Initial tutorial meetings will focus on theoretical materials that will background later discussions and will include classic readings from the environmental ethics literature (e.g., Leopold, Taylor, Rolston). Subsequent sessions will pair readings about key concepts with specific cases that raise complex ethical issues, including the concept of moral standing and, e.g., people who do not yet exist, non-human individuals, species, and complex living systems; the concept of moral responsibility and complicity in environmentally damaging practices; the legitimacy of cost-benefit analysis as an environmental policy tool; and the valuation of human lives. [ more ]

ENVI 254 T(S)Gulf of California Tectonics and Coastal Ecosystems

The coastal zone on Mexico's Baja California peninsula extends more than 1,000 km from northwest to southeast within the Gulf of California, but the composite length including indented bays and the circumference of more than 40 islands amounts to almost 3,000 km. The ecosystems developed along the shores of this tectonically active and expanding seaway include rocky shores, coastal sand dunes, coral reefs, clam beds, and huge banks of unattached coralline red algae known as rhodoliths. Sequestration of calcium-carbonate (CaCO3) is one factor that all the ecosystems share in common. The products of these limestone-producing systems are surprisingly monumental in physical scale, given the brief 5.5 Ma during which they evolved. Why are these systems so prolific and what physical factors control their biogeography within the context of each island, embayment, or headland? What role is played by changing climate, particularly with respect to patterns of atmospheric and marine circulation associated with El Ni?o Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles traceable back through the Pleistocene and Pliocene? These questions are holistic in scope, and the answers are deeply rooted in the wider region?s dynamic geological history. The tools used to answer such questions range from the petrographic microscope in examination of tiny bioclastic grains to satellite images in the analysis of landscapes. The object of this course is to demonstrate how a wide range of disciplines in physical geology, geomorphology, paleontology, and ecology combine to provide a broad but balanced picture of a complex region. While not mandatory, all participants are eligible for a 10-day field excursion to the lower Gulf of California near Loreto in Baja California Sur (Mexico) during Spring Break. [ more ]

ENVI 273Politics without Humans?

Not offered this year

Are human beings the only beings who belong in politics? And is political involvement a unique or defining aspect of what it means to be human? Such questions are increasingly complex as the boundaries of "the human" become blurred by the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics, and brain implants: shifting attitudes towards both animal and human bodies; and the automation of economic and military decisions (buy! sell! attack! retreat!) that used to be the prerogative of human actors. How do visions of politics without humans and humans without politics impact our thinking about longstanding questions of freedom, power, and right? Can and should the link between humans and politics survive in an age in which "posthuman" or "transhuman" entities become central characters in the drama of politics? This class will consider these questions through readings, films and artifacts that bring political theory into conversation with science fiction, popular literature on the so-called "singularity" (the merger of humans with computers), science and technology studies, evolutionary anthropology, "new materialist" philosophy, and feminist theory. [ more ]

ENVI 283(S)Dirty Politics: Regulating Hazardous Chemicals and Wastes

Since consumers were first introduced to the promise of "better living through chemistry," society has had to wrestle with the impacts, often far removed in place and time, resulting from a rapid proliferation of hazardous chemicals and wastes. Policy responses, be they at the local, national or global scale, are often limited to reactionary efforts to counter releases into the environment, are constrained by the prevalent use of the technologies in question, and further bring to the fore key challenges of environmental justice and risk management. How then are we to regulate DDT without adversely affecting our fight against mosquito-borne malaria? How might we preserve the ozone layer while still maintaining the benefits of food preservation through refrigeration? How can we reap the benefits of the electronic age without condoning the steady flow of electronic waste affecting workers' health and environments in developing countries? Emphasis will be placed on understanding the politics that bring about, and allow us to address, these problems. We will be examining in particular novel policy responses, including Europe's precautionary safe use law, citizen science initiatives and consumer-driven certification schemes. [ more ]

ENVI 285(S)Writing About Science and Nature

Over the last few decades, the nature of nature has changed and so, necessarily, has nature writing. In this course we will read essays and articles by some of the most innovative science and nature writers working today. Students will also produce their own work. The class will include workshop sessions and group discussions. There will be frequent short exercises and a long final project. [ more ]

