Sustainability at Reed

Academics and Sustainability

academic_practices imageStudent Theses
Students write theses with an environmental component; some theses titles include "Industrialization and environmental degradation in The People's Republic of China: a historical examination of the third front program," "Green roofs and urban biodiversity: arthropod conservation in Portland, Oregon," and "Diversity and distribution of fish in the Reed College Canyon: using fish assemblages to assess water quality and ecosystem health," and  "Inside the environmental planetarium: how green ideas move." See other theses examples of field work in the Reed Canyon.

Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary major for the student who wants broad training in environmental themes. Environmental Studies majors select a primary disciplinary focus in biology, chemistry, economics, history, or political science. Read more about the program.

Listed below are courses currently offered at Reed with curricular content addressing ecology, environments, environmentalism(s), natural resource issues, and other topics potentially or actually related to sustainability. Consult Reed's schedule of classes for courses being taught this semester.


Anth 378: Nature, Culture, and Environmentalism

Full course for one semester. The course examines earlier and contemporary theoretical perspectives on the relationships between sociocultural systems, human biology, and biophysical environments. Topics include the nature–culture opposition and its non-Western counterparts, the constraints of nondiscursive nature on culture, the discursive construction of nature, primitivism, sociobiology, science studies, the “posthuman terrain,” Western environmentalism as a cultural system, ecofeminism, premodern subsistence systems, the ecological noble savage, environmental religions, and Third- and Fourth-World peoples’ relations with global and local environmental movements. Prerequisite: Anthropology 211. Conference.


Bio 263: Molecular Ecology

One-half unit course for one semester. A survey of how molecular genetic tools are used to investigate ecological processes in natural populations of plant and animal species. Specific topics will include methods for sudying genetic variation at the protein and DNA levels, quantitative predictions from ecological and evolutionary theory, and application of molecualr genetic markers to research questions related to natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, and non-random mating. Conferences will be student led and based on the primary literature. Prerequisites: Biology 101/102. Lecture-conference.

Bio 366: Population Ecology and Evolution

Full course for one semester. The basic concepts of population ecology and population genetics are explored to provide an in-depth understanding of evolutionary biology and conservation biology. Topics include population growth and regulation, demography, interspecific interactions, population genetics, quantitative genetics, evolution of phenotypic plasticity, evolution of life histories, and basic molecular evolution. Examples are chosen primarily from the vertebrate literature. Laboratories emphasize the ecology of amphibian development, experimental design, and computer simulation. These skills are then put to use in both field and laboratory independent projects. The course is supplemented by field trips and video presentations. Prerequisite: Biology 101/102. One upper division biology course is recommended. Lecture-laboratory.

Bio 431 Seminar: Contemporary Topics:Conservation Biology

Topics include history of biological conservation, population viability analysis, minimum viable populations, island biogeography, and the concepts of rarity and diversity. The course will also evaluate the role that a biologist can play in the conservation movement. Prerequisite: Basic knowledge of upper division level population ecology. At least one of the following three courses: Population Biology, Vascular Plant Diversity, or Animal Behavior and; one other upper division Biology Course including a laboratory; and Junior or Senior standing and/or the consent of the instructor.

Bio 431 Seminar: Contemporary Topics: Climate Change Biology


Bio 431 Seminar: Contemporary Topics: Ecology and Evolution of Plant-Human Interactions


CHEM 230: Environmental Chemistry

One-half unit course for one semester.  An introduction to the chemistry of natural and polluted environments.  Course will apply the fundamental principles of chemistry to understanding the sources, reactivity, and fate of compounds in the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.  Topics include: the stratospheric ozone layer, photochemical smog and particulate air pollution, climate change and energy use, water toxics and treatment, and agricultural modification of the surface environment.  Prerequisites: Chemistry 101/102.  Lecture - conference.


Econ 351: Environmental Economics

This course will introduce students to the methods economists use to analyze issues related to the environment.  We will discuss the positive and normative aspects of environmental economics, techniques that are used to value the environment, and approaches -- such as regulation and incentive-based programs -- that are used to control pollution.

Econ 352 Natural Resource Economics

This course presents an economic analysis of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. Concepts introduced include static and dynamic efficiency, equity, property rights, discounting, market failure, non-market valuation, and sustainability. The course will cover current and proposed policies for resource management such as transferable quotas, taxes, subsidies, regulations, and public versus private ownership.


2XX: Nature, Culture, and Society in American History

This course introduces students to the major themes, questions, and methods in American environmental history. Environmental historians see the natural world as both a material place as well as a historical and cultural idea. This class considers how human societies have shaped the natural world, how the natural world has shaped human societies, and how ideas about nature have been created, challenged, and changed in American history. Conference.

