College Bulletin - Course Catalog 
    Oct 26, 2021  
College Bulletin - Course Catalog

Environmental Studies




ERICH CARR EVERBACH (Engineering) Program Coordinator
Cassy Burnett, Administrative Coordinator


Adrienne Benally (Environmental Studies)
Elizabeth Bolton (English Literature)3
Timothy Burke (History)
Giovanna Di Chiro (Environmental Studies)
Christopher R. Graves (Chemistry and Environmental Studies)
Eric L. N. Jensen (Physics and Astronomy)
José-Luis Machado (Biology)
Jennifer Peck (Economics and Environmental Studies)
Jennifer Pfluger (Environmental Studies)
Christine Schuetze (Anthropology)
Mark Wallace (Religion)

1 Absent on leave, fall 2020.
2 Absent on leave, spring 2021.
3 Absent on leave, 2020-2021.

Why Environmental Studies? Why now?

Profound anthropogenic changes are occurring in the land, water, and air around us, with the result that human societies face greater changes and environmental challenges than we have ever known. Global population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2040; global energy consumption is rising sharply while even present-day carbon emissions intensify global warming. Along with global warming, trends such as deforestation, mass extinctions, and eutrophication threaten the finely-balanced marine and terrestrial ecosystems on which we rely for food, water, shelter, and more. Sea-water rise along with increasing heat and drought will create climate refugees and resource conflicts on unprecedented scales. Responding to these crises requires all the creativity and rigor and compassion we can gather-including the cultivation of intellectual skills that until recently were housed in discrete and disparate disciplines.

Environmental studies brings together the natural sciences and engineering, the humanities, and the social sciences to tackle environmental issues of great complexity and socio-political importance. In relation to climate change, for instance, natural scientists provide data to understand the scope of the problem and the processes that result in global warming, social scientists help to understand and craft policies around human behaviors that cause climate change, and humanists provide the moral and historical framework to understand our obligation to action and the tools to communicate environmental values. Only an integrated, interdisciplinary approach can address the extremity and complexity of the challenges we face: students must learn to think across and through disciplines in order to become the kinds of problem-solvers our societies so urgently need.

First Course Recommendations

While Intro to Environmental Studies (ENVS 001 ) is taught in the spring semester and we encourage all interested students to take it as soon as possible, there are also Environmental Studies courses offered each fall that are open to first-year students. Students interested in possibly majoring or minoring in ENVS should look at the fall ENVS course offerings and consider taking one of those courses if possible.

The Academic Program

Course Major

Students majoring in Environmental Studies will complete ten credits in the program, including Introduction to Environmental Studies; two Environmental Science and Technology credits, including at least one lab course; two Environmental Social Science credits; two Environmental Arts and Humanities credits; a four-credit topical or disciplinary focus designed by the student in conversation with the faculty coordinator; and the Environmental Studies Capstone or a thesis. Two of the credits can count both toward the four-credit focus and toward the distribution requirements in the three divisions.  

While students may opt to take ENVS credit/no-credit while they are exploring possible majors, once a student declares a major or minor in ENVS, courses used to meet the major or minor requirements may not be taken CR/NC. However, mandatory CR/NC designations by the Provost will not be counted against this rule.

Environmental Studies courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford can also be applied to the major or minor, as can study-abroad and domestic programs authorized by Swarthmore’s Office of Off-Campus Study and the Faculty Coordinator of Environmental Studies. 

Course Minor

Students minoring in Environmental Studies shall take at least six credits in the program, consisting of the Introduction to Environmental Studies; two Environmental Science courses; two Environmental Social Science or Humanities courses; and the Environmental Studies capstone or another upper-level Environmental Studies course.

While students may opt to take ENVS credit/no-credit while they are exploring possible majors, once a student declares a major or minor in ENVS, courses used to meet the major or minor requirements may not be taken CR/NC. However, mandatory CR/NC designations by the Provost will not be counted against this rule.

Honors Major

Honors majors will complete all of the requirements for the course major, and will also designate three two-credit preparations on which they will be examined.  These preparations may either be two-credit seminars that count toward ENVS (e.g. ECON 176, Environmental Economics, BIOL 137, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) or combinations of two one-credit courses that have been approved by the ENVS program as suitable combinations for honors preparations.  Students writing their sophomore plans should consult with the Faculty Coordinator and their advisor for the current list of approved preparations.

