Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Environmental Studies

Professors Moore (Chair), Clotfelter, López, Martini, Miller, and Temeles‡; Associate Professors Melillo* and Sims*; Assistant Professor Ravikumar; Senior Lecturer R. Levin; Visiting Assistant Professor Hejny.

* On leave 2017-18.

‡ On leave spring semester 2017-18.

For many thousands of years, our ancestors were more shaped by than they were shapers of the environment.  This began to change, first with hunting and then, roughly ten thousand years ago, with the beginnings of agriculture. Since then, humans have had a steadily increasing impact on the natural world. Environmental Studies explores the complex interactions between humans and their environment. This exploration requires grounding in the natural sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences. Hence, majors in Environmental Studies must take six core courses that collectively reflect the subject’s interdisciplinary nature. The required introductory course (ENST 120) and senior seminar (ENST 498) are taught by faculty from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and humanities. The remaining core courses include Ecology (ENST 210), Environmental History (either ENST 220 or HIST 105), Economics (ENST 230), and Statistics (ENST 240). Majors are strongly encouraged to complete the core requirements prior to their senior year.  The senior seminar, offered in the fall semester, fulfills the comprehensive requirement.

Beyond the required core courses, majors must take at least four courses from the list of electives. Elective courses must include at least one course from each of the two categories, which span different fields of environmental inquiry. The honors program in Environmental Studies is a two semester sequence. Majors electing to do honors are required to submit a thesis proposal to the Advisory Committee prior to enrolling in ENST 498. Following successful completion of ENST 498, students complete their thesis by enrolling in ENST 499. Students who wish to satisfy a core or elective requirement with a Five College course or a course taken abroad must petition the Advisory Committee in writing and submit a syllabus or description of the course for approval. Students for whom Environmental Studies is a second major can count no more than two courses toward both majors.

160 The Politics of Food

Food is a site of politics.  Eating is a social and political practice with repercussions for the relationships between people and between humans and the natural environment.  What we choose to eat, how we produce, process, market, sell, buy, consume, and discard food all involve political choices.  The formal politics of government regulation and legislation affect food in many ways.  Food policy and regulation shapes what we understand as food and how we engage with it.  But the politics of food extends beyond the formal institutions of the state to the spheres of everyday politics, ethics, and economics.  People, animals, and environments here in the U.S. and all over the world are affected by the food choices that we as American consumers make.  What are the consequences of these choices?  This course focuses our attention on our (often taken for granted) food practices and their political effects for the beings and ecosystems with whom we share the planet.  We will explore the politics of food through its life cycle—growing, selling, buying, eating, and discarding—as well as the politics of food legislation and regulation, global food politics, and food movements.  We will examine these issues through the lenses of ethics, economics, environment, and social justice, approaching our food practices with a critical eye. 

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Hejny.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2019

226 Unequal Footprints on the Earth: Understanding the Social Drivers of Ecological Crises and Environmental Inequality

(See SOCI 226)

228 Environmental Philosophy

(See PHIL 225)

230 An Introduction to Economics with Environmental Applications

(See ECON 111E)

240 Introduction to Statistics

(See STAT 111E)

252 U. S. Environmental Policy

Why hasn’t Congress passed any major environmental laws since 1990? Why are Republicans and Democrats so far apart on environmental issues? What power does the president have to influence environmental policy? Why are environmentalists constantly suing the government? Where is environmental policy being made if not in Congress? What has Obama done for the environment?  These are some major questions that we will explore in this course.  This course provides a comprehensive introduction to U.S. environmental policy from a historical perspective.  After reviewing the political and institutional context of environmental policy-making in the U.S., we examine the development of federal environmental policy beginning with the rise of the environmental movement and the “golden era” legislation of the 1960s and 1970s.  We then turn to critiques of the command and control model of environmental regulation, the rise of conservatism and its effects on environmental policy-making, and the pushes for cost-benefit analysis and market-based mechanisms in environmental policy.  Since the early 1990s Congress has produced very little environmental policy, but environmental policy is being made in other venues.  We examine the executive branch, the courts, states, and local collaborative governance as alternative sites of environmental policy-making.  Over the course of the term, we will ask how and why these approaches to policymaking have changed over time, we will examine how politics affect environmental policy-making, and we will compare policy-making models and venues to determine which approaches allow the government to make policy most effectively and democratically.

