Skip Navigation


Sustainability is based on the  principle that everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.  Sustainability courses help us understand the interconnections between natural and social systems and to marshal that knowledge in pursuit of a more sustainable society. 

There are many courses at Carleton College that provide insight into environmental and social issues; this list focuses on those that contribute to an explicitly integrative approach to these issues.  It includes:

  1. Foundational courses in which the primary and explicit focus is on sustainability as an integrated concept having social, economic, and environmental dimensions. An obvious example is Environment and Society.
  2. Courses in which the primary focus is on providing skills and/or knowledge directly connected to understanding or solving one or more major sustainability challenges. Such courses do not necessarily cover sustainability as a concept, but should address more than one of the three dimensions of sustainability (i.e. social wellbeing, economic prosperity, and environmental health). Examples include Global Change Biology and Environmental Justice.

While a foundational course such as chemistry or sociology provides knowledge that is useful to practitioners of sustainability, it would not be considered a sustainability course. Likewise, although specific tools or practices such as GIS (Geographical Information Systems) can be applied towards sustainability, such courses would not count as sustainability courses unless their primary and explicit focus is on sustainable applications.

BIOL 210: Global Change Biology

Environmental problems are caused by a complex mix of physical, biological, social, economic, political, and technological factors. This course explores how these environmental problems affect life on Earth by examining the biological processes underlying natural ecological systems and the effects of global environmental changes such as resources consumption and overharvesting, land-use change, climate warming, pollution, extinction and biodiversity loss, and invasive species.
Offered Winter 2019

BIOL 321: Ecosystem Ecology

Ecosystem ecology involves the study of energy and material flow through systems, including both the biotic (animals, plants, microbes) and abiotic (soil, water, atmosphere) components. Topics include the major elemental cycles (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous), patterns of energy flow, and the controls of these fluxes for different ecosystems. Current environmental issues are emphasized as case studies, including climate change, land use change, human alterations of nutrient cycles, and biodiversity effects on ecosystems. Concurrent registration in Biology 322 required.
Offered Fall 2018

BIOL 374: Seminar: Grassland Ecology

Grassland ecosystems cover one third of the Earth's surface and occur on every continent except Antarctica. Grasslands provide habitat for millions of species, play a major role in global carbon and nutrient cycles, and are the primary source of agricultural land, making them an important ecosystem both ecologically and economically. This course will utilize scientific literature to explore the environmental and biological characteristics of the world's grasslands from population dynamics to ecosystem processes. Topics include competition and succession, plant-animal interactions, carbon and nutrient cycling, the role of disturbances such as fire and land use change, and grassland management and restoration. Enrollment by application. Waitlist only.
Not offered 2018-2019

CHEM 128: Principles of Environmental Chemistry & Lab

The core topics of chemistry (i.e. thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, and bonding) are central to understanding major environmental topics such as greenhouse warming, ozone depletion, acid-rain deposition, and general chemical contamination in air, water, and soil. These topics and the chemical principles behind them are addressed through an emphasis on the earth's atmosphere. One four-hour laboratory per week. Because this course covers the major topics of Chemistry 123 (but with an environmental emphasis), students cannot receive credit for both Chemistry 123 and 128.
Not offered 2018-2019

ECON 269: Economics of Climate Change

This course studies economic models of climate change and their implications for policy design. Covered topics include: the relationship between climate change and the macroeconomy, the performance of different climate policy instruments such as carbon taxes and cap and trade systems, the potential effects of innovation, and the economics surrounding the use of different types of energy.
Not offered 2018-2019

ECON 271: Economics of Natural Resources and the Environment

This course focuses on environmental economics, energy economics, and the relationship between them. Economic incentives for pollution abatement, the industrial organization of energy production, optimal depletion rates of energy sources, and the environmental and economic consequences of alternate energy sources are analyzed.
Offered Winter 2019

ECON 273: Water and Western Economic Development

This course examines a number of important aspects of water as a legal/political/economic factor in the development of the western United States. The topics include western water law, the evolution of water supply institutions, state and local water planning, the role of the federal government, and a number of current water problems, including surface and groundwater pollution, impediments to market transfers of water, and state/regional/international conflicts over water.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENGL 236: American Nature Writing

A study of the environmental imagination in American literature. We will explore the relationship between literature and the natural sciences and examine questions of style, narrative, and representation in the light of larger social, ethical, and political concerns about the environment. Authors read will include Thoreau, Muir, Jeffers, Abbey, and Leopold. Students will write a creative Natural History essay as part of the course requirements.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 110: Environment and Society

This course offers an interdisciplinary introduction to a number of the pressing environmental changes currently facing human societies around the world. We will seek to understand and integrate the social, economic, scientific and political dimensions of these challenges. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the complexity of environmental issues and the interdisciplinary nature of the search for appropriate solutions. Topics will include global warming, population pressures, energy use, industrial waste and pollution, biological diversity, and sustainable agriculture.
Offered Spring 2019

