Environmental Studies Program

Director: Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert; Steering Committee: Mark W. Andrews (French), Pinar Batur (Sociology), Stuart L. Belli (Chemistry), Mary Ann Cunningham (Geography), Rebecca Edwards (History), Lucy Lewis Johnson (Anthropology), Jamie T. Kelly (Philosophy), Kirsten Menking (Earth Science), Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Hispanic Studies), H. Daniel Peck (English), Anne Pike-Tay (Anthropology), A. Marshall Pregnall (Biology), Margaret L. Ronsheim (Biology), Paul A. Ruud (Economics), Peter G. Stillman (Political Science), Jeffrey R. Walker (Earth Science);Participating Faculty: Mark W. Andrews (French), Pinar Batur (Sociology), Marianne H. Begemann (Chemistry), Stuart L. Belli (Chemistry), Lisa Brawley (Urban Studies), Lynn T. Capozzoli (Education), James Challey (Physics), Gabrielle H. Cody (Drama), Colleen Ballerino Cohen (Anthropology), Randolph Cornelius (Psychology), Erica J. Crespi (Biology), Mary Ann Cunningham (Geography), Jeffrey Cynx (Psychology), Rebecca Edwards (History), Robert Fritz (Biology), David P. Gilliken (Earth Science), Brian J. Godfrey (Geography), Janet Gray (Psychology), Michael P. Hanagan (History), Kathleen Hart (French), Lucy Lewis Johnson (Anthropology), Paul Kane (English), Jamie T. Kelly (Philosophy), Timothy H. Koechlin (Economics), John H. Long Jr. (Biology), John Bertrand Lott (Classics), Candice M. Lowe (Anthropology), Karen Lucic (Art), William E. Lunt (Economics), Brian G. McAdoo (Earth Science), Kirsten Menking, (Earth Science), Marque Miringoff (Sociology), Himadeep Muppidi (Political Science), Leonard Nevarez (Sociology), Joseph Nevins (Geography), Judith Nichols (English), Carolyn Palmer (Psychology),Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Hispanic Studies), H. Daniel Peck (English), Anne Pike-Tay (Anthropology), Sidney Plotkin (Political Science), A. Marshall Pregnall (Biology), Christopher Roellke (Education), Margaret L. Ronsheim (Biology), Paul A. Ruud (Economics), Mark A. Schlessman (Biology), Jill S. Schneiderman (Earth Science), Christopher J. Smart (Chemistry), Peter G. Stillman (Political Science), J. William Straus (Biology), Jeffrey R. Walker (Earth Science), Yu Zhou (Geography).

Environmental Studies is a multidisciplinary program that involves the natural and social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. It explores the relationships between people and the totality of their environments—natural, built, and social. As part of that exploration, environmental studies concerns itself with the description and analysis of natural systems; with interspecies and species-environment relationships and the institutions, policies and laws that affect those relationships; with aesthetic portrayals of nature and how these portrayals affect human perceptions and behavior toward it; and with ethical issues raised by the human presence in the environment. A component of the program is the Environmental Research Institute (ERI), whose mission is to broaden and enrich the Environmental Studies program by emphasizing and supporting fieldwork, research, and engagement in the community.

Students majoring in Environmental Studies are required to take courses offered by the program, a set of courses within a particular department, and other courses from across the curriculum of the college. Therefore, a student interested in the major should consult with the director of the program as early as possible to plan a coherent course of study. The director, in consultation with the steering committee, assigns an advisor to each student. Advisors are selected from the participating faculty of the program. The steering committee approves each major’s program, and is concerned not only with the formal requirements but also with the inclusion of relevant environmental courses in the student’s chosen areas of study, interconnections among groups of courses, and adequate concentration in the methods of a discipline. Students are admitted to the program by the director, subject to the approval of their program of study by the steering committee. For additional information please consult the program website.

Research studies by Environmental Studies majors are supported by the Environmental Research Institute.