Requisite: ENST 120 or permission of instructor. Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Hejny.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

260 Global Environmental Politics

The effects of environmental problems, from climate change, to water contamination, to the depletion of fisheries, are felt acutely at the local level. But their underlying causes are often global: coal-burning power plants in China affects sea-level rise near Miami, overfishing by European fleets off the coast of Africa affects bush meat hunting in the Congo Basin, and deforestation in Indonesia creates forest fires that affect all of Southeast Asia’s air quality. Environmental issues are also fundamentally political: that is, they emerge through negotiations between different actors and groups with divergent interests and disparate degrees of power and influence. In this course, we will examine how environmental problems emerge through political processes that transcend national borders. Through foundational readings, in-depth classroom discussions, and team-based analysis of pressing contemporary cases, you will learn the tools of rigorous multi-level political and policy analysis. While we will emphasize that a global and explicitly political analysis is necessary to properly diagnose why environmental problems and conflicts emerge, we will focus on how these diagnoses suggest solutions. Coming out of this class, you will be better equipped to analyze how global politics are linked to local environmental issues, and to understand when different types of solutions – from small changes to policy, to international treaties, to protest and demands for radical systems change – are most likely to move the needle on environmental sustainability and justice.

Requisite: ENST 120.  Limited to 35 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Ravikumar.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

265 Climate Change Policy and Politics

This course provides an overview of climate change as a policy problem and examines both domestic and international policy solutions.  We begin the course by acquiring a set of analytical tools for understanding the policy challenges of climate change. These diagnoses lay the foundation for examining solutions to climate change in the second half of the course. We will then explore individual and corporate solutions, government solutions at the international, national, state, and city levels, market-based solutions, and technological solutions, including renewable energy, carbon capture, and geoengineering. We end the course with a look at climate justice and examine what just approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation might look like. 

Requisite: ENST 120 or permission of the instructor.  Limited to 30 students.  Spring semester. Visiting Professor Hejny.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2021

310 Conservation Social Science

 “Conservation social science” refers to an emergent field of practice and scholarship that is working to expand conservation science beyond its traditional biological moorings towards the social sciences.  This shift in conservation is triggered by the realization that conservation practice must diversify its approach in order to secure financial backing and produce better conservation outcomes. As the lead social scientist at the World Wildlife Fund has framed it, there is a need to enact a form of conservation where “people are the solution” as opposed to just the problem.

The efforts to ‘retool’ conservation have fomented great debate within the conservation community, generating fundamental questions and disagreements about what conservation is for, what the metrics of success should be, and fundamentally how conservation science should proceed.  This class will examine what conservation social science is and what it ought to be.  By examining the foundations of conservation, the current debates, and the social dimensions of conservation, this course will examine the following questions: what are the tenets, goals and metrics of success in conservation?  How has conservation practice changed over the years?  What era of conservation are we currently in and what debates are ongoing at this time?  How might the social engagements of conservation be changed or improved moving forward?

Requisite: ENST 120, or permission of the instructor.  Limited to 24 students. Omitted 2017-18.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

330 Environmental Justice

From climate change to water and air pollution, environmental degradation harms some groups of people more than others. Today, communities of color in the global North are disproportionately harmed by environmental contamination. The global South writ large faces far more environmental health issues than the global North. And women face unique harms from environmental degradation across the world. Why do these disparities exist? Should everyone have equal access to the same environmental quality, and whose responsibility is it to ensure this in the United States and globally? In this seminar, we will explore how and why factors like race, gender, colonial histories, and contemporary poverty shape the impacts of environmental problems on different communities. We will critically examine the theories and issues of environmental justice and political ecology. Beginning with a review of the history of the U.S. environmental justice movement, we will examine the social and environmental justice dimensions of U.S. and international case studies of fossil fuel extraction, tropical deforestation, urban industrial production, and agricultural intensification. The course will require students to write position papers, facilitate discussions, and produce a final case study analysis of a contemporary environmental justice issue of choice with recommendations for action.

Requisite: ENST 120 or permission of instructor.  Limited to 18 students. Spring semester.  Professor Ravikumar.



341 Ecology, Justice, and the Struggle for Socio-Ecological Change:  Environmental Movements and Ideas

(See SOCI 341)

401 Wine, History, and the Environment

(See HIST 402)

460 Partisanship and Environment in the U.S.

This seminar explores the development of partisan polarization on the environment in the United States from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. We begin the course with the conservation era and Theodore Roosevelt’s efforts to conserve natural resources from exploitation and end with the current Trump administration.  We will focus attention on partisan dynamics in the presidency and congress, while also noting shifts in the courts and public opinion on environment.  Guiding our investigation are the following questions: Why did the Republican party transform from the standard bearer of conservation to the party of climate denial?  How did the Democratic party come to represent environmental protection in the second half of the twentieth century?  What drove the transition from conservation to environmentalism in the 1950s-1960s?  What tools do the president and congress have to push their pro- and anti-environmental agendas, and under what conditions are these strategies successful?  Are there ways to address polarization and reclaim a middle ground for environmental policymaking?  Throughout the course we will examine case studies on environmental issues, including forest management, reclamation, wilderness preservation, endangered species, air pollution, water pollution, toxics, hazardous waste, and climate change. 

