(9 Credits)

Two courses in this area teach students the scientific underpinnings of the complex interactions between human beings and nature. The courses require that students integrate their knowledge of Earth observation, measurement, analysis, and modeling skills, as well as the use of scientific tools, to inform sustainability policy, management, and decision-making.



SUSC PS5001 Fundamentals of Sustainability Science

Instructor: Dr. Art Lerner-Lam

The course covers the fundamentals of sustainability science with a focus on the application of science to the practice of sustainability. Basic research, especially in the environmental and social sciences, explores the Earth as a system of systems, wherein the physical, chemical and biological systems interact with each other as well as human systems to affect our future. The results of this research are often difficult to apply in practice unless the research in translated into actionable advice for individuals, governments and private enterprise. Even so, the actual or perceived complexities of interactions between human and “natural” systems are often seen by decision makers as barriers to long-term planning, an essential element of pursuing sustainability. A simple definition of sustainability is based on intergenerational equity. Thus, the relationships between the here-and-now and possible global futures need to be understood.

Units include the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, the cryosphere, the anthrosphere, and the lithosphere. In certain units, students will utilize standard software environments for statistical analysis (e.g., R), in addition to several web-based program (e.g., Climate Explorer), to analyze and model real observations.

SUSC PS5999 Capstone Workshop in Sustainability Science

Instructor: Benjamin Bostick

Students study the sustainability science behind a particular sustainability problem, collect and analyze data using scientific tools, and make recommendations for solving the problem. The capstone course is a client-based workshop that will integrate each element of the curriculum into an applied project, giving students hands-on experience.


ANTH GR6223 Landscapes: Life and Non-Life in the Making of Place

This class takes the creation and inhabitation of place as its focus, drawing on diverse conceptual frameworks from anthropology and beyond to think critically about landscape and the forms of life and non-life through which it is constituted. We'll look at the history of approaches to landscape and then address a range of case studies that attempt to decenter the human and to imagine a non-anthropocentric form of inquiry to place-making. How might such modes of approach reconfigure what is understood by landscape and the coming into being of place?

EAEE E4001 Industrial Ecology of Earth Resources

Area 1 or 4

Instructor: Nickolas Themelis

Industrial ecology (IE) investigates analytical methods to be used for reconfiguring industrial activities so as to reduce pollution and conserve natural resources. With regard to engineering and technology, IE is also known by other names such as “green chemistry”, “green architecture”, “environmental manufacturing”, that have similar objectives to IE. Engineers in the 21st century must take into account the needs of both market and environment. IE is concerned with a) quantifying the effect of anthropogenic material/energy flows on the environment, and b) the design/redesign of processes and products so as to minimize the sum total of environmental impacts over the entire life of a product or service, from extraction of raw materials, to production, use, and recycling or disposal. Some of the IE tools that will be discussed and applied during this course are: Material and energy flows studies ("industrial metabolism"); potential for increasing service per unit of material/energy used (“dematerialization and “decarbonization”);  Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); environmental load units of different emissions; and “product stewardship”. The course concentrates on the use of the primary Earth resources (i.e., fuels, minerals, land, and water).

GU4917 The Earth/Human Interactions

Instructor: Peter Eisenberger

Based upon the most current understanding of our planet, our interactions, and how we make decisions, a new knowledge-based “green” framework is developed for our relationship to our planet and to each other as well as its general implications for human stewardship of our planet. This new knowledge-based framework is explored using case studies, class participation, and term papers on specific current scientific and policy issues like global warming that impact the sustainability and resilience of our planet.

GU4200 Environment, Health, and Justice

Instructor: Ana Navas-Acien

Area 1 or 5

This course introduces key concepts on environmental health sciences and environmental justice and their application to address environmental health disparities affecting communities in New York City, across the United States and globally. The course will present theory and methods needed to characterize, understand and intervene on environmental health problems with a focus on methods that are particularly appropriate for environmental justice research and interventions. We will describe environmental health disciplines such as exposure sciences, environmental epidemiology, environmental biosciences and toxicology, as well as methods to assess expected environmental health impacts. 