Requirements for the Major: 15 units to be distributed as follows, with specific courses chosen in consultation with the director and the student’s advisor, and with the approval of the steering committee. (1) Environmental Studies 124, Environmental Studies 250 and Environmental Studies 301, the senior seminar; (2) Environmental Studies 260 or 270, and one course from within the program’s own offerings at the 300-level; (3) the senior project/thesis, Environmental Studies 300 or 303-304; (4) a sequence of five courses in one department (or a set of five courses with a common focus, such as law or environmental policy, from two or more departments), including at least one at the 300-level; (5) for students whose disciplinary concentration is in biology, chemistry, or earth science, three courses, no more than one at the 100-level relevant to the major in a department outside the natural sciences; for students whose disciplinary concentration is in a natural science other than biology, chemistry, and earth science, a set of courses established in consultation with the director; for students whose disciplinary concentration is not in the natural sciences, three courses, at least one at the 200-level, relevant to the major from either biology, chemistry, or earth science; (6) one full unit of field experience, which may come from field work, independent study, an internship, or selected course work taken during the Junior Year Study Away. Field experience is expected to be carried out before the senior thesis/project. The unit of field experience is graded Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. The senior project/thesis is graded Distinction, Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory. After declaration of the major, no required courses may be elected NRO.

Senior Year Requirement: Environmental Studies 300 or 303-304 and 301.

Because Environmental Studies is a major in which students concentrate in two disciplines or areas of focus (one in the natural sciences), potential majors are encouraged to take introductory courses in the disciplines or areas where their focus may be. Although the program does not require any specific introductory courses, Environmental Studies 100-level courses are available and can lead appropriately into the required sequence beginning with Environmental Studies 200-level courses.

I. Introductory

100b. Earth Resource Challenges(1)

(Same as Earth Science 100b, Earth Science and Society 100b, and Geography 100b)

Topic for 2009/10: Carbon Conflicts: Coal, Oil, and Diamonds and the Modern World. Mr. McAdoo and Mr. Nevins

107a. Global Change(1)

This class offers an interdisciplinary introduction to the climate and ecosystem principles needed to understand human impact on the natural environment. We discuss the issue of global change prediction and the scientific basis for global change assessments and policy measures. Key topics are the physical climate system and its variability, the carbon cycle and related ecosystem processes, land use issues, nutrient cycles, and the impact of global change on society. Common threads in all of these topics include the use of observations and models, the consideration of multiple scales (temporal and spatial), the interaction of human behaviors and choices with natural systems, and the linkages among aspects of the global change issue.

124a. Essentials of Environmental Science(1)

A lecture/laboratory course in which basic topics in environmental biology, geology, and chemistry are covered with examples from current environmental issues used to illustrate the application and interdisciplinary nature of these fields. This course treats the following topics: energy sources and waste products, atmospheric patterns and climate, biogeochemical cycles, properties of soils and water, and ecological processes. Using these topics as a platform, this course examines the impact humanity has on the environment and discusses strategies to diminish those effects. The laboratory component includes field trips, field investigations, and laboratory exercises.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

[ 150. The Environmental Imagination in Literature and Art: American Visions of Landscape ](1)

The course introduces students to ways in which American works of literature and art, from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century, may be considered "environmental." Works are studied for ways in which they express environmental values such as a strong sense of place, a scientifically informed view of nature, a sense of nature as "process," and an ecological worldview. Mr. Peck.

There are several field trips to Hudson Valley sites.

Not offered in 2009/10.

177b. Environmental Political Thought(1/2)

(Same as Political Science 177b) The emerging awareness of ecological problems in the past half-century has led to a questioning and rethinking of some important political ideas. What theories can describe an ecologically-sound human relation to nature; what policies derive from those theories; and how do they value nature? What is the appropriate size of political units? What model of citizenship best addresses environmental issues? This course will address selected issues through readings in past political thinkers like Locke and Marx and in contemporary political and environmental theorists.  Mr. Stillman.