Taught by: Elizabeth Kolbert

Catalog details

ENVI 287The Dynamics of Globalization: Society, Religion and the Environment

Not offered this year

This course offers a theoretical reflection on the social, cultural and environmental dynamics of globalization and their consequences for the nature and place of religion. Rather than argue for or against globalization, we first examine the nature of this new configuration and its relation to (post)modernity, asking questions such as: What are the cultural and social dynamics of globalization? What are the effects on the nature of the state and the political practices that take place in the global world? What are its environmental consequences? We then shift to examining the role of religion, arguing that its renewed relevance is a function of the socio-cultural transformations that globalization brings about, particularly the loss of community and the increasing atomization of individuals. We conclude by examining some of the perspectives created by the new religious expressions that attempt to respond to this situation, from personal spiritual quests as manifested in interest in Buddhism, ecology or mountain climbing, to various forms of fundamentalism, such as Evangelicalism, the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas, and the most radical forms of Islamicism. Reading list: Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity; Castells, The Rise of the Network Society; Bauman, Globalization; Kivisto, Multiculturalism in a Global Society; Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World; Ortner, Life and Death on Mt. Everest; Matthews, Global Cultura/ Individual Identity; Shuck, Mark of the Beast; Roy, Globalized Islam. [ more ]

ENVI 291(S)Religion and the American Environmental Imagination

This course examines the relationship between religious and environmental thought in modern America. Exploring a broad range of practices and beliefs, we will examine the religious (and anti-religious) roots of contemporary environmental discourse. Drawing widely on both religious studies and the environmental humanities, we will examine the works of famous environmental thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau and Wendell Berry, as well as a number of lesser-known writers from non-Christian backgrounds. We will read these writers alongside recent scholarship on religion and ecology to understand how they were influenced by social and environmental trends such as urbanization, industrialization, immigration, and globalization. We will also ask how religion has intersected with gender, race, class, and ethnicity to shape environmental politics in the twenty-first century, with particular emphasis on agrarianism, wilderness preservation, and climate justice. [ more ]

ENVI 302(F)Environmental Planning

This interdisciplinary course introduces the theories, approaches, methodologies, and legal framework of environmental planning and provides students with experience in the planning process through project work in the Berkshire region. The first part of the course introduces the students to planning literature through analysis and discussion of case studies. In the second part of the course students tackle an actual planning problem. Small teams of students, working in conjunction with a client in the community and under supervision of the instructor, conduct a planning project, using all the tools of an environmental planner. The project work draws on students' academic training, extracurricular activities, and applies interdisciplinary knowledge and methodologies. The course includes several class presentations and culminates in a public presentation of each team's planning study. This course also includes field trips, town meetings, interviews, survey work, and computer mapping labs. [ more ]

ENVI 303(F)Cultures of Climate Change

This course asks why people think and talk about climate change in such very different ways. Climate change is a physical phenomenon that can be observed, quantified, and measured. But it is also an idea, and as such it is subject to the vagaries of cultural interpretation. Despite scientific agreement about its existence and its causes, many people do not see climate change as a serious problem, or as a problem at all. Many others see it as the most serious problem our species has ever faced. What are the sources of this disparity? Why can't we agree about climate change? How does something as complex and confusing as climate change become a "problem" in the first place? This course will explore a broad array of factors, from religion to race, class to colonialism. It will focus especially closely on the communication of scientific knowledge, risk perception, and environmental ethics, and it will apply a range of theories from the social sciences and humanities to a set of concrete case studies. [ more ]

ENVI 306(F)A History of an African City

The city of Nairobi was founded solely to serve the needs of white colonials and settlers. Fifty years later--in the 1960s--it had become dominated by Africans and is now, in the 21st Century, a major global city with over 4 million people. This course will trace the history of Nairobi from the 19th century to the present. We will focus on the city's political and economic development, its racial conflicts, as well as the daily experience of various groups of city dwellers. We will also look at the growth of the city's physical infrastructure--its transportation, housing, trade, and labor networks. Students will also get a chance to read about the various artistic movements in Nairobi, focusing especially on music, theater, and street performances. [ more ]

