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Course Catalog

Courses in Culture

ENVR_POL 101-6 – First-year Seminar: Chicago Environmental Justice

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Fire and Blood: Resources, Energy and Society

Climate crisis, directly linked to CO2 emissions from centuries of burning fossil fuels, has brought energy resources to the center of public attention. This course will survey works of anthropology, history, and geography as well as films and novels to understand how various resources and energy systems relate to sociocultural practices and politics throughout the world. Focusing on one energy resource each week, Fire and Blood will examine how uranium, wind, coal, light, oil, water, and other materials are made into sources of power—both physical and political. It will trace the movement of resources from the subsoil, atmosphere, or riverbeds to pipelines, power plants, dams, turbines, or other kinds of energy infrastructures; and finally, to the electrified streets of urban Mumbai, the wastelands of Navajo County, or the melting ice sheets of the Arctic.

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Maple Syrup and Climate Change

Sesipâskw’pêskân is the Nehiywa (Cree) word for a maple sugar camp. It’s the time in between late winter and early spring when families gather to collect maple sap, and to harvest fish, beavers, and early spring plants, or at least it used to be. As the earth’s climate changes, maple trees and the subsequent maple syrup industry in the U.S. and Canada are being affected, in both good and bad ways. To compound this, the demand for maple syrup is rising in Asia. The class will cover these effects, their impact on Native American and non-Native communities, the maple syrup industry, and maple species themselves. 

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Ethics and the Environment

This course is an introduction to central concepts and problems in environmental ethics. We will devote particular attention to the question of moral standing, or in other words, the question of who or what is deserving of ultimate moral consideration. Topics to be discussed include the ethical treatment of animals, the value of non-sentient life, individualism versus holism in ethics, climate change and the ethics of geoengineering, and whether and why anthropocentrism might be a problem in environmental ethics.

ENVR_POL 390-25 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Media, Earth and Making a Difference

The central question of this course is: What Makes a Difference? Analyzing a variety of works of media addressing environmental themes, including works drawn from advertising and marketing, we will consider different types of environmental messaging and attempts to mobilize public moral engagement. Specifically, we will be looking at strategies for implementing media interventions as moral interventions. Discussion taken up in this class will include evaluating the comparative value of media messaging that emphasizes individual action and personal responsibility, versus messaging that promotes collective action, policy, and structural changes. Students will consider and debate what constitutes authentic "green" messaging versus mere corporate "greenwashing." Throughout, we will ask what kind of media we need in what has been called the "Anthropocene" (a time when humans are now a major geologic force affecting the future of the planet). When motivating public moral engagement in climate crisis, are the solutions being offered those that the planet will actually "register" or "notice" on a global scale? If not, what kinds of "media interventions" do we need to be making and how?

Courses in Policy

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Climate Change Law and Policy

Climate change is the keystone environmental issue of this generation, and most likely for many generations to come. It now appears inevitable that temperatures will increase this century by more than 2ºC, and perhaps by substantially more than 3ºC, with the inertia of the system ensuring that temperatures will continue to increase for centuries thereafter even under scenarios of total decarbonization. This will have serious ramifications for both human institutions and natural ecosystems. This course examines the potential role of the law in confronting climate change from an institutional and policy perspective, examining the role of treaties, national legislation, sub-national responses and judicial and quasi-judicial fora. It will also seek to help students develop critical skills of analysis, public speaking and writing.

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Int'l Environmental Law and Policy

Global environmental problems, including the looming threat of climate change, the biodiversity crisis, and increasing pressures on ocean ecosystems due to human activities, have become pressing concerns in recent decades. In response, a sophisticated structure of global governance has emerged, including through the establishment of hundreds of multi-lateral treaties to confront these threats. As a consequence, nation-States have begun to cooperate with each other to an unprecedented extent, although not without facing significant obstacles, and not without domestic political agendas sometimes delaying or thwarting progress at the international level. This class examines the array of legal regimes, politics, governance processes and policy tools that have emerged in the arena of global environmental law and politics. We will focus on a number of different discrete international environmental problems, as well as how international environmental law is formulated and enforced at the international level.

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Food and Immigration

You have probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” This class argues that you are also where you eat. Immigration deeply shapes culinary practices and global food systems are often dependent upon migrant labor. This course explores what cuisine and movement can teach us about belonging within local and global communities by addressing questions such as: How do foodways and migratory trajectories influence individual and collective identities? What political, social, and economic activities shape food distribution and day-to-day eating customs? We will cover food-related topics such as labor, transnationalism, the environment, memory, authenticity, gender and much more. Class discussions will span historical and contemporary developments that gave rise to our modern industrial food system while focusing in particular on food culture and migration narratives.

ENVR_POL 390 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Ocean and Coastal Law and Policy

This course focuses on laws, policies and the decision-making process related to coastal and ocean resources in the United States, and internationally. Through examination of treaties, statutes, cases, administrative materials, and academic articles, we will explore issues such as coastal land use, offshore energy, ocean pollution, the impacts of climate on ocean/coastal ecosystems, marine mammal conservation, and fisheries management. 

