Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.

Environmental Studies

Chair, 2007-08: Charles Umbanhowar, Jr. (Biology), paleoecology, grassland ecology

Faculty, 2007-08: Mark Allister (English), American literature, writing; Diane Angell (Biology), ecology and animal behavior; Eugene B. Bakko (Biology), animal physiology, vertebrate biology; James Farrell (History), environmental history, American studies; Steven Freedberg (Biology), bioinformatics, evolutionary ecology; Dan Hoffrenning (Political Science), American politics, public policy; Paul Jackson (Chemistry), separation science, environmental chemistry; Robert Jacobel (Physics), geophysics, ice and climate interactions; Rebecca Judge (Economics), environment and public policy; Tony Lott (Political Science), global environmental law; Donna McMillan (Psychology), environmental psychology; Priscilla Paton (Environmental Studies); Jean Porterfield (Biology), conservation genetics and behavioral ecology; Matt Rohn (Art and Art History, American Conversations) visual culture; John Schade (Biology, environmental Studies), biogeochemistry, ecology; Kathleen Shea (Biology), ecology, environmental studies; Mike Swift (Biology), aquatic ecology; Charles Taliaferro (Philosophy), philosophy of religion, ethics; Brian Welch (Physics), geology, hydrology; Brett Werner (Environmental Studies), Environmental Rhetoric and Philosophy

Environmental studies combines the strengths of disciplinary work in the contributing departments with interdisciplinary studies, giving both broad and focused perspectives on environmental problems and issues. The program offers a major in environmental studies with three tracks or options in which students may choose to focus their work: natural sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities. In many cases, work in these tracks overlaps with traditional departmental curricula, and students may choose to complete a second major there. Recognizing the global dimensions of many environmental problems and the need for learning outside of the classroom, the program provides a number of opportunities for studies abroad and in the field.

All students majoring in environmental studies take four courses from a common set of core offerings which emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of environmental problems and issues. Students then choose one of the three tracks in which to focus their work. Courses required from two cognate groups outside of the selected track provide essential knowledge, methods, and perspectives to complement the focus. All majors complete an experiential component during their studies and take a capstone course for a total of 12 required courses. Students wishing to count courses not specifically designated as satisfying requirements for the major may petition the Environmental Studies Advisory Board prior to enrollment.

The program also offers a concentration in environmental studies for students wishing to complement a disciplinary major with a smaller core of courses and electives focused on the environment.


Because of their interdisciplinary character, environmental studies courses are most appropriate for students seeking to fulfill general education requirements. The introductory seminar, Environmental Studies 137, serves many students in the NST (non-lab) area, and other environmental studies courses generally fulfill one or more of the general education requirements.


1. Core Courses:

• Two from the following list in natural sciences: Environmental Studies 125 or Biology 261; Environmental Studies 137; Chemistry 119 or 124; Physics 123. (The material in Chemistry 124 will normally be covered in greater depth in the chemistry disciplinary courses [below]. Students completing two courses in the Chemistry group B may receive credit for Chemistry 124).

  • One from the following list in social sciences: Environmental Studies 201; Environmental Studies 232; Environmental Studies 276
  • One from the following list in the arts and humanities: Environmental Studies 101–109; Environmental Studies 222; Environmental Studies 259; Environmental Studies 270; English 276; History 240; History 275; Philosophy 257

2. Cognate Courses:

Each of the tracks requires selections from the groups listed below (see specific requirements in each track). Courses listed in the core groups (above), and not taken to fulfill those requirements, may also serve as options for the respective cognate requirements.

Natural Sciences Cognate Group: Environmental Studies 245; Environmental Studies 255; Biology 224 (Australia); Biology 226 (Australia); Biology 228; Biology/Environmental Studies 350; Integrative Studies 207, if not used as Arts and Humanities Cognate or Environmental Studies 281/381(natural sciences theme)

Social Sciences Cognate Group: Environmental Studies 201; Environmental Studies 225; Economics 242; Political Science 220 (Australia); Sociology/Anthropology 222 (Australia) or Environmental Studies 281/381(social sciences theme)

Arts and Humanities Cognate Group: Any of the arts and humanities core courses listed above, including Integrative Studies 207, if not used as Natural Science Cognate or Environmental Studies 281/381(arts and humanities theme)

  1. Senior Capstone: Environmental Studies 399
  2. Experiential Component:

All students majoring in environmental studies will participate in an experience that applies basic knowledge in a setting beyond the classroom. This may be one of the off-campus environmental studies courses/programs, or an internship, or a research project approved by the director. Guidelines and a set of approved courses are available from the director and are posted on the program website.

