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Amherst College Environmental Studies for 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.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

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.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

207 The Wild and the Cultivated

[C] 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. Spring semester. Professor Melillo.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011

210 Ecology

(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. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 50 students. Fall semester. Professor Temeles.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017

220 Environmental Issues of the 19th Century

(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 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Melillo.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2015

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

(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 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Holleman.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017

228 Environmental Philosophy

(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. Fall semester. Professors Moore and Hejny.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016

230 An Introduction to Economics with Environmental Applications

(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 30 Amherst College students. Fall semester. Professor Sims.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, 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

240 Introduction to Statistics

(Offered as STAT 111E and ENST 240) Introduction to Statistics provides a basic foundation in descriptive and inferential statistics, including constructing models from data. Students will learn to think critically about data, produce meaningful graphical and numerical summaries of data, apply basic probability models, and utilize statistical inference procedures using computational tools. Topics include basic descriptive and inferential statistics, visualization, study design, and multiple regression. Students who have taken a semester of calculus (MATH 111 or higher, or equivalent placement) or who are planning to major in statistics should take STAT 135/MATH 135 instead of this course). ENST majors are strongly encouraged to take this version of the course, but it is open to all students. (Students who have taken STAT/MATH 135, PSYC 122, or ECON 360/361 may not also receive credit for STAT 111/111E, and STAT 111/111E does not count towards the major in Mathematics.) 

Limited to 24 students. Permission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Matheson.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, 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

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.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017

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.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2018

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.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

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.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

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

(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 2018-19. Professor Holleman.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

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.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

441 Seminar in Conservation Biology

(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 articles from the primary literature, course topics will include invasive species, restoration, climate change, and biodiversity banking, as well as how to determine appropriate conservation priorities. Three classroom hours per week.

Requisite: BIOL 230/ENST 210 or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 14 students. Omitted 2018-19. Senior Lecturer Levin.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018

464 Seminar: Population Ethics

(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 2018-19. Professor Moore.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2018

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, 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

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.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017

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: At least two courses in ENST. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Hejny.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

Related Courses

ANTH-235 Environmental Anthropology (Course not offered this year.)
BIOL-104 Food, Fiber, and Pharmaceuticals (Course not offered this year.)
BIOL-201 Introduction to Field Biology: Disease Ecology (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.)
HIST-265 Environmental History of Latin America (Course not offered this year.)
MATH-140 Mathematical Modeling (Course not offered this year.)
POSC-307 States of Extraction: Nature and World Politics in the Americas (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.)