ENVI 307(F)Environmental Law

We rely on environmental laws to make human communities healthier and protect the natural world, while allowing for sustainable economic growth. Yet, despite 40 years of increasingly varied and complex legislation, balancing human needs and environmental quality has never been harder than it is today. Environmental Studies 307 analyzes the transformation of environmental law from fringe enterprise to fundamental feature of modern political, economic and social life. ENVI 307 also addresses the role of community activism in environmental law, from local battles over proposed industrial facilities to national campaigns for improved corporate citizenship. By the completion of the semester, students will understand both the successes and failures of modern environmental law and how these laws are being reinvented, through innovations like pollution credit trading and "green product" certification, to confront globalization, climate change and other emerging threats. [ more ]

ENVI 309Environmental Politics and Policy

Not offered this year

This course will provide an overview of environmental policy-making, with an emphasis on the ways in which policies are developed and implemented at the local, state and national level. Special attention will be paid to the variety of actors that shape environmental outcomes, including legislators, administrators, the science community, civil society and the private sector. Following an examination of different models of environmental policy-making, this course will focus on several case studies, including on the management of public lands, air and water pollution, climate change and endangered species protection. [ more ]

ENVI 311(F)History of the Chemical Revolution in US Agriculture

Where do fertilizers, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals come from? How are they made and why are they used? Why does the United States use so much more than other countries? This class examines the development of US agriculture through a lens of the chemical revolution. We begin with a study of the intensive growth of the US chemical industry and US agriculture during and after WWI, situating their growth within an era of chronic farm surplus. We then turn to the dramatic increases in chemical consumption among all branches of agriculture following WWII, paying particular attention to the relationships between seed technology, chemical warfare, mechanization, labor, government institutions, and petroleum-based organic chemicals. We conclude by turning our historical understanding of US agrochemical development toward the current state of US agriculture and examine the rationales and policies that support the ongoing consumption of industrial chemicals across the entire US agricultural complex. [ more ]

ENVI 312(F)Communities and Ecosystems

An advanced ecology course that examines how species interact with each other and their environment with a focus on conservation implications. This course emphasizes phenomena that emerge in complex ecological systems, building on the fundamental concepts of population biology, community ecology, and ecosystem science. This foundation will be used to understand specific topics relevant to conservation including the functional significance of diversity for ecosystem stability and processes. Lectures and labs will explore how to characterize the emergent properties of communities and ecosystems, and how theoretical, comparative, and experimental approaches are used to understand their structure and function. The lab component of this course will emphasize hypothesis-oriented field experiments but will also include some laboratory microcosm experiments. The laboratory component of the course will culminate with a self-designed independent or group project. [ more ]

ENVI 313Chicago

Not offered this year

"The city of big shoulders has plenty of room for diversity," reads the official visitor's website for the City of Chicago. Focusing on this claim, this course asks students to think critically about what kind room has been made for diversity--social, spatial, and ideological. Additionally we examine the ways in which diverse social actors have shouldered their way into the imagined and physical landscape of the city. Working with ethnography, history, literature, critical essays, and popular culture, we will explore the material and discursive constructions of Chi-Town and urban life among its residents. Appreciating these constructions we also consider how Chicago has served as a key site for understandings of urbanity within a broader national and global context. [ more ]

ENVI 314(S)Sediment Records of Climate Change

Sediments and sedimentary rocks may appear unassuming but they are an extraordinarily rich archive of Earth's geologic history, including Earth's past climate. In the first half of this class, we will survey techniques of stratigraphic analysis and dating of sediments, including paleomagnetism, seismic stratigraphy, biozones, and radioisotope methods. In the second half, we will survey the wide variety of methods for reconstructing past climate from sediments including the composition and texture of the sediment, the assemblage of fossils, and the elemental and isotope chemistry of sediment components. These are used to reconstruct many climatic parameters from the past, including the temperature and salinity of seawater, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, ocean circulation, sea ice distribution, global terrestrial ice volume, terrestrial biomes, and in some cases, seasonal to interannual climate variability. In labs and independent projects, students will apply these tools to a collection of sediment samples spanning eight million years from the warm Miocene to the present collected from the Monterey Bay region by GEOS 25 during WSP. Students who register for this class are strongly encouraged to take GEOS 25, and are given enrollment preference in that course. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENVI 315(S)Ecocriticism

