Sample of Classes

Climate change in an age of social change

While the earth's natural systems are being transformed by climate change, movements for social change in the areas of diversity, equity, justice, and environmental relations are expanding across the globe. This course prepares students to understand and engage with crucial issues at the intersection of these two trends through analysis of current events and literature from both the physical and social sciences. We will begin by exploring the physical science behind climate change. Next, we will study its impacts on key human concerns such as agriculture, extractive industries, conflict, health, migration, and development. We will then analyze responses to climate change, including social media campaigns, public protests, and intergovernmental cooperation, and we will carry out our own simulation of a UN climate change conference tasked with keep warming below 2 degrees C. Across the semester, we will situate readings and discussion within diverse theories of social thought. Finally, students will apply what they learn in class to carry out a research project on a social issue related to climate change of their choice, and present their findings to peers.

Can we mine our way out of climate change?

To prevent the worst impacts of global warming, policymakers, corporations, and individuals are seeking to reduce carbon emissions by transitioning from conventional to “clean energy.” Yet while this transition will reduce demand for some natural resources like coal and oil, it will increase the need for others, like copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium to produce solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. The process of mining these materials produces its own carbon emissions, and impacts the environment and society, such as by polluting water supplies and displacing vulnerable communities. Students will grapple with this contradiction by learning about the clean energy transition, how mining works, and the ways climate change and mining interact. This knowledge will empower students to engage deeply with each other, the instructor, and the world at large over possible solutions to address climate change while minimizing the creation of new social and environmental harms.

Situating Development: Theory and practice of Development Geography

Why do extremes of wealth and poverty exist within the same country or even the same city? What can be done to address poverty and inequality and who should do it? This course draws upon literature from the field of Development Geography to introduce students to key theories that attempt to answer these questions. Specifically, we will critically examine: (1) mainstream economic theory, ranging from classical to neoliberal theories, as well as modernization theory; (2) Marxist-feminist theories; (3) post-structural theories of development; and (4) emerging trends in development policy and practice, with a particular focus on climate change. The course will pay particular attention to how issues of race, colonialism, and gender have affected and been affected by development theories. In addition, students will consider whether and how existing development theories and lessons learned from their historical application can be employed to address pressing real-world development challenges today. The course is intended to meet the interests of students ranging from those who may only engage with development through their own consumption habits to those who pursue careers in the field.

From Eden to Anthropocene: Myths and reality in socio-environmental relations of the Americas

This course considers how relationships between environment and society have emerged and evolved in the Western Hemisphere from the pre-colonial era to the present—and in diverse communities ranging spatially from Chile to the United States. Readings come primarily from scholarly literature within Geography, but also include research from other disciplines and primary resources. The class is organized across three main themes. Readings in the first section discuss socio-environmental relationships prior to, during, and shortly after the arrival of the first Europeans to the Americas, through first-hand accounts, archeological research, and historical narratives. The second section addresses key themes in the political economy of the relationship between society and the environment, including the role of the State, Development programs and ideologies, resistance in defense of local autonomy and governance of natural resources, and the emerging role of China. Finally, the third section engages specifically with five key issues in natural resource governance in the region: mining, oil, and gas; forests; water; soil and biodiversity; and climate change.