EESC GU4020 Humans and the Carbon Cycle

The accelerating climate change of the current day is driven by humanity’s modifications to the global carbon cycle. This course offers an introduction basic science of the carbon cycle, with a focus on large-scale processes occurring on annual to centennial timescales. Students will leave this course with an understanding of the degree to which the global carbon cycle is understood and quantified, as well as the key uncertainties that are the focus of current research. We will build understanding of the potential pathways, and the significant challenges, to limiting global warming to 2o C as intended by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The course will begin with a brief review of climate science basics and the role of CO2 in climate and climate change (weeks 1-2). In weeks 3-4, the natural reservoirs and fluxes that make up the global carbon cycle will be introduced. In week 5-6, anthropogenic emissions and the observed changes in climate associated with increasing atmospheric CO2 will be discussed. In weeks 7-11, we will learn about how the land biosphere and ocean are mitigating the increase in atmospheric CO2 and the feedbacks that may substantially modify these natural sinks. In weeks 12-13, the international policy process and the potential for carbon cycle management will be the focus. In weeks 14, students will present their final projects

Prerequisites: One semester of college-level calculus and chemistry; Plus, one semester of college-level physics or geoscience, or instructor's permission.

SUMA PS5180 Writing about Global Science for International Media

Instructor: Claudia Dreifus

This is an interdisciplinary workshop for scientists, future NGO workers and journalists seeking skills in communicating 21st-century global science to the public. Scientists will be given journalism skills; journalists will learn how to use science as the basis of their story-telling. The course is designed to give students exercises and real-world experiences in producing feature stories on global science topics. While most scientists and international affairs professionals have been trained to write in the style of peer-reviewed journals, we will focus on journalism techniques, learning how to translate global science into accessible true stories that reach wide audiences. Science is performed by passionate individuals who use their intelligence and determination to seek answers from nature. By telling their histories and uncovering the drama of discovery, we believe that there are ways for science to be successfully communicated to readers who might otherwise fear it.   .

SUMA PS5805 Equity, Energy and the Built Environment

Instructor: Lynnette Widder & Diana Hernández

As the energy paradigm slowly shifts from fossil fuels to alternatives, issues of cost and equity on both supply and demand side become increasingly urgent. Populations impacted on both sides of energy production and consumption may share the benefits of empowerment, including potentials for greater energy independence; and the dangers of disempowerment, from the implications of fracking to the unjust distribution of systems cost. Within these considerations, the built environment is an important object of study. The built environment accounts for approximately 40% of energy consumption worldwide, including heating, cooling, lighting and electrical power; it affects all of humanity across cultural and political boundaries

Buildings represent a middle ground between the enormity of infrastructure and the intimacy of human behavior. They are at the intersection of energy practices and social equity, where economic, health, environmental and cultural factors are most open to examination, with unexpected results. For example, recent studies in the US show an unexpected correlation between building insulation, usually of interest only to the landlord who pays for heat; and the likelihood of tenant disconnection notices for energy bills, usually associated only with consumer-billed electrical energy. Another example, derived from international sustainable development practice, has keyed ambient interior daytime temperature in homes and schools to productivity, education and other human development indicators.


This course is not only concerned with the benefits of adequate and equitable energy provision but also with the implications of transition to sustainable energy sources. Analysis of the relationship between energy and equity can expose otherwise unseen consequences of less environmentally impactful energy technologies, including natural gas as a bridge technology, or solar, wind and hydropower.

ARCH A6832 Resilient Landscapes

Area 1 or 4

Instructor: Kate Orff

This course explores urban design practice of the future by considering perhaps the most wicked challenge facing small towns and cities around the world in the future - climate breakdown, sea level rise and coastal variability that threatens lives, livelihoods, towns and cities in the era of climate change.  What is urban design for climate changed landscapes?  How do we reconsider design expertise to be co-creators with people on the ground and truly understand stories and places in need? We will explore the potential of ecological and social systems to build resilience and to find meaningful pathways forward for tidal communities facing these existential challenges. We will learn about ecological infrastructure, productive landscape forms, and emerging approaches and strategies for climate adaptation practice in the built environment with a special focus on “community relocation” and managed retreat scenarios. Our class will have an informal relationship with a social sciences class studying the same topics at the  University of South Carolina and forge connections throughout Columbia University on this topic. We will aim, through mapping and case study development, to uncover ways of integrating social justice and ecological imperatives into design and policy frameworks that can anticipate future harm and displacement and point toward more equitable future pathways. 

GR6400 Communicating Earth and Environmental Science

No Prerequisities

Communicating science well in the context of the earth and environmental sciences is critical. This science communication course will transect specific earth and environmental science disciplines to provide a foundational understanding of what it means to communicate science and how to do so effectively. Within this overarching theme of science communication, students will gain a comprehensive and holistic understanding of how to communicate earth and environmental science across a variety of formats and to a diversity of audiences. Practical outcomes include but are not limited to students learning 1) how to rationalize a research topic, 2) write a hypothesis-driven proposal, 3) evaluate proposals, 4) produce clear and compelling graphics, 5) adopt the latest pedagogical approaches, and 6) present science findings to a diversity of audiences.