ENTS 212: Global Food Systems

The course offers a survey of the world's food systems--and its critics--from the initial domestication of plants and animals to our day. We will begin by examining the critical theoretical and foundational issues on the subject, and then turn to a series of case studies that illuminate major themes around the world. Topics will include land and animal husbandry, the problem of food security, food politics, the Green Revolution, biotechnology, and the implications of global climate change. Throughout the course, students will assess and seek to integrate differing disciplinary and methodological approaches. The class will include field experiences.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 215: Environmental Ethics

This course is an introduction to the central ethical debates in environmental policy and practice, as well as some of the major traditions of environmental thought. It investigates such questions as whether we can have moral duties towards animals, ecosystems, or future generations; what is the ethical basis for wilderness preservation; and what is the relationship between environmentalism and social justice.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 244: Biodiversity Conservation and Development

How can the need for intensive human social and economic development be reconciled with the conservation of biodiversity? This course explores the wide range of actions that people take at a local, national, and international level to address this question. We will use political ecology and conservation biology as theoretical frameworks to examine the role of traditional and indigenous approaches to biodiversity conservation as well as contemporary debates about integrated conservation development across a spectrum of cultures in North America, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 260: Comparative Agroecology

As the world human population continues to expand, while at the same time the arable land base and fossil fuel supply shrink, the need for a sustainable food system is imperative. This course explores factors influencing food production and distribution at both local and national levels, with an eye towards how these factors affect choices made by the ultimate stewards of the land--the farmers. While the course focuses on the scientific aspects of agroecosystem sustainability, comparisons will be made among various production models both in the U.S. and China, bringing in social, economic and policy issues. This course is part of the OCS winter break China program, involving two linked courses in fall and winter terms, this class is the first class in the sequence. 
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 262: Materials Science, Energy, and the Environment

Drawing on chemistry and physics principles, this course will focus on the relationship between the structure and physical properties of materials, how materials science can address environmental and energy challenges, and the technological and societal impacts of materials development. Topics to be covered will vary from year to year, but may include material life cycle assessment, traditional plastics and biodegradable alternatives, materials and technologies for solar energy conversion, and the role of materials in developing energy efficient buildings.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 265: The Science of the Earth System

An interdisciplinary approach will be employed to understand the science behind major environmental issues such as pollution and climate change. The initial focus of the class will be to develop a good general understanding of the movement of energy and matter among the global biogeochemical cycles. Case studies will draw from recent literature.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 287: Climate Science

In this course, we will explore the state of the science of the modern global climate. The course will include a discussion of the impact of greenhouse gases and aerosol particles on the global climate system, and attention will be paid to understanding global cycles as well as global climate models. In order to understand the underlying science, geoengineering schemes to "fix" the global climate system will be investigated. Throughout the course, our emphasis will be on a quantitative, scientifically rigorous understanding of the complex climate system.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 288: Abrupt Climate Change

Abrupt climate change is very fast change, related to "tipping points" and thresholds, evident in current and historical climate records. Includes interpretation of historical climate data and measurement methods, evolving theories for abrupt change, the role of complex earth systems processes, and trends in global climate change today. The course will address our future through examing cases studies on past human civilizations and discussion of how to reduce our vulnerability to an unstable future climate. Includes a term-long project at the intersection of abrupt climate change and an issue of human concern.
Not offered 2018-2019

ENTS 310: Topics in Environmental Law and Policy

This seminar will examine topical issues in domestic and international environmental law and policy. We will aim to understand how environmental laws work to achieve policy objectives, with attention also to debates about the role of markets and community-based environmental management. The specific topics may change from year to year, but may include approaches to sustainable development, sustainable agriculture, protection of endangered species, and conservation and management of water resources. This course has no prerequisites and is suitable for students of environmental studies, political science, international relations and political economy.
Not offered 2018-2019

GEOL 115: Climate Change in Geology & Lab

This course is designed to introduce the study of paleoclimatology broadly, and is based on investigating local deposits that span a broad range of geologic time. We will perform research projects on topics of local interest, which may include: analyzing fossils in 450 million year old rock, scrutinizing reported Cretaceous dinosaur gizzard-stones, researching post-Ice Age climate change using cave or lake deposits, and using dendrochronology (tree rings) and seismic surveys to study disruption of the prairie-big woods landscape by European settlers. Participants should be prepared for outdoor laboratories and one Saturday field trip.
Offered Winter 2019

GEOL 120: Introduction to Environmental Geology & Lab

An introduction to geology emphasizing environmental health and humankind's use and abuse of soil, water, fuels, and other resources. Field trips and laboratories included.
Not offered 2018-2019