[ 178a. Political Theory, Environmental Justice: The Case of New Orleans After Katrina ](1/2)

(Same as Political Science 178a) Hurricane Katrina flooded much of New Orleans, causing intense social and political problems within the city and testing the ability of citizens and governments to respond to the crisis. The course aims to interpret and evaluate those responses by reading past political theorists, such as Aristotle, Hobbes, and DuBois, and current evaluations, such as those based in concerns for environmental justice.  Mr. Stillman.

Not offered in 2009/10.

179a. Special Topic: Henry David Thoreau(1/2)

(Same as English 179a) Mr. Peck.

184b. Seeing the Landscape(1/2)

(Same as Geography 184b) Natural history is a discipline devoted to wide-ranging yet detailed inspection of our natural world, largely through field work and direct observation. This discipline was central to the intellectual foundations of institutions such as Vassar. Since that time the sciences have shifted to narrower and more focused inquiry, which is reflected in how we view our global environment. This field-trip based course examines the methods and perspectives of natural history in order to consider what lessons its multidisciplinary approach might have for current environmental scholars. On field trips we practice observation skills including identification of flora and fauna, as well as examining the environmental transitions that influence biological communities. We use geographic information systems (GIS) to understand historic changes in landscapes and biota. Through discussions and readings we consider the role of natural history in science and the potential of natural history collections and data in addressing current questions such as climate change and ecological restoration. Ms Ronsheim and Ms Cunningham.

One 4-hour lab.

II. Intermediate

250b. Environmentalisms in Perspective(1)

The purpose of this course, an introduction to the core issues and perspectives of environmental studies is to develop a historical awareness of selected, significant positions in the contemporary theory and practice of environmentalism. In addition to studying different views of the relationship between human beings and their environments posited by different environmentalisms, the course critically examines views of science (or the study of nature), implications for policy, and the creation of meaning suggested by each. Environmentalist positions under consideration vary. By examining the roots of major contemporary positions, students explore possible connections among the ethical, scientific, aesthetic, and policy concerns that comprise environmental studies.

Required of students concentrating in the program. Open to other students by permission of the director and as space permits.

Prerequisite: sophomore or junior standing. Must be taken before the senior year.

254b. Environmental Science in the Field(1)

(Same as Biology 254b and Earth Science 254b) The environment consists of complex and often elegant interactions between various constituents so that an interdisciplinary approach is required to understand how human interactions may affect it. In this course, we study a variety of aspects of a specific environment by considering how biological, chemical, geological, and human factors interact. We observe these interactions first hand during a weeklong field trip. Some of the questions we may consider are: How does a coral polyp create an environment that not only suits its particular species, but also helps regulate the global climate? How has human development and associated water demands in the desert Southwest changed the landscape, fire ecology, and even estuary and fisheries' health as far away as the Gulf of California? How have a variety of species (humans included) managed to survive on an island with the harsh environment of the exposed mid-ocean ridge of Iceland? The course is offered every other year, and topics vary with expertise of the faculty teaching the course.

Topic for 2009/10: Global Decline of Coral Reef Ecosystems. Coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the ocean. They provide a variety of services from nurseries for offshore fisheries to buffers against storms and tsunamis. These unique ecosystems are currently suffering massive declines due to environmental stressors such as elevated seawater temperature, extreme weather and oceanographic events, and exposure to human activity. This course explores the underlying biology, geology, and oceanography of the coral reef ecosystem, both in the lab and in the field. Weekly exercises will introduce techniques in coral research along with methods to study the effects of environmental degradation . A research field trip during the Spring Break will be conducted at the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences. Participants in this class must be comfortable living in tropical field conditions (wet, salty, crowded), and be confident swimmers. Mr. McAdoo and Ms. Schwarz.

By special permission.