Natural Science

The natural science track seeks to give students a broad exposure to the range of problems encountered by scientists working in environmental fields and the investigative tools they use, while providing a solid foundation for further study in one of the contributing disciplines. Students planning careers in environmental science are strongly urged to consider an additional major in biology or chemistry. Eight courses are required in addition to the four specified above:

  • Statistics 212 or Statistics 272
  • Foundation Courses (two courses: one biology, one chemistry): Biology 261 or Biology 226 (Australia); Chemistry 247/253
    • Disciplinary Courses (three courses: two from group A, or two from group B, and one from group C):
    • A. Biology 242; Biology 248; Biology 252; Biology 263; Biology 371.
    • B. Chemistry 255/256; Chemistry 391 (environmental themes); Chemistry 379.
    • C. Environmental Studies 245, Environmental Studies 255, Environmental Studies 350 or Environmental Studies 281/381 (natural sciences theme)
  • Cognate Courses (at least two courses: one from the social sciences cognate group and one from the arts and humanities cognate group)
Social Science

The social science track is a contract major in which students select a set of disciplinary and cognate courses in consultation with an advisor. In addition to the core courses and the capstone seminar (specified above), students will select seven additional courses from the following groups:

  • One course in statistics or mathematical modeling
  • Social Science Courses (two courses from the following list, in addition to the social science course taken for the core requirement): Economics 242; Environmental Studies 225; Environmental Studies 232; Environmental Studies 201; Environmental Studies 276; Political Science 221 (Australia); Sociology/Anthropology 222 (Australia); Sociology/Anthropology 249 or Environmental Studies 281/381 when taught as social sciences course.
  • Contract: Students will complete the major with an individualized contract tailored to their particular interests. The contract will consist of five courses that include substantive analysis of the environment and represent a coherent theme. Three of the courses may be those counted in the social science group above and the social science core. When courses do not explicitly focus on the environment, students must arrange with the instructor to write papers and other assignments with environmental themes. Examples of possible contracts include: environmental law, U.S. environmental policy, international environmental policy, the economy and the environment, environmental education, culture and the environment.
  • Cognate Courses (at least two courses: one from the natural sciences cognate group and one from the arts and humanities group)
Arts and the Humanities

The arts and humanities track requires seven courses in addition to the core courses and the capstone seminar (specified above). In addition, four of the courses must be Level II or above.

  • Arts and Humanities Courses (five courses from the following list, in addition to the arts and humanities course taken for the core requirement):
  • Environmental Studies 101-109; Environmental Studies 222; Environmental Studies 259; Environmental Studies 270; English 257 (environmental themes); English 276; History 275; Philosophy 257 or Environmental Studies 281/381 (arts and humanities theme)
  • Cognate Courses (at least two courses: one from the Natural Sciences cognate group and one from the Social Science group)

The environmental studies concentration draws upon the disciplinary strengths of a traditional major and a set of core courses focused on the environment. Students may utilize environmental studies-related upper-level courses within their own discipline to complete requirements of the concentration.

  1. Core Courses: Students electing the environmental studies concentration will complete the four core courses required for environmental studies majors described above.
  2. Electives: Students will choose two additional environmental studies courses from among those listed in the core, cognate, or disciplinary groups above or from the list of courses in other departments (below). This may include (but need not) the senior seminar. Elective courses have a significant component that addresses environmental concerns, but they need not have environmental issues as their exclusive focus. For some electives, students may be required to negotiate specific assignments with the instructor and the Environmental Studies Advisory Committee to receive credit toward the concentration.
  3. Experiential Component: All students concentrating in environmental studies will participate in an experience which applies basic knowledge in a setting beyond the classroom. This may be one of the many off-campus environmental studies courses listed in the catalog or an internship or research project approved by the director. Criteria are listed on the environmental studies website.

