Environmental Science and Policy

Mary Anne Carletta, Georgetown College
Georgetown College


This is an upper level college course for environmental science and sometimes political science majors or others who are interested. It consists largely of class discussions of material from an environmental policy textbook and other readings.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Small-group seminar

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a required course for environmental science majors, late in their undergraduate careers. They are, at this point, capable of making use of the scientific literature and other relevant documents, and we ask them to use it to construct talks and short papers in which they take a position on an issue.

Course Content:

The course is designed to foster discussion about controversial environmental issues and an understanding of why our national environmental policies are inconsistent, based on both the science and the politics. It is also intended to contrast examples in the US and examples in other countries. With regard to risk, I intend to convey how ecological risk is determined from the EPA's point of view, and to give students an awareness of the process of ecological risk assessment, and how it relates to risk management and risk communication. My aim is to expand the risk section to convey more directly and immediately risk from climate change and relate that to our food supply or other ecological and economic risks to society.

Course Goals:

Students will examine specific environmental issues and the related policy and law from scientific and social points of view, using writing, presentation, and critical thinking skills. Upon completion of the course, students should be familiar with:
  • recent history of the environmental movement in the United States,
  • the development of environmental policy,
  • risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication, in reference to environmental issues.
  • the major environmental laws in the United States,
  • implementation of environmental laws by the associated governmental institutions,
  • effects of changes in environmental philosophy and policies on laws, regulations, and industrial compliance,
  • selected international policies, particularly in contrast with U.S. policies.

Course Features:

The course includes three exams (mostly essay questions) and two short "white papers" in which the students advocate a position. The "white papers" are associated with two presentations in which students enlighten the class and advocate a particular set of actions in response to an environmental problem, while covering background information and possible objections from the opposing side.

Course Philosophy:

The course is small (up to about 10 students) and gives me the chance to have students examine their own philosophies and their basic stance as environmental advocates. Learning more about the science, the difficult policy battles, and the history of environmental law in the US helps them see that there are several points of view and that they must sometimes sift good information from bad in the process of forming their own opinion. Estimating risk is obviously subject to the same concerns.


This is discussed above under Course Features.


Syllabus for Environmental Science & Policy (Microsoft Word 56kB Apr11 14)

References and Notes:

Rosenbaum: Environmental Politics and Policy
Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2010. Environmental Politics and Policy. 8th edition. CQ Press, Washington, DC. ISBN 978-1-60426-607-8. (There is a 9th edition, but I haven't used it yet.)

Brown, Lester. 2009. Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. 4th edition. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY. ISBN: 978-0-393-33719-8. Available free online in PDF format at http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/books/pb4/. (There's probably a new edition.)

Brown does not discuss risk assessment, but Rosenbaum does.

Another reading that discusses risk assessment:
Suter, Glen W. 2006. Ecological Risk Assessment. 2nd edition. CRC Press. ISBN: 978-1566706346. We use chapters 1-3.

There are other readings in this course, but they don't focus on risk.