[ 256. Environment and Culture in the Caribbean ](1)

(Same as Africana Studies 256) The ecology of the islands of the Caribbean has undergone profound change since the arrival of Europeans to the region in 1492. The course traces the history of the relationship between ecology and culture from pre-Columbian civilizations to the economies of tourism. Among the specific topics of discussion are: Arawak and Carib notions of nature and conservation of natural resources; the impact of deforestation and changes in climate; the plantation economy as an ecological revolution; the political implications of the tensions between the economy of the plot and that of the plantation; the development of environmental conservation and its impact on notions of nationhood; the ecological impact of resort tourism; the development of eco-tourism. These topics are examined through a variety of materials: historical documents, essays, art, literature, music, and film. Mr. McAdoo, Ms. Paravisini.

Not offered in 2009/10.

260a. Issues in Environmental Studies(1)

The purpose of this course is to examine in depth an issue, problem, or set of issues and problems in environmental studies, to explore the various ways in which environmental issues are embedded in multiple contexts and may be understood from multiple perspectives. The course topic changes from year to year.

Topic for 2009/10: Animal Metaphors. When humans place themselves above and beyond nature, they are more likely to engage in practices that are destructive to the environment. The purpose of this course is to discover how and why humans so often define themselves in opposition to the animal world, and to use both art and science in order to explore alternative identities that would help us come to terms with our own "animal" being. As we consider stories about animals in various works of literature and film, we study humans themselves as a species to which evolution has bequeathed a host of traits and capacities, including the capacity for story-telling. Readings in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology help us to reframe questions of human identity in relation to animals. Towards the end of the course, we examine ways in which various cultural narratives, including ecocriticism, have been transformed by a more scientifically informed appreciation of animals as metaphors, and of humans as "metaphorizing animals." Ms. Hart and Mr. Long.

[ 261. "The Nuclear Cage": Environmental Theory and Nuclear Power ](1)

(Same as Sociology 261 and Urban Studies 261) The central aim of this course is to explore debates about the interaction between beings, including humans, animals, plants and the earth within the context of advanced capitalism by concentrating on the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of nuclear power. The first question concerning the class is how does Environmental Theory approach nuclear power and its impact on the environment. The second question deals with how this construction interacts with other forms of debate regarding nuclear power, especially concentrating on the relation between science, market and the state in dealing with nature, and how citizens formulate and articulate their understanding of nuclear power through social movements. Ms. Batur.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 270. Topics in Environmental Studies ](1)

The purpose of this course is to take up topics relevant to environmental studies, and examine them through the perspectives of the humanities and the natural or social sciences. The course topic changes from year to year.

Not offered in 2009/10.

290a or b. Field Work(1)

Individual or group field projects or internships. Prior approval of advisor and instructor supervising the work are required. May be taken during the academic year or during the summer. Participating faculty.

298a or b. Independent Research(1)

Individual or group project or study. Prior approval of advisor and instructor supervising the work are required. May be taken during the academic year or during the summer. Participating faculty.

III. Advanced

III. Advanced

300b. Senior Project/Thesis(1)

Recognizing the diverse interests and course programs of students in Environmental Studies, the program entertains many models for a senior project/thesis. Depending on their disciplinary concentration and interests, students may conduct laboratory or field studies, literary and historical analyses, or policy studies. Senior project/thesis proposals must be approved by the steering committee.

301a. Senior Seminar(1)

In the Senior Seminar, Environmental Studies majors bring their disciplinary concentration and their courses in the program to bear on a problem or set of problems in environmental studies. Intended to be an integration of theory and practice, and serving as a capstone course for the major, the seminar changes its focus from year to year.

Topic for 2009/10: Theory and Practice in Environmental Studies. Ms. Paravisini.

Required of students concentrating in the program.

Open to other students by permission of the director and as space permits.

303a-304b. Thesis(1)

312a. Studies in Environmental Political Thought(1)

(Same as Political Science 312a) An advanced course that studies topics at the intersection of environmental issues and political thought. Topics change yearly and may include Green Utopias; Justice and Democracy in New Orleans after Katrina; and Economic Growth and the Equitable Distribution of Water in the American Southwest. Mr. Stillman.

331a. Seminar in Archaeological Method and Theory(1)

(Same as Anthropology 331a)

Topic for 2009/10a: Extinctions in Anthropological Perspective. Ms Pike-Tay.