How does the human imagination encounter its environment? This overarching question is of particular importance now, as the humanities struggle to address the ecological crises of our time. We'll read from the long tradition of environmentally-minded literary works in order to historicize concepts of nature and wilderness, as well as from more recent theoretical and creative writing that reflects an increasing awareness of climate change, toxic waste and pollution, habitat loss and species extinction, population expansion, and other forms of environmental catastrophe. Our readings will be drawn from various genres and will include both classic works (such as Henry David Thoreau's Walden and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring) as well as the work of contemporary writers, some of whom we'll engage in person during several brief on-campus residencies. Finally, we'll explore via our own writing the ethical and aesthetic imperative to find ways of imagining this ever-changing relation between the imagination and the environment. [ more ]

ENVI 318California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Not offered this year

"Now I wish you to know about the strangest thing ever found anywhere in written texts or in human memory...I tell you that on the right-hand side of the Indies there was an island called California, which was very close to the region of the Earthly Paradise." As far as we know, the name "California" was first written in this passage by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, ca. 1510. Within a few decades, it came to be placed first on the peninsula of Baja California and then upon a region stretching up the Western coast of North America. What aspects of this vision are still drawn upon in how we imagine California today? How did certain narratives of California come to be, who has imagined California in certain ways, and why? What is the relationship between certain myths, the peoples who have imagined them, and the other peoples who have shared California dreams? In this course, we will examine some of the myths that surround California by looking at a few specific moments of interaction between the peoples who have come to make California home and the specific places in which they have interacted with each other. Of special interest will be imaginations of the Spanish missions, the Gold Rush, agricultural California, wilderness California, California as "sprawling multicultural dystopia," and California as "west of the west." [ more ]

ENVI 328(F)Global Environmental Politics

In the last two weeks of our Fall 2015 semester, world leaders will gather in Paris with the aim of finalizing an arduously negotiated global agreement on climate change. This new treaty will determine whether we, as a global community, can still be on track to avoid catastrophic climate change. In the first ten weeks of this writing-intensive course, we will turn to a broad array of case studies to examine how, by whom, and to what effect global environmental governance is shaped and implemented. Case studies will build on original documents, scholarship from a variety of disciplines, and class visits by practitioners and negotiators and will include chemicals management, atmospheric pollution, species protection, transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms, forest management, and environmental rights. By building on the last four decades of international efforts to regulate the environmental commons, we will develop research projects to complete as we engage in a "virtual field-trip" to the Paris Climate Summit in the last two weeks of the semester. [ more ]

ENVI 332(S)Environmental Justice

This course explores the concept of justice and the ways in which interested parties have defined that term in relation to man-made environmental hazards. We will analyze episodes of environmental injustice recounted in ethnography, literature, and historical works. To familiarize ourselves with the remedies available to people disproportionately affected by environmental perils, we will read domestic and international legal doctrine as well as documents produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme. Our initial readings will include philosophical treatises on justice as well as texts outlining the spatial dimensions of social inequality. In the United States, our case studies will range from air quality in the South Bronx to water pollution in New Jersey and West Virginia. Internationally, we will study the effects of oil extraction in the Niger Delta as well as climate change adaptation in nations that emit relatively little carbon dioxide. Throughout the course, we will discuss how lawyers and the communities they represent mobilize scientific evidence to achieve desired ends. Simultaneously, we will consider the extent to which otherwise marginalized people participate in environmental law- and policymaking. This course satisfies the EDI requirement, by critically examining the unequal exposure of different social groups to environmental harms. [ more ]

ENVI 341Toxicology and Cancer

Not offered this year

What is a poison and what makes it poisonous? Paracelcus commented in 1537: "What is not a poison? All things are poisons (and nothing is without poison). The dose alone keeps a thing from being a poison." Is the picture really this bleak; is modern technology-based society truly swimming in a sea of toxic materials? How are the nature and severity of toxicity established, measured and expressed? Do all toxic materials exert their effect in the same manner, or can materials be poisonous in a variety of different ways? Are the safety levels set by regulatory agencies low enough for a range of common toxic materials, such as mercury, lead, and certain pesticides? How are poisons metabolized and how do they lead to the development of cancer? What is cancer and what does it take to cause it? What biochemical defense mechanisms exist to counteract the effects of poisons?
This course attempts to answer these questions by surveying the fundamentals of modern chemical toxicology and the induction and progression of cancer. Topics will range from description and quantitation of the toxic response, including risk assessment, to the basic mechanisms underlying toxicity, mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, and DNA repair.
[ more ]