Limited to 18 students. Requisites: ENST 120 and ENST 252 or any Political Science course, or permission of the instructor. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Hejny. 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

464 Seminar: Population Ethics

(See PHIL 464)

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2024

495 Senior Seminar

The Senior Seminar is intended to bring together majors with different course backgrounds and to facilitate original independent student research on an environmental topic. In the early weeks of the seminar, discussion will be focused on several compelling texts (e.g., Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us) which will be considered from a variety of disciplinary perspectives by members of the Environmental Studies faculty. These discussions are intended to help students initiate an independent research project which may be expanded into an honors project in the second semester. For students not electing an honors project, the seminar will offer an opportunity to integrate what they have learned in their environmental studies courses. The substance of the seminar will vary from year to year, reflecting the interests of the faculty who will be convening and participating in the seminar.

Open to seniors. Fall semester. Professor Temeles and Visiting Professor Hejny.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498 Senior Honors

Fall semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, January 2021, Fall 2021, January 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Core Courses

120 The Resilient (?) Earth: An Introduction to Environmental Studies

Life has existed on Earth for nearly four billion years, shaped by massive extinction events. In the short span of the last 10,000 years, humans have become important agents in shaping global environmental change. The question this course considers is straightforward: Have humans been modifying the environment in ways that will, in the not distant future, cause another worldwide extinction event? There are no simple, much less uncontested, answers to this question. We will have to consider the ways we have altered habitats and ecosystem processes. We will also consider the economic consequences of disturbed ecosystems and assess contemporary policy responses and solutions. One lecture and one discussion section per week.

Limited to 50 students. Spring semester. Senior Lecturer R. Levin and Professor Holleman.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Departmental Courses

210 Ecology

(See BIOL 230)

441 Seminar in Conservation Biology

(See BIOL 440)

Departmental Seminars and Tutorials

250 Environmental Politics and Policies

Contesting values of and struggles over the control of “nature” are at the heart of environmental politics, and differently positioned political, economic, and social interest groups contend for and exert power through the U.S. environmental policy-making process.  In this course we will examine the politics of U.S. environmental policies, focusing on how local, regional, and national governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations and interest groups, and some publics (but not all) define environmental problems and actionable solutions. We will examine the relationship between science, policy and politics, and critically evaluate when and how "objective" scientific truths are mobilized for particular agendas--while not for others--and what "citizen science" means with respect to the U.S. environmental policy process.  The class will be divided into two parts: Part I will begin with key environmental writings, and move into an overview of the institutions, actors, and concepts that shape our policy process.  Part II will use a case study approach to ground our understanding of how multi-scalar interactions, plurality and uneven power relations influence how and why some issues and interests are validated in the policy process, while others are not. Case studies may include: fracking, Keystone XL pipeline, Endangered Species listings and New England cod fishery regulations.

Recommended requisite:  ENST 120.  Limited to 35 students.  Omitted 2017-18. 

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

320 Knowledge, Politics and the Environment

What we know and how we know about "the environment" is influenced by cultural, political, historical and social contexts.  Why are some knowledges about the environment perceived to be more accurate, objective and true than others?  How might our collective understandings of environmental change shift if multiple forms of knowledge--"western" scientific, indigenous, etc.--were mobilized in the production, dissemination and application of environmental knowledge? These questions are both academic and policy-oriented and sit at the interface of political ecology and science studies scholarship on nature/society and conservation and development practice: environmental management contestations and outcomes are shaped by what counts as valid knowledge. In this seminar we will examine how attention to the politics of knowledge potentially shifts the current formations of environmental studies and policy–in theory and practice--towards more integrated and democratized engagements with social and environmental change. This course is anchored in the field of political ecology, which is a sub-field of geography that is concerned with the complex power dynamics of knowing and making claims on "the environment."  Our readings and discussions will examine critical perspectives on nature/society boundaries; the role of "western" scientific knowledge in the politics of conservation and development; and meaningful ways to integrate "western" scientific and indigenous environmental knowledges in environmental studies.

Requisite:  ENST 120; recommended requisite:  ENST 250.  Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2017-18.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)ANTH-235 Environmental Anthropology (Course not offered this year.)ANTH-251 Anthropology of Natural Wealth (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-104 Food, Fiber, and Pharmaceuticals (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-181 Adaptation and the Organism (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-201 Introduction to Field Biology: Disease Ecology (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-281 Animal Behavior with Lab (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-320 Evolutionary Biology (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-440 Seminar in Conservation Biology (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-109 Climate Change, Global Warming and Energy Resources (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-121 Surface Earth Dynamics (Course not offered this year.)HIST-265 Environmental History of Latin America (Course not offered this year.)MATH-140 Mathematical Modeling (Course not offered this year.)PHYS-109 Energy (Course not offered this year.)POSC-307 States of Extraction: Nature and World Politics in the Americas (Course not offered this year.)SOCI-226 Unequal Footprints on the Earth: Understanding the Social Drivers of Ecological Crises and Environmental Inequality (Course not offered this year.)SOCI-341 Ecology, Justice, and the Struggle for Socio-Ecological Change:  Environmental Movements and Ideas (Course not offered this year.)