[ 335. Paleoclimatology: Earth's History of Climate Change ](1)

(Same as Earth Science 335) Ms. Menking.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 337b. Stable Isotopes in Environmental Science ](1)

(Same as Earth Science 337b) Stable isotopes have become a fundamental tool in many biogeoscientific studies, from reconstructing past climates to tracking animal migration or unraveling foodwebs and even to study the origin of life on Earth and possibly other planets. This course highlights the applications of stable isotopes in biological, ecological, environmental, archeological and geological studies. Students learn the fundamentals of stable isotope biogeochemistry in order to understand the uses and limitations of this tool. This course starts with an introduction to the fundamentals of stable isotope geochemistry and then moves on to applied topics such as paleoceanography and paleoclimatology proxies, hydrology, sediments and sedimentary rocks, biogeochemical cycling, the global carbon cycle, photosynthesis, metabolism, ecology, organic matter degradation, pollution, and more. The course content is directly related to Earth Science, Geography, Biology, Environmental Studies, and Chemistry. Mr. Gillikin.

340a and b. Advanced Urban and Regional Studies(1)

(Same as Geography340a and Urban Studies 340a)

Topic for 2009a: Urban Political Ecology: Environmental History, Conservation, and Planning in Global Cities. In our increasingly urban world, understanding and managing the diverse connections among cities and their extended geophysical and human environments have become urgent tasks. This seminar examines issues of environmental history, conservation, and planning in global mega-cities—sprawling metropolitan areas exceeding ten million inhabitants—through the theoretical lens of urban political ecology. We focus on how political institutions have mediated the interactions of humans and nature in urban settings around the world. Topics for study include the intellectual history of urban sustainability, methods of environmental history, issues of urban design and metabolism, contemporary efforts to conserve urban environments, participatory citizenship and environmental justice, and prospects for livable cities. Students carry out research on a global mega-city of their choice. Mr. Godfrey.

(Same as Geography 340b and Earth Science 340b) Topic for 2009/10b: Arctic Environmental Change. Arctic environments define a geographic region that is important to understand both in terms of its distinctive biogeographic patterns and functions and because it is subject to some of the most dramatic environmental alterations associated with global climate change. This course takes a biogeographic and landscape ecological approach to examining how this region contributes to global biodiversity, and why it contributes disproportionately to the regulation and change of the earth's climate system. What characteristics define these environments and make them especially vulnerable to positive feedbacks in a changing climate? How might climate changes alter landscape structure and composition, and what are the implications of these changes for the distribution of plants and animals in the region? What are global implications of these changes? We examine current literature and data to explore these questions about ongoing and anticipated environmental change in arctic regions. Some background in understanding earth systems or climate change is helpful. Ms. Cunningham.

341a. Oil(1)

(Same as Earth Science 341a and Geography 341a) For the hydraulic civilizations of Mesopotamia, it was water. For the Native Americans of the Great Plains, it was buffalo. As we enter the twenty-first century, our society is firmly rooted both culturally and economically in oil. This class looks into almost every aspect of oil. Starting at the source with kerogen generation, we follow the hydrocarbons along migration pathways to a reservoir with a suitable trap. We look at the techniques geologists and geophysicists use to find a field, and how engineers and economists get the product from the field to refineries, paying particular attention to environmental concerns. What is involved in the negotiations between multinational corporations and developing countries over production issues? What are the stages in refining oil from the crude that comes from the ground to the myriad uses seen today, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers, not to mention gasoline. We also discuss the future of this rapidly dwindling, nonrenewable resource, and discuss options for an oil-less future. Mr. McAdoo.

Prerequisite: One 200-level earth science course or permission of instructor.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory/field session.

By special permission.