ENVI 346Environmental Psychology

Not offered this year

This is a course in social psychology as it pertains to the natural environment. We will consider how the environment influences aspects of human psychology (e.g., the psychological implications of humans' disconnect with nature), as well as how human psychology influences the environment (e.g., why some people engage in environmentally destructive behaviors despite holding proenvironmental attitudes). At the core of this course is an attempt to examine various ways in which research and theory in social psychology can contribute insights to understanding (and encouraging) environmentally responsible behavior and sustainable practices, both here at Williams and globally. Because human choice and behavior play such an important role in environmental problems, a consideration of human psychology may therefore be an important part of the solution. [ more ]

ENVI 351(F, S)Marine Policy

This seminar utilizes the interdisciplinary background of the other Williams-Mystic courses to examine national and international contemporary issues in our relationship with ocean and coastal resources. This seminar takes a topical approach to the study of marine law and policy, examining fisheries, harbor development, coastal zone management, admiralty law, law of the sea, marine pollution, and shipping. [ more ]

ENVI 364(F, S)Instrumental Methods of Analysis

This course provides the student an understanding of the applicability of current laboratory instrumentation both to the elucidation of fundamental chemical phenomena and to the measurement of certain atomic and molecular parameters. Student will gain knowledge and understanding of the theory and practical use of a variety of instrumental techniques; including, but not limited to, chromatography, mass spectrometry, thermal methods, electroanalytical techniques, atomic and molecular absorption and emission spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, and optical and electron microscopies, with examples drawn from the current literature. Analytical chemical and instrumental techniques will be developed in the lecture and extensively applied within the laboratory. These skills are useful in a wide variety of scientific areas. Through exploration of primary literature and review articles we will discuss recent developments in instrumental methods and advances in the approaches used to address modern analytical questions. [ more ]

ENVI 378(F)Nature/Writing

What do we mean by "nature"? How do we understand the relationships between "nature" and "culture"? In this course we will examine how various American writers have attempted to render conceptions of "nature" in literary form. We will compare treatments of various kinds of natural environments and trace the philosophical and stylistic traditions within the nature writing genre. The authors to be considered include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Faulkner, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, Ursula LeGuin, and Wendell Berry. [ more ]

ENVI 386(S)Environmental and Natural Resource Policy

Economic activity often damages the environment significantly, especially in developing countries. Firms may clear-cut valuable forests, while consumers may drive high-pollution vehicles with little thought for the environmental consequences. Economists have proposed a variety of policy remedies, from pollution taxes to tradable permit schemes and restrictions on the quantity of pollution. This course first examines the relative merits of these policies from a theoretical perspective. When pollution damage is uncertain, is it better to use a pollution tax or a quantity restriction? Is it worse to set a pollution tax too high than to set it too low? It then proceeds to the practical issues that attend policy implementation, particularly where state capacity is limited. What is the best policy when inspectors can be threatened or bribed? When resource extraction is hard to monitor? Case studies will likely include policies aimed at deforestation, mineral ownership and extraction, particulate air pollution from industry and transportation, and carbon emissions from electricity generation. In evaluating policies we will think about both efficiency and the distribution of costs and benefits. (What if environmental regulation only benefits the wealthiest people in a country?) We will also examine the environmental consequences of policies aimed at other problems, like poverty and low education. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENVI 387(S)Economics of Climate Change

This course introduces the economic view of climate change, including both theory and empirical evidence. Given the substantial changes implied by the current stock of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, we will begin by looking at impacts on agriculture, health, income, and migration in both wealthy and poor countries. Next we will study adaptation, including capital investments and behavioral changes, and insurance. We will examine the sources of climate change, especially electricity generation and transportation, and think about optimal policies. What is the socially optimal amount of climate change? (Probably not zero.) Why have countries had such a hard time agreeing on GHG emissions reductions, and how might we overcome such difficulties? In considering policy, we will employ not only theoretical predictions, but also the growing body of evidence from attempts to regulate GHGs. Examples include China's pilot cap-and-trade programs, the EU ETS, and the US Clean Power Plan. We will pay particular attention to the political economy of regulation and ways in which policy results have departed from theoretical predictions. Finally, we will discuss the limits of the economic approach to climate change, pointing out questions on which economic theory provides little guidance. [ more ]

