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 Holleman2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(Offered as HIST 207 [C] and ENST 207) For thousands of years, wild and domesticated plants have played crucial roles in the development of cultures and societies. Students in this course will consider human relationships with plants from a global-historical perspective, comparing trends in various regions and time periods. We will focus on the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, seed-saving practices, medicinal plants, religious rites, food traditions, biopiracy, agribusiness, and biofuels. Two class meetings per week.
Limited to 30 students. Not offered in 2020-21. Professor Melillo.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as BIOL 230 and ENST 210) A study of the relationships of plants and animals (including humans) to each other and to their environment. We'll start by considering the decisions an individual makes in its daily life concerning its use of resources, such as what to eat and where to live, and whether to defend such resources. We'll then move on to populations of individuals, and investigate species population growth, limits to population growth, and why some species are so successful as to become pests whereas others are on the road to extinction. The next level will address communities, and how interactions among populations, such as competition, predation, parasitism, and mutualism, affect the organization and diversity of species within communities. The final stage of the course will focus on ecosystems, and the effects of humans and other organisms on population, community, and global stability. Three hours of lecture per week.
Requisite: BIOL 181 or ENST 120 or equivalent. Limited to 40 students. Fall Semester. Professor Temeles.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as HIST 104 [c] and ENST 220) This course considers the ways that people in various parts of the world thought about and acted upon nature during the nineteenth century. We look historically at issues that continue to have relevance today, including: invasive species, deforestation, soil-nitrogen availability, water use, desertification, and air pollution. Themes include: the relationship of nineteenth-century colonialism and environmental degradation, gender and environmental change, the racial dimensions of ecological issues, and the spatial aspects of human interactions with nature. We will take at least one field trip. In addition, we will watch three films that approach nineteenth-century environmental issues from different vantage points. Two class meetings per week.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Melillo.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(Offered as SOCI 226 and ENST 226) Creating a more sustainable relationship between human society and the rest of nature requires changing the way we relate to one another as humans. This course will explain why, while answering a number of associated questions and introducing the exciting and engaged field of environmental sociology. We study the anthropogenic drivers of environmental change from an interdisciplinary and historical perspective to make sense of pressing socio-ecological issues, including climate change, sustainability and justice in global food production, the disproportionate location of toxic waste disposal in communities of color, biodiversity loss, desertification, freshwater pollution and unequal access, the accumulation and trade in electronic waste, the ecological footprint of the Internet, and more. We examine how these issues are linked to broad inequalities within society, which are reflected in, and exacerbated by, persistent problems with environmental racism, the unaddressed legacies of colonialism, and other contributors to environmental injustice worldwide. Industrialization and the expansionary tendencies of the modern economic system receive particular attention, as these continue to be central factors promoting ecological change. Throughout the course a hopeful perspective in the face of such interrelated challenges is encouraged as we study promising efforts and movements that emphasize both ecological restoration and achievement of a more just, democratic world.
Course readings include foundational texts in environmental sociology, as well as the most current research on course topics. Writing and research assignments allow for the development of in-depth analyses of social and environmental issues relevant to students' community, everyday life, personal experience, and concerns.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Holleman.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as PHIL 225 and ENST 228) Our impact on the environment has been significant, and in recent decades the pace of change has clearly accelerated. Many species face extinction, forests are disappearing, and toxic wastes and emissions accumulate. The prospect of a general environmental calamity seems all too real.
This sense of crisis has spurred intense and wide-ranging debate over what our proper relationship to nature should be. This is the focus of the course. Among the questions we shall explore will be: What obligations, if any, do we have to non-human animals, to living organisms like trees, to ecosystems as a whole, and to future generations of humans? Do animals have rights we ought to respect? Is nature intrinsically valuable or merely a bundle of utilities for our benefit? Is there even a stable notion of “what is natural” that can be deployed in a workable environmental ethic? Do our answers to these questions result in some way from a culturally contingent “image” we have of nature and our place within it? How might we best go about changing the ways we inhabit the planet?