HIST 205: American Environmental History

Environmental concerns, conflicts, and change mark the course of American history, from the distant colonial past to our own day. This course will consider the nature of these eco-cultural developments, focusing on the complicated ways that human thought and perception, culture and society, and natural processes and biota have all combined to forge Americans' changing relationship with the natural world. Topics will include Native American subsistence strategies, Euroamerican settlement, industrialization, urbanization, consumption, and the environmental movement. As we explore these issues, one of our overarching goals will be to develop an historical context for thinking deeply about contemporary environmental dilemmas.
Offered Fall 2018, Spring 2019

POSC 212: Environmental Justice

The environmental justice movement seeks greater participation by marginalized communities in environmental policy, and equity in the distribution of environmental harms and benefits. This course will examine the meaning of "environmental justice," the history of the movement, the empirical foundation for the movement's claims, and specific policy questions. Our focus is the United States, but students will have the opportunity to research environmental justice in other countries.
Offered Spring 2019

POSC 268: Global Environmental Politics and Policy

Global environmental politics and policy is the most prominent field that challenges traditional state-centric ways of thinking about international problems and solutions. This course examines local-global dynamics of environmental problems. The course will cover five arenas crucial to understanding the nature and origin of global environmental politics and policymaking mechanisms: (1) international environmental law; (2) world political orders; (3) human-environment interactions through politics and markets; (4) paradigms of sustainable development; and (5) dynamics of human values and rules.
Not offered 2018-2019

POSC 333: Global Social Changes and Sustainability*

This course is about the relationship between social changes and ecological changes to understand and to be able to advance analytical concepts, research methods, and theories of society-nature interactions. How do livelihoods of individuals and groups change over time and how do the changes affect ecological sustainability? What are the roles of human institutions in ecological sustainability? What are the roles of ecosystem dynamics in institutional sustainability? Students will learn fundamental theories and concepts that explain linkages between social change and environmental changes and gain methods and skills to measure social changes qualitatively and quantitatively.
Not offered 2018-2019

SOAN 203: Anthropology of Good Intentions

Is the environmental movement making progress? Do responsible products actually help local populations? Is international AID alleviating poverty and fostering development? Today there are thousands of programs with sustainable development goals yet their effectiveness is often contested at the local level. This course explores the impacts of sustainable development, conservation, and AID programs to look beyond the good intentions of those that implement them. In doing so we hope to uncover common pitfalls behind good intentions and the need for sound social analysis that recognizes, examines, and evaluates the role of cultural complexity found in populations targeted by these programs.
Offered Fall 2018

SOAN 233: Anthropology of Food

Food is the way to a person's heart but perhaps even more interesting, the window into a society's soul. Simply speaking understating a society's foodways is the best way to comprehend the complexity between people, culture and nature. This course explores how anthropologists use food to understand different aspects of human behavior, from food procurement and consumption practices to the politics of nutrition and diets. In doing so we hope to elucidate how food is more than mere sustenance and that often the act of eating is a manifestation of power, resistance, identity, and community.
Offered Winter 2019

SOAN 234: Economic Anthropology

This course examines the ways that economies are embedded in social relations. How should we define affluence? Is barter a useful system for today? What relationships exist between ecology and culture? Formulating an anthropological perspective for the interpretation of pre-capitalist economies, what practical lessons can we learn from the study of hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, and peasants?  We will also discuss the meaning of money, articulation between local and global economies, gender bias in classical exchange theory, Mauss on gift-giving, and Marx on "commodity fetishism." Theoretical material will be illustrated with ethnographic examples from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.
Not offered 2018-2019

SOAN 253: Oil, Sand, Water: Environmental Anthropology of the Middle East

This course explores anthropological questions about the environments of the Middle East and North Africa. We will start by illustrating key topics in the field of environmental anthropology with regional case studies by anthropologists of the Middle East. This will include classic topics including agriculture and resource distribution as well as the more recent anthropological concerns with climate change and the political ecology of conflict. In the second part of the course, we will follow water, oil, and sand: three central things in the experience and perception of Middle East environments.
Not offered 2018-2019

SOAN 323: Mother Earth: Women, Development and the Environment

Why are so many sustainable development projects anchored around women's cooperatives? Why is poverty depicted as having a woman's face? Is the solution to the environmental crisis in the hands of women the nurturers? From overly romantic notions of stewardship to the feminization of poverty, this course aims to evaluate women's relationships with local environments and development initiatives. The course uses anthropological frameworks to evaluate case studies from around the world.
Offered Spring 2019

SOAN 333: Environmental Anthropology

Can we learn to use resources sustainably? Are there people in the world that know how to manage their environment appropriately? What are the causes behind environmental degradation? These questions are commonly asked in public and academic forums but what discussions often overlook is the fact that these are fundamentally social questions and thus social analysis is needed to understand them fully. This course aims at exploring key issues of human/nature interactions by using anthropological critiques and frameworks of analysis to show how culture is a critical variable to understanding these interactions in all their complexity.
Not offered 2018-2019