ENVS 160: Introduction to Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies 160 has exposed me to a broad range of ways of thinking about the environment. Because we've studied the environment through historical, political, ecological, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives, it is difficult to sum up what I've learned. The ideas of political ecology helped me see that environmentalism and individual decision-making are heavily influenced by structural factors. Learning about resilience and adaptive cycles helped me to think more flexibly about solutions. Analyzing how humans think about and make environmental decisions was also incredibly insightful. The most powerful idea that I took from this class is that many environmental problems such as global climate change and natural resource degradation are global in nature and are influenced by the structure of both human and ecological systems. Because humans and the environment are so intrinsically connected, it is impossible to fully address environmental problems without also addressing economic, social justice, and psychological issues as well.

Forum Postings:
My forum postings tend to focus on impediments to genuine sustainability. I believe that a truly sustainable society cannot be based on a  culture of fear, it must be based on a sound environment, a sound economy, and social equity on all scales instead of focusing on individual environmental "sins." A holistic approach is necessary to cope with complex environmental problems such as global warming and biodiversity loss. Prevention and adaptation are important, as well as both science and the psychology of human behavior.

Nature, Science, and Religion
National Teach-In Forum Posting
Portland Economies and Ecologies
What to do About Global Warming?
Situated Biodiversity Research

My Research Paper: The Political Ecology of Electronic Waste
In this paper, I use the theory of political ecology to better understand the root causes of pollution and toxic waste on the global scale. I argue that environmental resources as well as environmental problems are unfairly distributed in the global system, because the Global North uses more than its fair share of natural resources while the Global South must bear the majority of the environmental damages caused by the North’s overconsumption. The root cause of this injustice is the fact that firms in the United States are permitted to shirk responsibility for the negative environmental impacts of production. Using the example of the problem of electronic waste disposal in the United States and India, I argue that firms must be obligated to take responsibility for the environmental externalities associated with production in order to achieve a socially just outcome for all.

My Synthesis Poster: Where is "Away?"
This poster summarizes the most salient aspects of the argument I presented in my research paper, The poster argues that sending a toxic substance away doesn't actually make that item dissapear, it just pushes the responsibility for that item onto somebody more vulnerable. I use the examples of electronic waste in India,                                                                               global climate change, and the pollution of the Columbia River Slough to demonstrate this trend at all levels.

In addition to course materials, the book High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health was especially helpful.
Garret Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" gave was also very insightful and provided the jumping off point for much of my argument.

60 Minutes Special Report on E-Waste
Greenpeace Report on E-Waste
Photo Gallery of E-Waste in India
Washington Post: "Global Warming to Hit Poor Worst"
Top 100 Effects of Global Warming

Extra Credit Assignment

Soul Print Calculator
Over Spring Break, I did a subjective, arbitrary, and often irrational calculation of what I thought my impact was on the environment. The purpose of this exercise, of course, was not to objectively determine my impact on the environment but instead to observe how people make decisions regarding their own resource consumption.

Group Projects:

Our CMAP addresses poor water quality in India. Overpopulation and urbanization create overcrowding, which because of the poor sewage infrastructure in many parts of India causes human waste to pollute water sources. In addition, religious tradition mandates burial in water sources, which combined with high population density leads to highly polluted water. Poor water quality causes biodiversity loss and health issues relating to water-borne disease.

Group GIS
Our GIS map looked for a correlation between per-capita income and the location of toxic waste facilities in Iowa. We found that there was a higher density of toxic waste facilities in urban areas than in rural areas. This makes sense because there is also a higher concentration of people and industry in urban areas. Per-capita income also tends to be higher in urban areas, so there was generally a higher concentration of toxic waste facilities in areas with a higher per-capita income.

Stella Limits to Growth Lab
We found that the results of these predictions are extremely sensitive to changes in the degradation rate of natural resources. This is because industrial output and food production are both highly dependent on the supply of natural resources.


Tara Brown
Lewis & Clark College
Class of 2012

ENVS 160
Introduction to
Environmental Studies
Spring 2009