Global Political Ecology

Pablo Toral, Political Science, Beloit College


Global Political Ecology is an interdisciplinary, lab-based course that requires the students to study how societies organize themselves to address environmental challenges. The students will learn and apply research methods and questions from the natural sciences, economics, political science and ethics to develop their own sustainability projects.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lab only

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course serves as one of the core courses for the environmental studies major. It also satisfies the college-wide liberal-arts-in-practice requirement. Students come from a wide spectrum of majors, including 40% from science majors.

Course Content:

This course teaches the students how societies address environmental challenges, from the local level to the global. The main assignment of the semester is a semester-long group project that requires the students to develop, implement and assess a project to make our campus more sustainable. The goal is to push the students to apply science to real-life problems, so that they understand the social context in which science is developed and applied.

Course Goals:

One of the main goals of the course is to help students integrate knowledge, research methods and skills developed in different disciplines to address environmental challenges. Another goal is to push them to understand the social, economic, political and moral contexts in which science takes place, so that they can understand how societies develop and apply science when addressing environmental problems.

Course Features:

The main assignment for this course is a semester-long sustainability project that they have to develop, implement and assess in groups. I make sure the groups have students from different majors so that all of the groups have a similar set of skills. The students provide biweekly updates in class and receive feedback from the other groups. At the end, they have to submit a critical report in which they reflect on their project.

Course Philosophy:

The main philosophy behind the course has been to provide a venue for students from a diversity of majors to come together to study sustainability by integrating knowledge from different disciplines. The biggest challenge is to push students to integrate methods and knowledge from disciplines other than their own majors.


The group sustainability project is assessed through biweekly updates in class, as well as a final critical review. The climate change simulation exercise is assessed via a binder on the country they represent that they submit before the summit, as well as a debrief document they submit after the end of the summit. The lectures and class discussions are assessed through a final research paper on the students topic of interest. There is also a final oral exam.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Connelly, James, Graham Smith, David Benson and Clare Saunders (2012), Politics and the Environment. From Theory to Practice. New York: Routledge (978-0-415-57212-5)

Schneider, Stephen H., Armin Rosencranz, Michael D. Mastrandrea, and Kristin Kuntz-Duriseti (2010), Climate Change Science and Policy. Washington, D.C., Island Press (ISBN 9781597265676);

Union of Concerned Scientists (2012), Cooler, Smarter. Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living. Washington, D.C. Island Press (9781610911924).

I use many online resources generated by city hall, the county, the state, as well as local and national non-governmental organizations. I also use the critical reviews written by the students in previous years.