The natural systems that shape the Earth’s environment are dynamic and highly interactive. As an example, ash injected into the upper atmosphere during volcanic eruptions lowers atmospheric temperatures and leads to changes in weather. In addition to natural phenomena, human activities have begun to influence Earth’s environmental systems in significant ways. The warming of the atmosphere by increased carbon dioxide associated with burning wood and fossil fuel—the “greenhouse effect”— and ozone destruction by the chloroflourocarbon gases are examples of how human activities can also affect climate. The release of waste products into the Earth’s rivers and oceans is another way in which human activities affect naturally dynamic systems. These and other processes profoundly affect the diversity and distribution of life on Earth and are major factors to contend with in conservation efforts.
Environmental issues have also achieved a prominent position on the agenda of many political systems in many societies. Today, these issues—and their economic consequences—are shaped by political leaders, interest groups, public opinion, and international concerns that invade both the industrial and the developing worlds.
Washington University offers undergraduate students a variety of opportunities to undertake a major or minor in environmental studies. We offer three majors in the School of Arts and Sciences: Environmental Biology, Environmental Earth Science, Environmental Policy. These majors each have a different disciplinary focus, but also expose students to interdisciplinary problem solving in environmental studies, taking advantage of faculty expertise in anthropology, biology, economics, earth and planetary sciences, political science, and engineering. In addition to these three majors, Anthropology majors can choose a track within the major focused on global health and the environment.
Students can choose two environmentally-focused minors. First, the School of Arts and Sciences offers a minor in Environmental Studies. This minor includes courses in Anthropology, Biology, Ethics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Political Science