ENVR_POL 390-25 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy & Culture: Tales of Oil and Water

What can a dystopian film like 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road tell us about how to change our actions, today? How can we recognize urgent questions from our own world in such a surreal cinematic assault on the senses? How do such imaginary prophecies of near-future worlds "memorialize" the present? As interlocking narratives of globalization, resource competition, and ecological crisis collide in the news, the natural resources on which human lives and social relationships depend have increasingly preoccupied recent fiction, film, and criticism. Whether it's a question of too much; or not enough; of deluge or scarcity; the tales we will read and watch together in this course depict resource wars and dystopian imaginaries through everyday, intimate events and encounters. Our discussions of essays, novels, stories and films will be guided by how each represents pressing problems of compromise and control, agency and activism, competition and coexistence, in a "now" viewed as the future's past.

ENVR_POL 309 – American Environmental History

This course will survey American history from the colonial era to the present with two premises in mind: that the natural world is not simply a passive background to human history but rather an active participant, and that human attitudes toward nature are both shaped by and in turn shape social, political, and economic behavior. The course will cover formal schools of thought about the natural world - from transcendentalism to the conservation and environmental movements - but also discuss the many informal intersections of human activity and natural systems, from European colonialism to property regimes, migration and transportation, industry, consumer practices, war, technological innovation, political ideology, and food production.

Taught with History 309; students may not receive credit for both courses.

ENVR_POL 336 – Climate Change, Policy and Society

Climate change is the worst environmental problem facing the earth. Sea levels will rise, glaciers are vanishing, horrific storms will hit everywhere. After looking briefly at the impacts of climate change on natural and social environments both in the present and near future, we then consider how to best reduce climate change and how to adapt to its impacts. Issues of climate justice, divides between the global North and South, social movements, steps taken in different countries and internationally, and the role of market and regulations are addressed.

ENVR_POL 390 – Art, Ecology and Politics

This course studies art that is motivated by ecological concerns, exploring how artists and activists have adapted artistic strategies to address environmental issues over the past 50 years. Themes to be addressed may include sustainability, materiality, labor, and recycling; how artists collaborate with natural processes; how art can address crises such as industrial toxins and global warming; and the place of human ecologies and political struggles in relation to gender, race, poverty, territory and indigeneity. The class will look broadly at environmental art but will focus specifically on one or two neighborhoods as case studies in the Chicago area; another case study will be the region around Carbondale in southern Illinois.

ENVR_POL 390-21 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy and Culture: Earth, Politics, and Poetics

Planet Earth” has a political and social history. The Copernican turn and geological notions of deep time, for example, radically shifted understandings of the Earth, time, and humans’ relationship to them. Whole Earth images first generated by the Apollo Space missions in the late 1960s and 1970s have been the characteristic form of planetary imagination during the late twentieth century. Earthrise and The Blue Marble images enabled humans to imagine the planet as an interconnected whole against the backdrop of the Cold War and environmental disasters. They have been crucial to the emergence of a “global consciousness” and became famous icons of the global environmental movement, depicting the planet as the common home of humans as one species. The power of these images has not decreased, yet other forms of representation and imagination have emerged as well. The development of Google Earth or advanced climate modeling systems, for example, mark a different notion of Earth, characterized by dynamic, heterogeneous, and open systems. This course examines such shifting notions of the Earth by tracing how practices and discourses of geopolitics, political theory, cartography, population studies, climate modeling, deep ocean sensing, outer space exploration and mining, and science fiction literature, have come to sense, know, represent, and imagine the planet since the 18th century. In doing so, this course also surveys shifting socio-political currents, from the intersection of the military-industrial complex and technoscience to how climate crisis, Anthropocene debates, and Earth Systems analysis reflect further shifts in the ways the planet is understood today. Tracing these shifts in planetary representation and imagination is also crucial to understanding how core concepts such as “humanity” and “species” are made and unmade. Understanding the deeply mediated processes behind planetary depictions is not only central to making sense of contemporary politics and policies that propose to shape the future, but also to imagining alternative worlds and futures beyond our grim ecological predicament.

ENVR_POL 390-21 – Special Topics in Environmental Policy and Culture: Political Ecology

This class is an introduction to Political Ecology, a multidisciplinary body of theory and research that analyzes the environmental articulations of political, economic, and social difference and inequality. The key concepts, debates, and approaches in this field address two main questions: (1) How do humans' interactions with the environment shape power and politics? (2) How do power and politics shape humans' interactions with the environment? These questions are critical to understanding and addressing the current issues of climate change, the Anthropocene, and environmental justice. Topics discussed in this class will include environmental scarcity and degradation, sustainability and conservation. Readings will come from the disciplines of geography, anthropology and archaeology. Case studies will range from the ancient, to the historical and the present-day. No prior background in the environmental sciences is needed to appreciate and engage in this course.