Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Environmental Studies

Professors Clotfelter‡, López, Martini, Melillo (Chair), Miller†, Moore, Sims and Temeles; Associate Professor Holleman; Assistant Professors Hewitt, Ravikumar and Zhang; 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 take a minimum of eleven courses that collectively reflect the subject’s interdisciplinary nature. The required introductory courses (ENST-110 and ENST-120) and senior seminar (ENST-495) are taught by faculty from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and humanities. The core courses include Ecology (ENST-210), Environmental History (ENST-105, ENST-220 or ENST-265), Economics (ENST-230 or ECON-111), Statistics/Research Methods (many course options), Environmental Policy (ENST-250 or ENST-260), and Environmental Justice (ENST-265 or ENST-330). Beyond these courses, majors must take two 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 (ENST-495) 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 either in the spring of the junior year (if summer work is required) or at the beginning of the first semester of the senior year. 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 the Chair 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 2022-23†On leave fall semester 2022-23‡On leave spring semester 2022-23

105 Global Environmental History of the Twentieth Century

(See HIST 105)

110 Environmental Science with laboratory

This course provides an introduction to environmental science. Students will gain an understanding of the function and interactions between the biological, chemical, and physical components of the biosphere and take a systems approach to addressing environmental issues. Lectures on the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, resource use and management, and pollution and toxicology will link central scientific concepts to case studies of regional, national, and global environmental concern. The laboratory will expose students to various tools, techniques, and methodologies used to study the natural environment and document problems. Through field studies and the analysis of data and scientific literature, we will explore air, water, soil, and vegetation processes and their connection to local and global environmental issues. Students will identify research questions, test hypotheses, develop sampling and analysis plans, execute various field and lab methods, and report scientific findings.

Limited to 16 students. Fall 2022.  Professor Hewitt. 

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

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. Omitted 2022-23

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. Limited to 18 students. Omit Spring 2023. Assistant Professor Hewitt.

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

(See SOCI 226)

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 2022. 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 2023. Professor Ravikumar.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

265 Environmental History of Latin America

(See HIST 265)

270 Food and the Environment: Towards Global Health, Justice, and Sustainable Development

(Offered as ENST-270 and SOCI-270) Food and farming make fundamental connections between humans and the earth. This course examines how agriculture, food systems, and rural development are entangled with environmental and social transformations around the world, and how we can cultivate solutions for global health, sustainability and social justice. Topics examined range from technological modernization and biotechnology to agroecology and food culture, malnutrition and obesity, food safety and environmental intoxication, land and labor struggles, race and gender issues in food systems, and from climate change to sustainable development. Readings draw from development studies and sociology, critical food and agrarian studies, political ecology and other interdisciplinary environmental studies. In addition to the lectures, students will cultivate critical thinking and improve skills in reading, writing, discussion, and creativity through dialogue, hands-on activities at the Book & Plow farm, creative exercises, and independent research.

Spring semester. Associate Professor Zhang.

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

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. Limited to 20 students. Fall 2022. Professor Ravikumar.

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

301 Hydrogeology

(See GEOL 301)

306 Pandemics and Society: The Socio-Ecological Construction of Infectious Diseases throughout History

(See SOCI 306)

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 2023. Professor Hewitt.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

314 Climate Justice Now

(Offered as ENST-314 and SOCI-314) A 2020 survey of nearly 21,000 adults in 28 countries conducted by the World Economic Forum and Ipsos found that 86% of people want to see a more equitable and sustainable world after the pandemic. Action on climate change is central to these goals. But what kind of action do we take? What are the targets of effective climate action? How can each of us contribute to the larger-scale changes needed to address global warming and work toward climate justice now? The goal of this course is to answer these questions by taking as our point of departure the 2022 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides the most comprehensive overview available of the international social science of climate change mitigation. This report shows real possibilities for keeping global temperatures below the more dangerous thresholds expected with “business as usual” if we take more urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) across sectors. The report highlights that “collective action and social organising are crucial to shift the possibility space of public policy on climate change mitigation” and that explicit consideration of the principles of justice, equality, and fairness enables the acceleration of the transition to sustainability. Therefore, we focus on the evidence regarding how our actions to address climate change can improve lives and contribute to the just and fair society most of us want by transforming critical sectors, including, for example, transportation, electricity, and land use. This course involves experiential learning. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 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 consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-2023. Professor Ravikumar.

371 Climate Change and Social Justice in Puerto Rico

(See SPAN 371)

402 Wine, History and the Environment

(See HIST 402)

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.

Requisite: ENST 120 or BIOL 230/ENST 210. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Temeles. 

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

464 Seminar: Population Ethics

(See PHIL 464)

474 Population Ethics

(Offered as ENST 474 and PHIL 374) Is our planet overpopulated? And if so, how many of us should live on it? Population raises tricky questions that are both empirical and broadly philosophical: How should we weigh the well-being of future individuals against the lives of those currently living? Should we aim for a future population whose average or whose total level of well-being is maximized—or should we apply some other standard? Even more fundamentally: are we right to think of human life as, on balance, a positive thing? And how might a policy based on answers to such questions be weighed against rights to reproductive choice, and against considerations of justice? In this seminar, we will explore recent work in the emerging and fascinating field of population ethics. We will chart new areas for research, as well as for practical policy-making.

Requisite: At least one course in either ENST or PHIL. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Moore.

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

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 the capstone course in the environmental studies major, which serves as the comprehensive requirement, and is taken by all seniors in the fall of their senior year. The diversity of student interests is one of the strengths of the environmental studies department at Amherst and the senior seminar captures this diversity by asking students to explore their own interests through substantial, original research on an environmental topic.  The capstone is designed to be flexible to accommodate diverse interests and cultivate different skills, including finding and making sense of material from a variety of sources, articulating effective arguments, and gaining fluency in the communication of ideas.

Open to seniors. Fall semester. Professor Sims.

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

498, 499D Senior Honors

Fall semester. The Department.

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

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

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.

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)

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