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professors Moore.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ECON 111E and ENST 230) A study of the central problem of scarcity and of the ways in which micro and macro economic systems allocate scarce resources among competing ends and apportion goods produced among people. Covers the same material as ECON 111 but with special attention to the relationship between economic activity and environmental problems and to the application of micro and macroeconomic theory tools to analyze environmental issues. A student may not receive credit for both ECON 111 and ECON 111E. Two 80-minute and one 50-minute lecture/discussions per week.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 Amherst College students. Professor Sims. Omitted 2020-21.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021
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.2020-21: Not offered
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.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as SOCI 341 and ENST 341) Social movements—from the early conservation and anti-colonial movements that began over a century ago, to the modern climate justice movement—have worked to make environmental issues and inequalities part of the global political and policy agenda. The course draws upon sociological research that fosters an understanding of contemporary environmental debates, as well as the possibilities and obstacles we face in attempting to address socio-ecological problems. We study diverse global environmental movements and proposed environmental solutions, which reflect a wide range of perspectives and interests, as well as social inequalities. Inequality within and between countries means that different issues are at stake in negotiations addressing ecological problems for communities and people of different social locations. Race, ethnicity, class, gender, and position in the global economy affect both the way we experience socio-ecological change, and the ways we imagine and attempt to solve contemporary problems. Therefore, issues of environmental justice are highlighted as we study the history and achievements of environmental movements internationally, as well as enduring challenges and controversies. The syllabus is designed to benefit both the most seasoned environmentalists and students of the history of environmentalism, as well as participants for whom the course topics are new.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Holleman.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(Offered as SOCI 342 and ENST 342) If you learn about the major trends shaping human societies and the rest of the planet in our era, you might ask these questions: How do we reduce the vast inequalities threatening democracy and undermining the self-determination of peoples around the world? How do we address global-scale crises like climate change, the pollution of the earth’s lands and waters, and anthropogenic extinction of species? How do we heal social divisions to build movements based on solidarity and reparation that transcend a “single-issue” focus while emphasizing the distinct needs of diverse communities? Can we imagine a society geared toward meeting culturally-determined human needs and deepening human happiness, while at the same time restoring the earth systems on which we depend? How do we engage such daunting issues with strength and, at times, joy?
These are massive questions now asked by scholars, scientists, activists, and communities around the world. This course explores answers to these questions through in-depth sociological analyses of critical victories and visions toward ecological and social change emerging internationally in the past decade. Such case studies represent hopeful challenges to the xenophobic, racist, anti-ecological, homophobic, misogynistic, winner-takes-all politics threatening much of life on earth.
Students must have at least one course in either SOCI or ANTH, or ENST 120, or other courses addressing the trends that are central to this course.
Limited to 18 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Holleman.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as SPAN 371 and ENST 371) In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and laid bare the social inequalities that had been growing since the Great Recession of 2008 and before. But the Hurricane has also accelerated efforts to seek alternative sources of food and fuel and avoid a repeat of the post-hurricane shortages linked to an overdependence on food imports and a crumbling energy grid. Students in this course will analyze and evaluate how three such efforts have fared: one small grassroots organization, one large not-for-profit organization, and one government agency. The findings may have far-reaching implications beyond Puerto Rico, as centralized power grids throughout the world enter the end of their useful life, begging replacement with new innovative systems that do not contribute to climate change. Accepted students must commit to travel to Puerto Rico during the second and third weeks of January 2020, to acquaint themselves with the organizations we will be studying in depth during the Spring 2020 semester. At the end of the semester, students will share their findings with a diverse audience of stakeholders and interested parties. Course readings and discussions will be in Spanish and in English.
Limited to 12 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2020-2021 Professors Schroeder Rodríguez and Ravikumar.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as BIOL 440 and ENST 441) Conservation biology is a highly interdisciplinary field, requiring careful consideration of biological, economic, and sociological issues. Solutions to biodiversity conservation and environmental challenges are even more complex. Yet, conservation is a topic of timely importance in order to safeguard biological diversity. Utilizing close reading and discussion of articles from the primary literature, the course will explore key topics including overexploitation (including connections between the wildlife trade and emergent diseases such as COVID-19), habitat fragmentation, climate change, restoration, protected areas, payments for ecosystem services, as well as how to determine appropriate conservation priorities. Three classroom hours 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.
Requisite: BIOL 230/ENST 210 or BIOL 320, or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 14 students. Fall Semester. Senior Lecturer Levin.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as PHIL 464 and ENST 464) 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. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Moore.2020-21: Not offered
Independent reading course.
Fall and spring semesters. The Department.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021
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.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
Spring semester. The Department.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021