A number of off-campus programs include an internship or independent study component in which stu-dents may elect to focus on environmental issues. Students must consult with the environmental studies director in planning their programs and must receive approval before counting work from off-campus programs toward an environmental studies concentration. The programs listed below have a substantial focus in environmental studies and will generally satisfy environmental studies requirements:

  • Biology in South India
  • Environmental Studies in Australia
  • Tropical Field Research (ACM)
  • Washington Semester in International Environment and Development (American University)
  • Wilderness Field Station (Coe College)

101 The Culture of Nature

This American environmental history explores the social construction of nature in the 20th century, looking at the roots (both natural and cultural) of contemporary environmental issues. To figure out what nature means to us now, students study the history of stuff, the culture of grasslands and lawns, the changing character of the city and the country, the nature of the suburbs, the conservation and preservation movements, different energy ecologies, the nature of TV, the contemporary environmental movement, and alternative ecological practices. They also use the St. Olaf campus as a case study of 20th-century environmental design.

125 Conservation Biology

Conservation biology focuses on the study of biological diversity. Students examine why we should be concerned about the number and types of species on earth, what factors threaten the survival of species and how we can conserve them. Using principles of ecology and evolution, with input from other disciplines, students gain a better understanding of the impact of humans on biodiversity and the importance of responsible environmental decision-making. Counts toward major and concentration: Environmental Studies. Offered annually.

137 Introduction to Environmental Studies

This interdisciplinary seminar uses basic concepts of environmental science to explore global environmental issues. Topics are drawn from recent texts and current periodic literature, and participants will recognize many of the seminar issues from coverage in the media. Because most environmental problems involve issues beyond the science, the seminar examines the economic, political and ethical dimensions of environmental questions and environmental decision-making. Offered every semester.

201 Topics in Global Environmental Politics

Population growth, industrialization, and the consumption of fossil fuels have increased global environmental problems. The course examines the ways in which nation-states and/or international institutions have addressed these environmental concerns. Depending on the instructor, the focus of the course is either the environmental problems of a particular area (e.g., Latin America, Russia or Asia) or a broader global arena (e.g., international institutions and the environment). Counts toward major and concentration: Environmental Studies.

222 Campus Ecology

This course explores key concepts of ecology, focusing explicitly on the ideal of ecological sustainability for the St. Olaf College campus. Students attend both to contemporary environmental issues and to the ideas and institutions that shape human resource use. Working groups research topics such as curriculum, clothes, cars, water, waste, food, energy, procurement, and landscape in the context of American religious and environmental values.

225 Environmental Political Theory

This course examines relations between conceptions of "nature" and political issues of power, justice, liberty, and equality; and it explores theoretical foundations from which ecologically grounded institutions, policies, and political understandings arise. The course attends to issues currently being addressed by international green political theorists, including "ecological citizenship" and "green democracy."

232 Environmental Policy and Regulation

This course analyzes environmental regulation in the United States with respect to its historical evolution, its ability to achieve environmental targets, its efficiency or cost-effectiveness, its distributional impact on jobs, people, and industries across the country, and its international ramifications. Class meetings include open discussions with individuals from agencies charged with developing and enforcing environmental regulation. Offered annually.

245 Global Climate Change

This course is an interdisciplinary seminar on climate throughout the earth's history, including recent changes caused by humankind. It examines the climate system in the larger framework of planetary evolution and explores evidence from the geologic record for climates of the past. Using current scientific literature, students investigate causes of climate change and consider scenarios for future climate based on models incorporating alternative global development strategies. Offered annually.

255 Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems

Remote sensing and GIS are increasingly used to address basic and applied questions in the environmental sciences and a host of other disciplines. Students survey available remote sensing image types and learn to process (ground-truthing, GPS, scanning, digitizing) and interpret remotely sensed images. They also learn theory and practice of geographic information systems (basic cartography and spatial statistics). A weekly 3-hour laboratory is required. Counts toward major and concentration: Environmental Studies. Prerequisites: Environmental Studies 137 or a Level 1 course in biology, chemistry or physics.