[ 350. New York City as a Social Laboratory ](1)

(Same as Urban Studies 350) What is the future role of cities in the global environment? The goal of this class is to explore the major challenges in making cities environmentally sustainable. Efforts to generate and foster green and sustainable urban space confront economic, political and social complexities, while our imagination is being challenged to define alternatives. By focusing on New York City, we explore alterations in the discourse on sustainability as it relates to spatial allocation in urban design, and architectural innovations in the form and function of green buildings. Through a combination of classroom based discussions and New York City on site investigations, the class strives to understand expanded definition of sustainability in the contemporary urban environment.

Not offered in 2009/10.

352b. Conservation Biology(1)

(Same as Biology 352b) Ms. Ronsheim.

[ 356 Environment and Land-Use Planning ](1)

(Same as Earth Science 356 and Geography 356) Ms. Cunningham.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 361. Modeling the Earth ](1)

(Same as Earth Science 361) Ms. Menking.

Not offered in 2009/10.

Seminar on Selected Topics in Law and Technology

(Same as Science, Technology, and Society 364) This course explores the dynamic interrelationship between technology and law. It is designed to analyze the reciprocal effects of our society's developed jurisprudence and the advancement and use of science and technology on each other. Areas explored include American Constitutional, international, environmental, criminal, and property law, particularly as they interact with reproductive determination, government information gathering, hazardous waste generation, biotechnology, and technology transfer.

One 2-hour period.

Not offered in 2009/10.

367b. Peoples and Environments in the American West(1)

(Same as History 367b) Ms. Edwards.

[ 370. Gender and Nature ](1)

(Same as Women's Studies 370) In this seminar we explore some basic concepts and approaches within feminist environmental analysis paying particular attention to feminist theory and its relevance to environmental issues. We examine a range of feminist research and analysis in ‘environmental studies' that is connected by the recognition that gender subordination and environmental destruction are related phenomena. That is, they are the linked outcomes of forms of interactions with nature that are shaped by hierarchy and dominance, and they have global relevance. The course helps students discover the expansive contributions of feminist analysis and action to environmental research and advocacy; it provides the chance for students to apply the contributions of a feminist perspective to their own specific environmental interests. Ms. Schneiderman.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 372. Topics in Human Geography ](1)

(Same as Geography 372 and Urban Studies 372)

Not offered in 2009/10.

380a. Risk Perception and Environmental Regulation(1)

(Same as Science, Technology and Society 380a) This course explores the relationship between how individuals perceive risk and attempts to regulate the environment. In particular, we examine problems (both conceptual and practical) that arise in attempting to effectively manage risks to the environment. Gathering together empirical insights from Psychology and Behavioral Economics, we evaluate a number of proposed theoretical frameworks for regulation regimes (e.g., the Precautionary Principle, and Cost benefit Analysis). Problems to be discussed include the roles of popular (e.g., referenda) and non-democratic (e.g., judicial review) institutions, the feasibility of identifying relevant scientific expertise, and difficulties posed by inequalities in political, and economic power. Readings include works by thinkers such as Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Posner, as well as studies of existing legislation (e.g., the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act). Mr. Kelly.

385a. The Art of Nature: Painting, Literature, and Landscape Design in the Hudson Valley(1)

(Same as Art 385a) This seminar examines the vital concern for picturesque landscape-both actual and imaginary-in the evolution of art and cultural expression in the Hudson River Valley. The course investigates the relationship of important innovators in landscape design, such as Downing, Vaux, and Olmsted, to the literary and artistic works of Cole, Durand, Cooper, Irving, Bryant, and others. It includes a consideration of contemporary artists' engagement with the environment, such as Eric Lindbloom's photographs, Andy Goldsworthy's wall at Storm King, and the installations of the Minetta Brook Hudson River Project, such as George Trakas's pier at Beacon. The course has several fieldtrips to study the continuing impact of nineteenth-century landscape theory and traditions in the Hudson River Valley. Ms. Lucic, Mr. Peck.

By special permission.

One two-hour period.

399a or b. Senior Independent Research(1)

Individual or group project or study. Prior approval of advisor and instructor supervising the work are required. May be taken during the academic year or during the summer. Participating faculty.