ENVI 388Urbanization and Development

Not offered this year

At current rates of growth, the combined population of urban areas in developing countries will double in the next 30 years. The land area devoted to urban use is expected to double even more quickly. The costs of providing housing and infrastructure to accommodate this growth are enormous, but the costs of failing to accommodate urban development may be even larger. The decisions made in response to these challenges will affect the economic performance of these countries and the health and welfare of the urban residents. By affecting global patterns of energy use, these decisions will have broader impacts on the entire planet. This course will focus on these challenges. What are the economic forces that drive the process of urbanization, and how does the level of urbanization affect economic development? How are policies towards housing, transportation, public finance and development affected by urbanization? What policy choices are available, and which are most likely to succeed in dealing with the challenges of urban growth? [ more ]

ENVI 397(F)Independent Study of Environmental Problems

Individuals or groups of students may undertake a study of a particular environmental problem. The project may involve either pure or applied research, policy analysis, laboratory or field studies, or may be a creative writing or photography project dealing with the environment. A variety of nearby sites are available for the study of natural systems. Ongoing projects in the College-owned Hopkins Forest include ecological studies, animal behavior, and acid rain effects on soils, plants, and animals. Students may also choose to work on local, national, or international policy or planning issues, and opportunities to work with town and regional planning officials are available. Projects are unrestricted as to disciplinary focus. Students should consult with faculty well before the start of the semester in which they plan to carry out their project. [ more ]

ENVI 398(S)Independent Study of Environmental Problems

Individuals or groups of students may undertake a study of a particular environmental problem. The project may involve either pure or applied research, policy analysis, laboratory or field studies, or may be a creative writing or photography project dealing with the environment. A variety of nearby sites are available for the study of natural systems. Ongoing projects in the College-owned Hopkins Forest include ecological studies, animal behavior, and acid rain effects on soils, plants, and animals. Students may also choose to work on local, national, or international policy or planning issues, and opportunities to work with town and regional planning officials are available. Projects are unrestricted as to disciplinary focus. Students should consult with faculty well before the start of the semester in which they plan to carry out their project. [ more ]

ENVI 402(S)Senior Seminar: Perspectives on Environmental Studies

The Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies programs provide students with an opportunity to explore the myriad ways in which humans interact with diverse environments at scales ranging from local to global. As the capstone course for Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies, this seminar will bring together students who will have specialized in the humanities, social studies and/or the sciences and will provide an opportunity for exchange across these disciplinary streams. Readings and discussion will be organized around the common theme of climate change. Over the course of the seminar, students will develop a sustained independent research project on a topic of their choice. [ more ]

ENVI 405(F)Geochemistry: Understanding Earth's Environment

Rocks, water, air, life: what comprises these interconnected components of the Earth system? How do they interact today, and how did these interactions differ in the past? In this course we will study how chemical elements are distributed in the Earth, cycle through the Earth system, and act together to produce a planet that is habitable. As Earth's landscapes and oceans, and the life they harbor, have evolved through time, they have left an imprint in the geological record that we can read using geochemical tools such as molecular fossils, elemental ratios, and stable and radioactive isotopes. Topics include the synthesis of elements in stars, the formation and differentiation of planet Earth; radiometric dating; the major constituents of the atmosphere, rain, rocks, rivers and the ocean; how they're linked by chemical weathering and biological activity; and reconstruction of past environments. Students will explore these topics through lecture; reading and discussing articles from the scientific literature; and collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from environmental samples. [ more ]

