Freshman Seminar in Environmental Studies

How are we influenced by our environment, and how do our actions influence that landscape in turn? In this class, we will read classic and contemporary environmental writing (fiction and nonfiction) to see how writers and other artists use landscape as a tool in narrative storytelling. Sometimes the nonhuman landscape is a character, other times a mirror for the people who live there. You will also engage in your own artistic and analytical explorations of your own relationship to the environment – be it agricultural, suburban, urban, or wilderness.


By the end of this course, you should have interrogated your own assumptions about the environment, and have a richer and more critical understanding of the iterative relationship between environment and society. You will have learned skills which are essential to your success in college, including critical reading, writing analytical papers, and undertaking self-motivated original research.

Read the most recent syllabus for this course: FYS Syllabus

Environmental Policy

This course introduces the politics of U.S. environmental policy making. It explores how conflicting political, economic and social interests and values contend for influence and exert power in the realm of environmental policy. Students will gain an understanding of how environmental issues arrive on the public agenda, the role of political institutions in making environmental policy, the economic, political, social and institutional forces that shape policymaking, competing approaches to environmental policy analysis and the goals and strategies of the environmental movement.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this class, students will:

  • Explain how key institutions, ethical values, and political economic interests interact to influence environmental politics, policy change, and environmental quality.
  • Improve their public speaking, collaboration, and negotiation skills.
  • Develop their independent research, policy analysis, and writing skills.
  • Be able to identify and explain a range of policy tools and evaluate their application in different contexts.


You can read a copy of the most recent syllabus for this class here: EP Syllabus Winter 2018

American Culture and the Environment (ENV 120)

A lower-level introduction to the fundamentals of American environmental thought.

Class Description

This introductory course in Environmental Studies explains key environmental concepts and surveys the changing relationships between people and their environments through key texts in American literature, sociology and history. It particularly emphasizes the way that social differences including race, class, and gender have changed the way both individuals and groups relate to their environment.

In this class, society and its environment – its physical surroundings – exist on a continuum rather than having a well-defined separation. Each shapes the other, in a mutually reinforcing relationship. In the United States, the landscape is a critical element of national story-telling and myth-making as well, with an intimate connection to culture. Throughout this course, we will investigate and interrogate these relationships to develop our understanding of how we as citizens are participants in the landscape we inhabit.


View the syllabus for the most recent version of this class: Syllabus American Culture Env Fall 2017

Superstorm Research Lab White Paper


Responses to Hurricane Sandy consistently cluster into two types according to how the issues have been defined and understood. On one hand, the crisis was seen as an extreme weather event that created physical and economic damage, and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo. On the other hand, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated crises which existed before the storm, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources generally. A Tale of Two Sandysdescribes these two understandings of disaster and discuss their implications for response, recovery, and justice in New York City.

The white paper is based on 74 interviews with policymakers, environmental groups, volunteer first responders, and residents affected by the storm; ethnographic observation; analysis of public reports from government, community-based organizations, and other groups; qualitative analysis of canvassing forms and data; and a review of the academic literature on disaster response. As a framing document, A Tale of Two Sandys selects certain case studies for their exemplary nature, including how different groups identified vulnerable populations,  timelines for aid and recovery, a case study of housing and rebuilding, and finally, urban climate change politics. The primary purpose of A Take of Two Sandys is to propose a sophisticated, accurate, and useful way of understanding the inequalities entwined with Sandy’s aftermath and to enable ways to address them.


Freely available at Superstorm Research Lab

Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape

Full title: Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape: The political ecology of climate and disasters after Hurricane Sandy (Dissertation)


This dissertation examines how the phenomenon of climate change is changing the public conception of natural disasters, and vice versa. Using the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City as a case study, this project draws on a year of in-depth fieldwork triangulated with media coverage, public reports, and city-level quantitative data to illustrate how popular misconceptions about how disasters happen were at work in the public response to the catastrophe. In particular, my research develops a conceptual framework using discourse analysis, to identify two false doctrines or tropes which underlie many of these misconceptions. The first, the doctrine of natural disaster, asserts that environmental disasters are fundamentally physiological rather than social in origin.  The second, the doctrine of disaster exceptionalism, asserts that so-called natural disasters are rare and unpredictable events. The results of this project indicate that while climate change has the potential to disrupt these two false doctrines, this is not yet occurring in the public response to disaster. This dissertation also extends earlier work on the intersection of climate policy and environmental justice, known as the “climate gap”, and extends it to adaptation, proposing an “adaptation gap” is also at work. Finally, this dissertation proposes a new test for delineating different types of climate change adaptation, further developing work on what constitutes transformational adaptation.


Freely available on