Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


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.

For many thousands of years, our ancestors were more shaped by the environment, than they were shapers of it. 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 seven 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), Statistics (ENST 240), and Environmental Policy (ENST 252 or 260). (Neither the Environmental Policy requirement nor the eleven course requirement apply to students graduating before 2021.) 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 Department at the beginning for the fall semester. Accepted candidates can either take an honors course in two successive semesters (ENST 498 & ENST 499), or take a double-credit course in the spring semester prior to enrolling in ENST 499D). Students who wish to satisfy a core or elective requirement with a Five College course or a course taken away from Amherst College must petition the Department through their advisors 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.

† On leave fall semester 2018-19.

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

What is ‘the environment’ and why does it matter? What are the environmental impacts of “business as usual”? What kinds of environmental futures do we want to work towards and what are the alternatives? In this class, we will explore these and other questions that examine how and why we relate to the environment in the ways that we do and the social, ecological and ethical implications of these relationships. As an Introduction to Environmental Studies, this course seeks to (i) develop a common framework for understanding ‘the environment’ as a tightly coupled socio-natural enterprise, and (ii) familiarize students with several key environmental issues of the 21st century. One lecture and one discussion section per week.

Limited to 60 students. Spring semester. Senior Lecturer R. Levin, Professor Holleman and Assistant Professor Ashwin Ravikumar.

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

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

207 The Wild and the Cultivated

(See HIST 207)

220 Environmental Issues of the 19th Century

(See HIST 104)

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 did Obama do 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 consent of the 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 consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2018-19. 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

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 consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Ravikumar.

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

(See SOCI 341)

342 Socio-Ecological Victories and Visions

(See SOCI 342)

410 The Amazon: Climate Change and the Politics of Deforestation

The Amazon rainforest is sometimes referred to as the “lungs of the Earth” for its tremendous role in regulating the global climate, and its potential to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. It also directly provides food, fiber, and fuel to sustain the livelihoods of millions of local people. Despite holding vital importance for its denizens and for humanity writ large, deforestation in the Amazon has continued at an alarming pace, and efforts to slow or halt it have yielded mixed results.

In this course, we will take stock of the political, economic, cultural, and ideological challenges in slowing deforestation in the Amazon. Early on in the course, through readings and multimedia, we will develop a common understanding of how power and politics in colonial and postcolonial development have made deforestation so persistent. But then, we will turn our attention towards possible solutions. We will explore the innovative and imminent approaches to conserving the Amazon rainforest while maintaining the customary land rights of local and indigenous peoples. Students will deploy critical analytical skills to assess the strengths and shortcomings of different approaches to conservation in the Amazon and will bring to bear various "lenses" from Environmental Studies, including environmental history, environmental economics, environmental justice, and political ecology. 

Requisite: ENST 120 and at least one ENST course dealing with environmental policy or social science at the 200-level or above. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Ravikumar.

2023-24: Not offered

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 Assistant Professor Ravikumar.

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

497 Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and Environmental Justice

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, crippling the city of New Orleans and ultimately killing 1,833 people. The scale of human suffering was widely covered by print and television media. This national tragedy focused attention on racial and class divides and the incompetency and neglect of government before, during, and after the storm. But, despite its impacts, Hurricane Katrina has slowly faded from our collective memory. In this course we will examine the event of Hurricane Katrina—its causes, its detailed unfolding, its national significance, and its effects—as well as use Hurricane Katrina as a lens through which to analyze the workings of structures of discrimination endemic to life in the United States. We begin the course by setting this disaster in historical and ecological context. We will explore the development of Mississippi River Delta, the social, cultural, and racial history of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, and economic development in the region over the twentieth century. We will focus on the histories of exploitative land use and social discrimination that created the vulnerabilities laid bare by Katrina. In the second section of the course, we examine the storm and the immediate aftermath through reporting, firsthand accounts, and documentaries, attending to the ways in which the impacts of the storm were borne unequally. We will interrogate the narrative of Katrina as a “natural” disaster and examine how patterns of vulnerability were predetermined by the racial and class history of Southern Louisiana. For the remainder of the course, we will read scholarly analyses of Katrina, its aftermath, and the recovery effort in order to situate the disaster in a broader social context. We will also examine how the hurricane transformed New Orleans and the ways in which the recovery has and has not fulfilled its promises. We close the course with a discussion of the BP oil spill and the climate justice movement in Southern Louisiana.

Requisite: Not open to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Hejny.

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

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

Departmental Courses

210 Ecology

(See BIOL 230)

441 Seminar in Conservation Biology

(See BIOL 440)

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)ANTH-251 Anthropology of Natural Wealth (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-181 Adaptation and the Organism (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-213 Plant Form, Function, and Diversity (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-321 Evolutionary Biology with Lab (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-434 Seminar in Ecology: Plant-animal Interactions (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-454 Seminar in Tropical Biology (Course not offered this year.)ECON-210 Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (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.)GEOL-301 Hydrogeology (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-450 Seminar in Biogeochemistry (Course not offered this year.)LJST-227 Sustainability and the Fate of Law: Can Law Save the World? (Course not offered this year.)LJST-235 Law's Nature: Humans, the Environment and the Predicament of Law (Course not offered this year.)MATH-140 Mathematical Modeling (Course not offered this year.)POSC-231 The Political Economy of Petro States: Venezuela Compared (Course not offered this year.)RELI-225 Christianity, Ecology, and Environmental Responsibility (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.)