Honors Minor

Honors minors in Environmental Studies must complete all of the requirements for the course minor while also proposing one honors preparation as outlined above.

Overview of the Curriculum

a) ENVS 001: Introduction to Environmental Studies. This is a team-taught, interdisciplinary introduction to the field of Environmental Studies. Faculty instructors are drawn from the natural sciences and engineering on the one hand and from social sciences and humanities on the other in order to ensure cross-disciplinary perspectives and connections.  Students interested in majoring or minoring in Environmental Studies should take this course as early as possible; we anticipate that most students declaring a major or minor will have taken it by the sophomore year.

b) Two Environmental Social Science courses. We expect our students to grasp the fundamentals of economic policies, environmental histories, and socio-cultural formations; we also want them to be able to design, conduct, and analyze empirical research.

c) Two Environmental Arts and Humanities courses. We want our students to be able to analyze rhetorical strategies of individual texts and broader discourse communities (e.g. climate justice movements as well as climate denial). We want them to question the assumptions underlying existing cultural structures and explore alternatives. When possible, we want them to develop creative skills to help them inspire and motivate others.

d) Two Environmental Science and Technology courses, including at least one lab course. We expect our students to be able to conduct inquiry-based science, working with raw data as well as understanding data produced by others. 

e) A four-course topical or disciplinary focus, including elements of methodological development and practical engagement (praxis). This focus offers our students the opportunity to develop their own areas of expertise while also developing greater depth and breadth in interdisciplinary problem-solving. Sample thematic and disciplinary foci are listed below. Two of the credits that count toward the distribution requirements in b-d above can also count toward the four-course focus. Prospective majors should specify the details of their four-course focus (both the overall theme and the courses they plan to use) in their Sophomore Plan of Study.

f) Environmental Studies Capstone. The capstone brings graduating seniors back together to work on collaboration and to share their diverse talents and backgrounds in tackling a shared topic or challenge. The capstone meets the requirement for the senior comprehensive experience. 

Sample thematic foci:

Food: ENVS/BIOL 009 Our Food; ENGR 010 Fundamentals of Food Engineering; ENVS 052/CHIN 086 Chinese Food, Culture and Farming; PHYS 024 Earth’s Climate and Global Warming.

Disasters: ENVS 006 Visions of the End; ENVS 026 Environmental History of the Soviet Union; ENVS 031/PEAC 055/SOCI 055C Climate Disruption; ENVS 051/JPNS 035 Narratives of Disaster and Rebuilding in Japan.

Sustainability: ENVS 085 Urban Environmental Community Action; ENVS 089 Sustainability Research Methods [2 credits]; ENVS 092A Directed Reading: UNFCCC COP.; Independent Study Project.

Asia (courses developed through Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment): CHIN 089 Tea Culture; CHIN 087/POLS 087 Water Policies, Water Issues: China & US; POLS 088 Environmental Governance in China; ENVS 052/CHIN 086 Food, Culture, and Farming in China.

Sample disciplinary foci:

Environmental Biology: BIOL 036 Ecology; BIOL 037 Conservation Biology; BIOL 137 Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function [2 cr]

Environmental Economics: ECON 055 Behavioral Economics; ECON 081 Economic Development; ECON 176 Environmental Economics [2 cr]

Environmental Engineering: ENVS 075/ENGR 063 Water Quality and Pollution Control; ENVS 076/ENGR 066 Environmental Systems; ENVS 077/ENGR 035 Solar Energy Systems; ENVS 078/ENGR 057 Operations Research

Environmental Literature: ENVS 042/ENGL 089E Ecofeminism(s); ENVS 043/ENGL 089/SOAN 20M Race, Gender, Class, and Environment; ENVS 044/ENGL 089B Materials that Matter; ENVS 045B River Stories or ENVS 040/RELG 022 Religion and Ecology.

Off-Campus Study

In addition to the Swarthmore-specific ENVS study abroad program outlined below, there are many programs that offer environmental opportunities in their coursework.  ENVS majors who study abroad often use courses from that experience as an integral part of their four-course focus.


Cape Town South Africa Program on Globalization, Environment, and Society

Swarthmore is a member of a consortium with Macalester and Pomona Colleges that sponsors a junior year environmental study abroad program in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Students from the three consortium schools, as well as those schools under consortium agreements with the three schools, may apply. For more information, see the website:


Environmental Studies Courses

ENVS 020-039 Social Sciences

ENVS 040-059 Humanities and Arts