259 Saving Wild Places

The discussion of wilderness today often focuses on non-human benefits, such as the protection of biodiversity or wildlife habitat. A significant tradition of American thought and literature also emphasizes the benefits of wilderness for human beings, including spirituality, freedom, morality, self-reliance, and solitude. This seminar, offered annually, explores the importance of wilderness in American thought and assesses its value for society today.

270 Nature and American Landscapes

This seminar-style course develops students' abilities to reflect on Americans' encounters with their landscape traditions. Students study ways Americans have built on the land and have worshipped and represented nature in paintings, photographs, and advertisements. Students learn to read landscapes, to discover how important artistically, religiously, and ecologically the landscape tradition has been in the Unites States, and to become thoughtful viewers and creators of landscapes. Counts toward major: Art, Art History and Environmental Studies. Counts toward concentration: American Studies, Environmental Studies.

276 Environmental Politics

Analysis of environmental policy includes the politics of agenda setting, policy selection and program implementation, and the effects of policy outcomes. Offered annually.

281 Topics in Environmental Studies

Students study topics related to the environment. Topics vary from year to year at the discretion of the instructor. Topic may include Literature of the Poles, Environment and Theology, Environmental Justice, and Ecotourism. Class is largely discussion-based but may include a lab/field work component depending on the topic. May be repeated if topics are different.

294 Internship

298 Independent Study

350 Biogeochemistry: Theory and Application

The study of global change and human environmental impacts requires us to link concepts from biology, chemistry, and physics. Students investigate these links by exploring current theories in biogeochemistry, with an emphasis on understanding the feedback between physical and ecological processes, and the coupling of multiple element cycles. Laboratory activities focus on a practical exploration of the methods biogeochemists use, including experience with a variety of instruments. Prerequisite: Any level 200 biology, chemistry, or physics course; or permission of instructor. Offered Fall Semester, alternate years.

381 Advanced Research Topics in Environmental Studies

Environmental research is increasingly conducted by teams of researchers, and in this course students work in groups to research specific topics. Topics vary from year to year at the discretion of the instructor, and examples include impacts of green roofs on runoff, carbon sequestration, and biomass alternatives to fossil fuels. Depending on the topic, the course may include a laboratory. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisites: Environmental Studies 137 and additional course(s) as determined by instructor. Offered most years.

394 Internship

396 Directed Undergraduate Research: "Topic Description"

This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: Determined by individual instructor. Offer based on department decision.

398 Independent Rsearch

399 Seminar in Environmental Studies

A capstone seminar for seniors in the major and concentration, this course involves intensive study of special topics utilizing student research projects and presentations and relying on the disciplinary expertise gained from their major and courses within the environmental studies concentration. Often the topic is a local or regional environmental issue, providing participants with opportunities to interact with government and regulatory agencies and community groups. Prerequisites: Environmental Studies 137, senior status, or permission of the Environmental Studies Program director and instructor. Offered Spring Semester.


Natural Sciences

Biology 228, Environmental Health
Biology 242, Vertebrate Biology
Biology 248, Invertebrate Zoology
Biology 252, Plant Morphology and Systematics
Biology 261, Ecological Principles
Biology 263, Limnology
Biology 281, Winter Ecology
Biology 282, Desert Ecology
Biology 285, Water Resource Management
Biology 287, Island Biology in the Bahamas
Biology 288, Equatorial Biology
Biology 371, Field Ecology
Chemistry 119, A Matter of the Environment
Chemistry 124, A Matter of the Environment with Laboratory
Integrative Studies 207, Ways of Knowing Ecology
Physics 123, Geophysics: Perspectives on the Dynamic Earth

Social Sciences

Economics 242, Environmental Economics
Economics 243, Economic Development
Environmental Studies 276, Environmental Politics
Interdisciplinary Studies 234, Human Geography of the Middle East
Political Science 246, Introduction to Public Policy
Sociology/Anthropology 249, Indigenous Peoples

Arts and the Humanities

English 276, Literature and the Environment
History 240, Environmental History of Latin America
History 275, Environmental History
Integrative Studies 207, Ways of Knowing Ecology
Philosophy 244, Philosophy and Science
Philosophy 257, Environmental Ethics