Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Environmental Studies

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

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.

Majors in Environmental Studies must take a minimum of eleven courses that collectively reflect the subject’s interdisciplinary nature. The required introductory course (ENST-120) and senior seminar (ENST-495) are taught by faculty from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and humanities. The five core courses include Ecology (ENST-210/BIOL-230), Environmental History (ENST-220/HIST-104 or HIST-105), Economics (ENST-230/ECON-111E or ECON-111), Statistics (STAT-111 or STAT-135), and Environmental Policy (ENST-250 or ENST-260). Beyond these courses, majors must take four electives, including at least one course from each of two categories (Category I: Natural sciences and Category II: Social sciences and Humanities), which span different fields of environmental inquiry.

Majors are strongly encouraged to complete the introductory course by the end of their second year and the core requirements prior to their senior year. The senior seminar, offered in the fall semester, fulfills the comprehensive requirement.

The honors program in Environmental Studies involves two course credits. Majors electing to complete honors are required to submit a thesis proposal to the Department at the beginning of the fall semester. Accepted candidates can take either an honors course in two successive semesters (ENST-498 & ENST-499) or take a double-credit course in the spring semester (ENST-499D).

Students who wish to satisfy a requirement with a Five College course or a course taken away from Amherst College must petition the Department in writing through their advisors 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 2020-21.  

205 Indigenous rights and the politics of deforestation in the Amazon

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 its vital importance for its denizens and for all of humanity, 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. We will then turn our attention towards possible solutions and 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. This course will involve readings from indigenous studies and political ecology. Students will write regular reflections, position papers, and an independent research paper assessing existing initiatives that aim to conserve the Amazon. Through their work, students will provide concrete recommendations for action and/or policy. These products will be tailored to real decision-makers with the power to act on the issues that we discuss.

Pre-requisite: Background knowledge on climate change, environmental sociology, Latinx or Latin American Studies is recommended.  Limited to 20 students. Professor Ravikumar. 

2023-24: Not offered

207 The Wild and the Cultivated

(See HIST 207)

220 Environmental Issues of the 19th Century

(See HIST 104)

225 Climate Change: Science and Society

Understanding the connections between climate science and the societal impacts of climate change is key to addressing the global climate crisis. This course will critically examine climate change drivers, impacts, and solutions from the scientific and societal perspectives. Through lecture, discussion, and project work we will examine environmental responses to climate change, communication within the scientific community and by stakeholders, and adaptation and mitigation response strategies. Our examination of the science will be grounded by careful analysis of documents such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and will empower students to translate their understanding of the science into meaningful communication strategies designed to mitigate the effects of climate change. This course will emphasize verbal, written, and visual communication skills pertaining to climate change science.

Requisites: ENST-120, BIOL-181, GEOL-109, or consent of instructor. Class size up to 18 students. Spring semester. Assistant Professor Hewitt.

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)

250 US Environmental Policy

This course is built around core readings on key policies and agencies of environmental governance in the US. It will provide students with a strong grasp of the most important environmental legislation in the United States (such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act). We will explore how existing environmental laws and institutions have provided important environmental protections, and also where they have fallen short. We will also ask how environmental racism and other forms of inequality have been addressed or exacerbated by historical policies, with an eye towards identifying promising alternatives in the future. Students will examine the relationships between local, state, and federal agencies carrying out environmental governance. This class will explore how policy is "political," and how it emerges from the actions of competing interest groups.

Pre-requisite: ENST-120; Fall Semester. Professor Ravikumar

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

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 course, 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

300 The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal has gained traction in the United States and around the world as a new approach to environmental policy and to redress structural inequalities linked to income and race. What is the Green New Deal, and how does it seem to transform environmental governance? In this course, we will explore key readings on the Green New Deal, and explore its connection to the original New Deal. We will examine how it relates to relevant literatures, such as environmental economics, political economy, critical race theory, and environmental sociology. We will critically debate the merits of various proposals for the Green New Deal using these frameworks and explore what it might take to translate these proposals into effective legislation. This class will equip students to contribute to a national conversation around these questions.  Students will write weekly reflections, a policy brief or op-ed, and a research paper.

Pre-requisite: Background knowledge on climate change, environmental policy, or economics is recommended (e.g., courses such as ENST 226, 230, 252, 260, 330, 342 or POSC 112, 231, 307). Instructor permission required for students who have not taken ENST 120.  Spring Semester. Professor Ravikumar

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

310 Ecosystem Ecology

This course examines the principles of ecosystem ecology, which facilitates our understanding of key environmental issues. We will focus on water and elemental cycling and energy flow in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Topics will include the Earth’s climate system, carbon cycling, nutrient cycling, disturbance regimes, succession, and ecosystem resilience. We will discuss how ecosystem structure and function relates to applied issues of conservation, sustainability, and responses to climate change.

Requisites: ENST-210 or consent of instructor. Spring Semester.  Professor Hewitt

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

328 The Pandemic

(See SOCI 328)

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)

371 Climate Change and Social Justice in Puerto Rico

(See SPAN 371)

430 Seminar on Fisheries

The dependency of many countries on marine organisms for food has resulted in severe population declines in cod, bluefin tuna, swordfish, and abalone, as well as numerous other marine organisms. In this seminar we will examine the sociological, political, and economic impacts of global depletion of fisheries. Questions addressed will be: What is the scope of extinctions or potential extinctions due to over-harvesting of marine organisms? How are fisheries managed, and are some approaches to harvesting better than others? How do fisheries extinctions affect the society and economy of various countries, and ecosystem stability? How do cultural traditions of fishermen influence attempts to manage fisheries? Does aquaculture offer a sustainable alternative to overfishing the seas, and what is aquaculture’s impact on ecosystem stability? Three class hours per week.

Professor Temeles. Spring Semester.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2021, Spring 2023

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. Professors Melillo and Temeles.

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

499D Senior Honors 

A double course. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Core Courses

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 course, 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.

This course will be conducted in a hybrid format, with both in-person and online components as needed, supported by appropriate technology.  Options for online-only participation will be available for those students unable to participate in person.

Limited to 54 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)

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)ARCH-205 Sustainable Design: Principles, Practice, Critique (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-181 Adaptation and the Organism (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-201 Disease Ecology (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-280 Animal Behavior (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-320 Evolutionary Biology (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-434 Seminar in Ecology: Plant-animal Interactions (Course not offered this year.)BIOL-440 Seminar in Conservation Biology (Course not offered this year.)ECON-111 An Introduction to Economics (Course not offered this year.)ENGL-162 Black (on) Earth: Introduction to African American Environmental Literature (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-109 Climate Change: Science and Rhetoric (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-112 Surficial Earth Dynamics: Climate, Environment, and Life (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-300 Water Science (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-301 Hydrogeology (Course not offered this year.)GEOL-331 Climate Dynamics: Past, Present, and Future (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.)POSC-307 States of Extraction: Nature, Women, and World Politics (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.)STAT-111 Introduction to Statistics (Course not offered this year.)STAT-111E Introduction to Statistics (Course not offered this year.)STAT-135 Introduction to Statistics via Modeling (Course not offered this year.)