3XX: The Environmental History of the American West

The American West with its majestic beauty, strange landscapes, and abundant natural resources has inspired wonderment, desire, and fear in those who traveled there. This course will focus on the theme of land, water, and power in the West. We will examine the intersection of natural resource use, property rights, politics, and values in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will ask questions of how natural resources are regarded and claimed, how institutions governing resource use arise and evolve, and the impact on the communities who need, use, and/or control the resources. Topics will include the political battles over Indian land cessions, land speculation and urbanization, water rights, irrigation, and fishing, and the rise of conservationism and preservationism. Prerequisites: Any other HSS course. Conference.

History 345: Whole Earths, Globalizations, World Pictures

Hear the words “Earth” or “world” or “globe” and the image likely to flash through the mind is a photo known as “Whole Earth” (1972), which reveals the disk of our terracqueous planet suspended alone in the void. It is reputed to be the most widely disseminated photograph in human history, and together with other views of the Earth from beyond has prompted a revolution in the global imagination. The aim of this research seminar is to assess the plausibility of that claim, by situating these images in their diverse historical contexts. These contexts include the history of man’s imaginative self-projection into the beyond from ancient times to our day; how the “whole earth” image has been mobilized by environmental campaigns, political movements, and commercial enterprises; how the view of Earth has figured in economics (“globalization theory”), aesthetics (earth art, architecture, mapping and visualization techniques), anthropology, philosophy and the natural sciences (the Gaia hypothesis, the Biosphere projects, earth systems science); and how this pictorial imaginary has become integrated into the unthought ways we inhabit our natural and human-built worlds – what has happened once its ubiquity meant that we ceased, in a fashion, to see it. Arrangements will be made to enable students to explore new media and research tools for analysis and presentation, should they wish to do so.

Hist 346: Technology and Social Thought in the Twentieth Century

“The fully enlightened Earth radiates disaster triumphant.” So the German philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer argued in 1944, just before Hiroshima provided an eerily literal proof. Their unease was shared by many. Something about man’s attempt to master the world by technological means had gone seriously awry. This course will examine how European intellectuals of the twentieth century revisited notions of culture, nature, politics, economics and religion as part of a wide-ranging reassessment of the modern age prompted by the rise of technocracy.

The narrative of the course proceeds in roughly chronological order, albeit with deviations in the service of thematic coherence. We begin by laying bare two of the foundational discourses underwriting much, if not most, of the reflection on the topic of technology and modernity: the modern reconfiguration of the art/nature relation and the rise of instrumental reason. We then consider how these notions played out in three of the most important philosophical statements on technology produced in the twentieth century—those of Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcuse. We will then turn to several empirical studies inspired by these philosophers centered on technologies of death. The course concludes with a broad look at the “new organicism” that emerged as an alternative to a discredited industrial paradigm, and with a more concentrated look at the controversies regarding our (allegedly) posthuman future unleashed in part by the rise of “technologies of life”—namely, eugenics and genetic engineering.

History 412: The Meaning of Life: Histories of the Living in the Liberal Era

The aim of this research seminar is to use the conceptual tools developed by a series of seminal intellectuals to investigate cultural, social, legal, political and scientific practices pertaining to biological life, primarily in the twentieth century. These might include arguments about biotechnology, about the extension of legal personhood to natural objects, about patent claims over living species, about the regulation and production of seeds, about the development of organic agriculture, about the incorporation of natural objects into our systems of political representation, about bioethics, bioart, bioprospecting, and biopolitics (the administration of human populations as if they were living organisms)--to name just a few. Notwithstanding their diversity, these phenomena all played out against the backdrop of liberal systems of jurisprudence, politics, property rights, and ethics. Hence, the normative claims and institutional structures associated with modern liberalism, rather than specific geographic locales, will serve as proximate historical contexts for our investigations.


Pol Sci 345: Comparative Environmental Politics

Full course for one semester. This course is designed to achieve three main objectives. It will introduce students to some important works and current scholarship in comparative environmental politics. Students will learn about comparative political methods, especially qualitative comparative inquiry.  Students will incorporate these insights into individual research projects.  Students will gain a good knowledge of the field of comparative environmental politics and policy, and some understanding of comparative politics in a theoretical and methodological sense. Prerequisite: Political Science 210 or 220, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Pol Sci 388: Environmental Political Theory

Full course for one semester. This course will examine the conceptual relationship of politics to the environment, nature, and ecology, and how that relationship is understood in contemporary environmental writing. How have different views of nature enabled or constrained our understanding of politics, and vice versa? What kind of politics have environmentalist thinkers suggested is necessary for ecologically sustainable societies? Finally, what happens to politics and environment in a “post-nature” and “post-human” world? To answer these questions, we will read thinkers including Wendell Berry, Val Plumwood, Murrary Bookchin, William Cronon, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, and Luc Ferry. Prerequisite: Political Science 230, 373 or consent of the instructor. Conference