Environmental Politics

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This course is taught in conjunction with the Environmental Science class offered through the science department. We will focus on educating students to become discerning and actively engaged citizens regarding a range of environmental dilemmas. By examining the foundational science of energy, water, air, and soil processes, students will acquire key building blocks from which to explore various environmental policies. While traditional methods, such as labs, essays, and discussions will be essential to the learning process, the course will include off-campus site visits, guest lectures, and individual investigations. Recommended co-enrollment: Environmental Science (all year); Revolution in the Middle East (spring semester).


Unit Essential Questions Content Assessment Resources Multicultural Dimension
The Politics of Food

1.  What forces shape the industrial food chain, and to what degree (if any) are they malleable?

2.  Is "Industrial Organic" good enough, or must an entirely different food network be developed?

3.  Should we pursue genetically modified food solutions?

4.  What policies should be adopted to best address issues related to the production, distribution, and consumption of food?

  • The Industrial Food Chain
  • The economics of food production:  supply and demand, subsidies v. free market, monopsony, labor, externalities  and futures and securities
  • The Industrial Organic Model
  • Local and other alternative models


  • Industrial Food Chain Analytical Essay
  • Food Ethics Essay
  • Student Research
  • Class Participation

Selected Texts:

Pollan, Michael.  The Omnivore's Dilemma:  A Natural History in Four Meals.  New York:  Penguin Press, 2006.


Smil, Vaclav.  Feeding the World:  A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century.  Cambridge, Mass.:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2001.


Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved:  The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.  Brooklyn:  Melville House Publishing, 2007.

  • Global segmentation in food production
  • Immigration and agricultural labor
  • The politics of global hunger and nutrition
The Politics of Water
  1. What are key pressure points on the global water system?
  2. What solutions can relieve this pressure?
  3. What unique variations on these themes are present in the U.S.?
  4. Is water privitization a threat to the provision of water in an equitable manner?
  1. The economics of water distribution
  2. The Tragedy of the Commons
  3. The Battle for Privitization of Water
  4. Water Conservation Strategies

Water Research Paper and Presentation



Fred Pearce, When Rivers Run Dry:  Water--The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 2006.


Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert:  The American West and its Disappearing Water.  New York:  Penguin Press, 1993.


Global unit in its entirety.

The Politics of Energy
  1. What have been the historical mixes of energy sources?  What has that changed over time, to the present, and what sources will rise and fall in the future?
  2. What economic forces shape energy markets?
  3. How do geopolitics shape energy production and consumption?
  4. What are the human costs to energy production (or lack thereof), what policies can best promote a healthy civilization, and what forces determine which policies get adopted?
  1. Historical and Current Energy Sources
  2. Analyzing Cost/Benefit of Individual Sources
  3. The Politics of Petroleum
  4. Policy Choices
  1. Geopolitical Presentations
  2. The Future of Energy Paper
  3. Participation
  4. Quizzes

Huber, Peter W. and Mark P. Mills.  The Bottomless Well:  The Twilight of Fuel, The Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run out of Energy.  New York:  Basic Books, 2005.


Ghaznavian, John.  Untapped:  The Scramble for Africa's Oil.  Orlando, Fl.: Harcourt Press, 2007.


International Energy Agency.  World Energy Handbook 2011.  Electronic Version.


Klare, Michael T.  Blood and Oil:  The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum.  New York:  Henry Holt and Co., 2004.


Margonelli, Lisa.  Oil on the Brain:  Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank.  New York:  Broadway Books, 2007.


McNeill, J.R., Something New under the Sun:  An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century.  New York:  W. W. Norton and Co, Inc., 2000.


Shah, Sonia.  Crude:  The Story of Oil.  New York:  Seven Stories Press, 2004.

Global unit in its entirety.