ENVI 419(F)Going to Ground: Considering Earth in the Arts of Africa

Drawing its inspiration from the landmark exhibition Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa (National Museum of African Art, 2013), this seminar explores how earth has been conceptualized and integrated into African artistic thought as material, metaphor, geography, environment, and intervention, and how this interpretive flexibility has allowed it to become a symbol of power and presence in African art-making from prehistory to the present. The seminar will also focus on the ways in which earth has been used in contemporary art towards addressing the growing problems of pollution, unsustainable development, and the widespread depletion of earth-based natural resources in Africa. Over the course of this seminar, students will develop a knowledge base of earth-related issues that have been addressed in African artistic production, and engage with various cross-disciplinary methodologies to critically analyze the conceptual and aesthetic strategies deployed in these works. Students will also have the opportunity to interact with specialists from diverse disciplines and fields towards fleshing out their knowledge base. This course fulfills EDI requirements through its exploration of the effects of globalization and modernization on the African natural environment, and its engagement with diverse cultural legacies, socio-political systems, and economic realities on the continent as contributors to art-making strategies deployed by contemporary African environmental artists. Students will also explore the ways in which African artists have internalized the various conditions and situations of their contexts as individuals defined by gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc. as well as members of distinctive cultures and communities. [ more ]

ENVI 422(F)Ecology of Sustainable Agriculture

A seminar/field course investigating patterns, processes, and concepts of stability in human-dominated, food production ecosystems. As a capstone course, the course will draw upon the experiences that students have had in biology and environmental studies courses. Topics will include: the relationships among diversity, ecosystem function, sustainability, resilience, and stability of food production, distribution systems, nutrient pools and processing in human dominated ecosystems. Two extensive field trips will be taken to agricultural operations in the region. Each student will present a seminar on a topic requiring extensive reading of primary resources and is responsible for leading the discussion that ensues. Reading question paper assignments will be due prior to the seminar. Criticism paper assignments will be made at approximately bi-weekly intervals and due two days after the seminar to which they relate. [ more ]

ENVI 424 TConservation Biology

Not offered this year

This tutorial examines the application of population genetics, population ecology, community ecology, and systematic to the conservation of biological diversity. While the focus of this tutorial is on biological rather than social, legal, or political issues underlying conservation decisions, the context is to develop science-based recommendations that can inform policy. Topics include extinction, the genetics of small populations, habitat fragmentation, the impact of invasive species, restoration ecology, design of reserves and conservation strategies. Format; tutorial/field trip, one to three hours per week. Requirements: evaluation will be based on 5 writing assignments, tutorial presentation, performance in the role of paper critic, and course participation. [ more ]

ENVI 478Cold War Landscapes

Not offered this year

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union set in motion dramatic changes to the natural and built environments of many nations between 1945 and 1991. Nuclear test and missile launch sites, naval installations, military production operations, and border securitizations are just a few of the most obvious ways in which the stand-off between the two countries altered rural and urban landscapes around the world. But one can also see the Cold War as setting in motion less immediately direct but nonetheless profound changes to the way that many people saw and planned for the environments around them, as evidenced, for instance, by the rise of the American suburb, the reconstruction of postwar Europe, and agricultural and industrial initiatives in many developing nations. We will begin this seminar by exploring several distinct "Cold War landscapes" in the United States, then move on to examining others in Europe and the Soviet Union. We will spend the final weeks of the semester discussing examples from other parts of the world. Our approach to our topics will be interdisciplinary throughout the semester, and students are welcome to write their research papers on any geographical area of the world. [ more ]

ENVI 491 T(S)The Suburbs

The suburbs transformed the United States. At the broadest level, they profoundly altered spatial residential geography (especially in terms of race), consumer expectations and behavior, governmental policies, cultural norms and assumptions, societal connections, and Americans' relationship to nature. More specifically, the different waves of post-World War II suburban development have both reflected large-scale shifts in how power and money have operated in the American political economy; and set in motion deep-seated changes in electoral politics, in Americans' understandings of how their income should be used, and in how the built landscape should be re-imagined. This tutorial will explore the rich historical literature that has emerged over the last twenty years to provide students with a history of the suburbs, to see the suburbs as more than simply collections of houses that drew individual homeowners who wanted to leave urban areas. We will focus most of our attention on the period from 1945 through the 1980s. Some of the questions we will consider will include: how did the first wave of suburban development bring together postwar racial and Cold War ideologies? Is it possible, as one historian has argued, that suburbs actually created the environmental movement of the 1960s? And how have historians understood the role that suburbs played in America's conservative political turn, leading to the election of Ronald Reagan? [ more ]