Prof. Julie Fry [chemistry] and students in ES 300 visited PGE’s Boardman Coal Plant in 2014 to understand the tradeoffs facing power-grid operators as they seek to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Prof. Julie Fry [chemistry] and students in ES 300 visited PGE’s Boardman Coal Plant in 2014 to understand the tradeoffs facing power-grid operators as they seek to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Growing the Curriculum

The environmental studies program currently offers more than two dozen courses. Here’s a small sample.

April 9, 2021

Bio 303 – Leaves to Landscapes

This field-based course examines the underlying structure, function, diversity, and ecology of Pacific Northwest forests. Students go on forest trips to explore topics such as plant water and carbon relations, plant life history and resource use, resilience of trees and forests to disturbance, and plant responses to global change, observing how our forests operate as complex socio-ecological systems.

Chemistry 230: Environmental Chemistry

An introduction to the chemistry of natural and polluted environments. Fundamental principles of chemistry are used to understand 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.

Econ 351: Environmental Economics

This course introduces students to the methods economists use to analyze issues related to the environment. Students 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 program—that are used to control pollution.

History 338: Crisis and Catastrophe in Modern Europe

Between 1720 and 1870, a series of natural and manmade crises forced Europeans to question the purpose of violence in a supposedly “improving” society and the role of rational individuals in a world sometimes beyond their control. This course considers the political, religious, intellectual, and cultural ramifications of disaster and crisis, including financial collapse, revolution, war, earthquakes, disease, and famine. These crises disrupted Europe’s political and intellectual landscape, threatening and transforming ideas about risk, progress, religion, and political authority, and restructuring the relationships between man and the natural world.

History 310: Water and the American West

This course uses the environmental and political history of America’s rivers, streams, reservoirs, and aquifers to introduce students to important issues in water history and contemporary water policy. Students begin by exploring a series of different frameworks for understanding the complex relationships among water, labor, land, and political power as those relationships have changed over time. As they build a deeper understanding of water as a natural, cultural, and political entity, they see the ways in which history has helped to shape the way we allocate and regulate water. Armed with the dual weapons of history and basic legal doctrine, they tackle some of the key issues in 20th-century American water policy, including groundwater, water marketing, and the implications of global warming.

Political Science 374: Science, Technology & Politics

Why or when should science play a role in policy debates? Why are certain scientific findings accepted over others in these debates? How can society manage the introduction of new technology and address risks that may emerge? This course explores the relationship between science and politics, how the two at times compete and depend on each other. Students investigate models of knowledge production to better understand how we can study science in politics. The implementation of science and policy is often found in choices around technology, and this course will engage ideas for managing emerging, risky, or uncertain technologies.

ES300: Junior Seminar

In ES300, students dig into a group project through an interdisciplinary lens.

In 2014, they looked at PGE’s Boardman Coal Plant, a power plant in eastern Oregon responsible for 65% of Oregon’s SO2 emissions and 7% of its CO2 emissions. The students examined whether Boardman could be converted into a biofuel plant fueled by straw from local corn and wheat farms. They concluded that switching to biofuels would cut carbon emissions in half, but that SO2 emissions would remain higher than federal targets. PGE ultimately shut down Boardman last year.

In 2017, they mapped the neighborhoods in Portland most at risk of climate hazards such as flooding, wildfires, and heat waves. Then they looked at indicators of social vulnerability and resilience. By combining these maps, they identified neighborhoods that scored high on hazard and low on resilience. Students proposed several ways to strengthen resilience in these areas, such as more green spaces, better access to transit, tree planting, sidewalks, and community gardens.

Tags: Academics, Courses We’d Love To Take, Climate, Sustainability, Environmental, Professors