Education News

Spring Classes in the Undergraduate Major in Sustainable Development

2011-02-10

Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Columbia College and the School of General Studies launched the undergraduate major in sustainable development in the fall of 2010. Students may continue to undertake a special concentration in sustainable development and now have the opportunity to complete a major in this cutting-edge interdisciplinary field of study. Students take challenging courses that are specifically designed to provide a well-rounded education on the multitude of issues in sustainable development. The program provides an experience that cuts across disciplines to address complex issues of development as they relate to the interactions of natural and social science systems. Students address the fundamental issue of how to move toward a trajectory of sustainability that will allow future generations to pursue progress in human well-being without causing irreparable harm to the planet.

The program benefits from the pioneering work in sustainable development that the faculty and researchers of the Earth Institute pursue. Drawing from this research and development, graduates of the program will be uniquely prepared to approach issues of sustainable development from all angles. The process of creating this exciting new major was led by program co-directors Ruth DeFries, Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development, E3B; and Kevin Griffin, associate professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences. DeFries says she is encouraged by the high student enrollment in the undergraduate major so far. “We are excited to see the student interest in the program and look forward to a vibrant community studying the many facets of sustainable development.”

This spring, undergraduates can take the following classes, many of which were specially crafted for the sustainable development program:

Introduction to Sustainable Development Seminar SDEV 1900
This class is designed to introduce the program requirements and to foster an understanding of the numerous links between natural and social science systems critical to sustainable development challenges. The class addresses the different definitions of sustainable development while helping to build a sense of community among students and covering areas such as the role of traditional academic disciplines, the development of a canonical knowledge, social choice and sustainable development (ethics). Taught by Kevin Griffin, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, the course will host several guest speakers who will talk to students about their research and different career and study abroad opportunities.

Spatial Analysis and Modeling for SDEV W3450
The second course is a GIS sequence developed specifically for the sustainable development program. It addresses the concepts, tools and techniques of GIS modeling; present general modeling concepts and theory; and provides opportunities for hands-on model design, construction and evaluation. The course covers both vector and raster based methods of analysis with a strong focus on raster-based modeling. Examples will be drawn from a wide range of applications including land use and land cover for biodiversity and conservation, hydrological modeling, and suitability modeling.

Disasters and Development SDEV W3360 
This course is designed to be a comprehensive examination of the link between natural disaster events and economic development. The course not only covers the nature of extreme events but also their transformation into disaster through social processes, helping students to understand the link between the extreme events, the economic and social shock that they represent, and development outcomes.

Global Food Systems SDEV W3200
An introduction to the systems of producing and ensuring equitable access to food, students study the history and underlying science of the Asian Green Revolution. Next the class turns to Africa and considers why a similar revolution hasn’t yet happened there, as well as what a successful African Green Revolution will look like. While focusing on smallholder agriculture in developing countries, this course also probes the interactions of food systems considering important global issues including climate change, environmental degradation, international trade, food systems business, the persistence of chronic hunger and malnutrition, and the emergence in some settings of over-nutrition.

Fundamentals of Global Public Health
The class covers the global distribution of disease and the connection with issues of social, economic and political development as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals. Students will become familiar with how to identify common sources of vulnerability across health risks. The class also considers the impact of globalization on health risks and the availability of health resources, and addresses the political and organizational cooperation needed to address global health priorities.

Climate Change and Law
The purpose of this course is to provide students with a broad introduction to the field of climate law in the United States and at the international level. It offers an overview of the causes and effects of global climate change; the methods available to control and adapt to it; and the implications for international human rights, international trade, environmental justice, and international and intergenerational equity. The class examines international treaties as well as domestic decisions made by the U.S. Congress, the executive branch and the courts, as well as regional, state and municipal efforts. It also explores the role of lawyers and the various legal tools that are available to address climate change, including cap-and-trade schemes, carbon taxation, command-and-control regulation, litigation, securities disclosures and voluntary action.

For more information on the undergraduate major in sustainable development, please contact:
Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri, Senior Program Manager
E-mail: natalie@ei.columbia.edu