EHSC P6340 Sustainable Development and Global Environmental Health

Instructor: Yasmin Von Schirnding

Area 1 or 4

This course is intended to give students a broad overview and introduction to global environmental health issues in relation to sustainable development. Environmental health and sustainability issues of concern worldwide are highlighted, and global trends in health status and environmental quality discussed in relation to driving forces and pressures on the environment which lead to adverse health consequences. The historical roots and changing nature and scope of environmental health is discussed in relation to global environmental change, sustainability and the evolving global agenda on sustainable development. Concepts and interpretations of environmental health, sustainability and sustainable development are examined and critiqued, and their various dimensions, underlying principles and values assessed.

SDEV GU4240 Science Communication

Instructor: Francesco Fiondella & Lisa Dale

Communicating scientific research and thinking to a lay audience is a pervasive challenge with significant societal implications. Students focusing on sustainable development will have to confront this challenge in a wide array of circumstances, including translating their own scientific findings to people outside their field and to the public, evaluating the scientific communication they encounter in mainstream media, and providing scientific information across cultural divides. This course will adopt an interdisciplinary approach, weaving together content from communications, journalism, psychology, and political science to provide students with the skills they need to address these challenges. The course is practice-based, giving students the opportunity to try using new communication tools and techniques. 

SUMA PS4734 Earth Institute Practicum

Instructor: Alison Miller

Within the Earth Institute, many centers use their expertise to approach the multifaceted problems currently facing the planet.  Students taking this course will have the opportunity to attend lectures and presentations given by prominent researchers from the following centers from across the Earth Institute: Center for Climate Change Systems Research; Roundtable on Sustainable Mobility; Center for Sustainable Urban Development; Water Center; Center for International Earth Science Information Network; Millennium Villages Project/Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environmental Program; International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution; Center for Global Health and Economic Development.

SUMA PS5240 Sustainable Agriculture

Instructor: Bruce Kahn

This course is an introduction to how Global Agriculture and Sustainability issues are at the intersection of natural resource management and business. The course will devote a significant of time covering the fundamental principles of agribusiness and how sustainability issues are key factors in business decision making today and in the future. The course will consider that agricultural production will need to double over the next three decades in order to meet growing demand. Demand for increased food, feed, fuel, and fiber is driven by increased population and an increase in the middle class in emerging economies. Coupled with a shift in dietary preferences from grains and staple carbohydrates to more protein-based diets including pork and beef (and perhaps fish), and biofuel production, more grains will be used to feed animals and fuel our automobiles. As an energy intensive sector, agriculture is closely linked to energy markets, with crop production and demand potentially adversely affected by higher oil prices, while crop inputs (such as fertilizer) may benefit from lower natural gas prices. These shifting dynamics will affect profit margins in different segments of the agricultural supply chain. In addition to energy prices, likely constraints to the productivity growth of agriculture include climate change, water resources, infrastructure, education and training of producers, and social / governmental policy that distort agricultural markets. New technologies, product platforms and innovative business models in agriculture technology and food systems will dominate the shift from industrial agriculture to a more socially just and environmentally sustainable food production and distribution system. The agricultural technology sector is large, comprising over 8,500 companies generating over $1.3 trillion of revenue per year, in the US alone.

SUMA PS5690 Environmental Infrastructure for Sustainable Cities

Instructor: Carter Strickland

This class is about the physical structures and systems that determine the sustainability of cities and their environmental impact. We call those systems “environmental infrastructure.”

The premise of the class is that compact, walkable cities are the least carbon- and energy-intensive pattern of settlement today because of their integrated networks of infrastructure that allow us to move, eat, drink, play, and survive extreme weather. As our population shifts to urban and coastal areas, we will need to build more infrastructure systems to accommodate growth and to increase sustainability. Yet we are building too little, too slowly to maintain our existing infrastructure, let alone to facilitate next generation systems that will accelerate our society to a truly low-carbon future.  Our transportation, water, parks, freight, solid waste, and energy infrastructure systems are crumbling, and new needs such as coastal flood mitigation and resiliency are not being met.  With little political will for massive public works programs and current procurement practices that are slow and costly, cities are starting to use innovative ways to deliver these critical assets, including design-build procurement, long-term concessions, private operation, maintenance and financing, and other forms of public-private partnerships.  Cities and states are pooling resources to solve problems through infrastructure exchanges and accelerators. They are creatively reimagining and reusing obsolete and neglected land and buildings, and are integrating services to create infrastructure that is multi-purpose, resilient, and sustainable.