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Discuss: Where to Study Environmental Sciences
Emily Gertz, 14 Nov 07

The recent topics on where to study sustainable business, and where to study sustainable engineering and design have become chock full of information, recommendations and reviews thanks to the enthusiastic response by you, our readers. Thank you.

Next up: where are the great programs for studying sustainability and the environmental sciences?

With this broad a question, we start to move into a huge realm of research and field work that's as diverse as the organisms and ecosystems they focus upon: conservation biology, environmental remediation, marine studies. methodologies for assessing the impact of global environmental changes, molecular science as it relates to environmental contamination and human health, and more. And really, "sustainability" is less useful as a buzzword, since in a sense the environmental sciences transcend it -- they generate the raw data and the analysis that inform the "greening" of other professions.

That said, which programs are doing key research and field work in the environmental sciences? Examining problems like methyl mercury contamination, or figuring out how to restore corals, or facilitating the survival of endangered species of animals and plants?

Discuss!

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Posted by: affilePeary on 14 Nov 07

All these sciences and the issues they address are interconnected (as E.O. Wilson states in his writings–which I've seen quoted everywhere except the back of cereal boxes and buses). It makes little sense to study one branch of science to the exclusion of the others; most academic programs in the sciences are recognising this and reach out into adjoining fields.

However, as Emily notes above, "sustainability" isn't a specific science; it is an amalgamation of hard science, practical knowledge, intuition, folklore, art, anything that informs on the state we are in and presents a sensible way forward. There are few academic programs that validly address all these in one setting (mainly because the "traditional" academic paradigm can't readily comprehend such a mix. It's difficult to position such a degree program in one academic department as it potentially reaches out into everything else–and universities are territorial places). [Note to Emily; might we have a separate discussion, for those of us in academia, on how to get disparate departments working together on the larger issues we face? It seems that many academics must spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about competition for grant funding with department X rather than how we might complement research and discuss connections.]

After some searching (and a critical assessment of my own aims and capabilities) I decided to pursue a Master's in Human Ecology at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (The Centre for Human Ecology MSc programme). Human Ecology explores how, where, and whether our species will continue on the Earth; it questions our relation to other species; it surveys the history of science and the tools we have available.

Granted, this is a great deal of information to squeeze into an MSc. However, for those of us who are trying to grasp the "whole picture", it's a significant start. Note that I'm not denigrating more specific pursuit of sciences; "sustainability" must, by design, encompass a great deal more than what any one science has to contribute. Those of us studying it as a discipline have to gain an understanding of all component parts in order to assemble a working whole (or know what we shouldn't take apart and mess with). So, whilst I'm glad someone has the technical ingenuity to design and assemble this laptop, I do not need an intricate knowledge of its workings to use it effectively.

The specific question above is "where are the great programs for studying sustainability and the environmental sciences?" I would not claim Human Ecology provides a comprehensive base for environmental science; it's beyond the scope of the program. However, if someone is looking for a general overview of issues and solutions that either builds on existing scientific training or points to further study, it's worth considering.


Posted by: Jason Nicholas on 15 Nov 07

Masters of Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability, at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden (http://www.bth.se/msls) uses a transdisciplinary approach, founded in science, to study sustainability and strategic sustainable development. The program draws from a bright group of folks from around the world to learn from each other and from energy, policy, and management experts to answer the question 'how can we move society towards sustainability?'

Key topics include basic science & thermodynamics as related to earth system science, human needs, engineering for a sustainable technosphere, strategic management, and societal leadership.




Posted by: Melanie on 15 Nov 07

US News and World report did a story on graduate school programs in "Sustainability Science"
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/articles/brief/gbarts_brief.php


Posted by: David Zaks on 15 Nov 07

For undergrad, Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, VT offers B.A. degrees in Sustainable Agriculture, Conservation Ecology, Outdoor Education, and Circumpolar Studies. It is a college centered almost entirely around environmental science and studies. They also give degrees for self designed majors, in environmental areas, as well as self designed concentrations in the above areas of study. I am a first year student, and I plan to major in Conservation Ecology with a concentration in Environmental Chemistry.

Check it out: http://www.sterlingcollege.edu/

Also, in my search for environmental science colleges, I found Huxely College for the Environment at Western Washington University and Evergreen State College, also in WA, very attractive.


Posted by: Eric on 15 Nov 07

The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA offers the most holistic approach to education I've even encountered - and strong environmental sciences to boot. Great undergrad, and offers a MS in Env. Science.
Also check: UC Santa Cruz - esp. agriculture program. & Cal Poly Pomona, which offers the only (to the best of my limited knowledge) Masters in Regenerative Design (see also last post re: design schools).
For a very strong but more traditional school, there's Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies - they have some of the top faculty in the world teaching there.


Posted by: justus on 15 Nov 07

Can't let this pass without making a plug for my brother Jon's program, Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) at the University of Wisconsin. Fellow Worldchangers Chad Monfreda and David Zaks are grad students there.


Posted by: David Foley on 16 Nov 07

Prescott College founded for the liberal arts and the environment.

They have a PhD in Sustainability Education with undergrads and masters centered around Adventure Education, Environmental Studies and Human Development.

Some of the great classes were: Psychology for Social Change, Ecological Design & Construction, Agroecology and excellent Human Ecology courses.


Posted by: AK on 16 Nov 07

The serious, high-quality programs (for graduate students, especially those up to doing state-of-the-art research) are at the following universities:

- Arizona State University (School of Sustainability)
- Stanford University (Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources)
- University of Wisconsin (Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, SAGE)
- University of California, Berkeley (Energy & Resources Group)

There are some other good programs at Harvard, Michigan and elsewhere.

Good luck!


Posted by: anonymous on 16 Nov 07



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