ENVR110: Environment and Society (Fall 2002)

Instructor: Doug Sackman 
Phone: 253.879.3913
Office: Wyatt 138
Office Hours: MF 10-11 a.m., W 10-11:30 a.m.
I am also available to meet with you at other times; just e-mail me for an appointment.

Course Description
In this course, we will explore the role and place of nature in human affairs. In seeking to trace the relationship between "nature" and "culture," we will examine the complicated influences each sphere has on the other. Does nature shape who and what human beings are, as "environmental determinists" contend? Or do human beings have the power to totally control and even reinvent the natural world? How do the ways humans obtain their livelihood from natural resources affect the structure of their societies? How have ideas about nature and the proper human relationship to it affected behavior? To explore these and other questions vital to understanding the nature of human experience, we will read the works of various environmental thinkers–including philosophers, historians, economists, anthropologists, activists and writers.

This is not a course on "how to be an environmentalist." It is a course that will help you to see how environmental issues are intricately bound up with social issues. The former mayor of Seattle once said that in the attempt to save salmon we might find that we save ourselves. Indeed, humans cannot "save" nature without saving, or at least re-shaping, themselves–for humans and the natural world are bound close together, even though people have often denied or ignored the connections.

Format and objectives
In the above description, I have emphasized what "we" will do. I mean that: the course is meant to be a collaborative investigation. Class time will be devoted largely to discussions of the readings and the issues they touch upon. To make the course work, then, you will have to come to class having done the reading and having thought about questions or comments you might want to bring up in class discussion.

I’ve designed the course to give you a range of opportunities to participate in the class and contribute to its course. Of course, you are encouraged to actively engage with discussions, raising questions, making points and otherwise contributing to the flow of the conversation. The readings for the course average about 80 pages a week (though it varies). They are essential: your reactions to the content, ideas and evidence presented in the reading will be crucial to what we do in class.

Doing the reading in time for class is thus critical to the success of the course. In reading selections, you will find it useful to take notes and write down particular questions you might have or topics you would like to discuss. As a student, I found that underlining or highlighting passages, while helpful, was not the best way to prepare me to participate in class discussions. I started to take notes on a separate sheet of paper (or on my computer), listing the relevant page number on the left and then some idea or quote that I found interesting next to it. In class, then, I could use this as an index of my ideas, and then point to a particular passage as a basis for a question or to present my perspective on a particular issue. You may find that developing a note-taking system will work for you. Please bring the readings to class on the day for which they are assigned. If you do not do the readings, you will get little out of the class. If you do the readings, but have nothing to say about them, then the class as a whole will suffer. The more you get involved, the more you will get out of the class, and the more exciting, engaging, and successful the class will be as whole.

Ideally, students in this course will: 

  • Deepen their understanding of a range of environmental issues
  • Come to understand the complexity of the recirprocal relationship between nature and culture
  • Understand how the drive to control nature is connected to dynamics of social control
  • Be exposed to a variety of perspectives about what nature is and the what the proper human relationship to nature is
  • Develop their skills of written and oral communication, as well as their abilities to work in groups.


  1. Environment & Society Reader 
  2. Linda Hogan, Power 
  3. JR McNeil, Something New Under the Sun

1) Attendance and Participation [15%] (including seven informal writing assignments, and group work):
This category includes reading, attendance & participation in discussions. Regular attendance is expected. Students can participate in class by making points and connections, raising questions, listening and responding to the comments of other students, and otherwise engaging with the flow of the discussion.

To help get you started, I will formally require that you raise an issue or make an observation about the reading during class discussion at least once before fall break. In making your contribution, please make reference to a particular passage in the text. For example, you might say "On page 37, author X writes Y. She suggests that population is the root of all environmental problems, but she fails to take into account different consumption levels…." On the day that you make your contribution, please send me an email reminder.

Informal writing assignments, which will not be graded but will be assigned a number from 0-4 that assesses their general quality, include seven short [one-to-two pages] papers (five prep papers [explained below] and two document gathering assignments).

2) Class Presentation [5%]: A ten-minute presentation on a topic of your choosing. A short, one-paragraph description of your topic is due in class on Thursday of Week 2.

3) Quizzes [10%]: Six quizzes will be given, on the dates indicated in the course schedule below. The questions for the quizzes will be drawn from the reading. Thus, if you do all of the reading closely you should do well on the quizzes. Only your top five quizzes will count for your total.

4) Paper One [20%]: A four-to-six page paper, due in Week 6 (topics and guidelines distributed by Week 3).

5) Paper Two [20%]: A four-to-six page paper, due in Week 11 (topics and guidelines distributed by Week 9).

6) Research essay [30%]: An 8-12 page paper on a topic of your own choice; prospectus due in Week 9.

Late Policy
Assignments that are up to 24 hours late will receive a 1/3 grade reduction (e.g. a B would become a B-); assignments turned in more than one but less than two days late will be lowered 2/3 of a grade; work turned in beyond two-days late will be lowered a full grade.

Informal Writing
There are seven short writing assignments, including five prep papers and two document gathering assignments. These are meant to be somewhat informal assignments, giving you the opportunity to develop and express your ideas free from the pressure of grading. These papers will be carefully read, and though I will not be able to make extensive comments on them, they will be assigned a number from zero to four that assesses their general quality. Papers that receive a two are considered good and are perfectly acceptable. If you receive zeroes and ones, you should put more effort into future papers so that they merit twos. Papers that are particularly well crafted and present an exceptionally penetrating, creative, or sophisticated analysis, interpretation or reaction to the reading merit threes or fours.

Prep Papers
There are six prep papers of one-to-two pages each that reflect on the reading for the day and identify a topic suitable for class discussion. The purpose of these assignments is to deepen your engagement with the material, allow you to pursue and communicate your own perspectives in written form, improve your writing through practice, and give you and the class a launching pad of ideas going into the day’s discussion. Prep papers for your group are due on the days indicated in the course schedule in the syllabus. Bring them with you to class, but they will be turned in at the end of class since you may need to refer to them during class time. Under no circumstances, including computer failure, may prep papers be turned in late. (In certain circumstances, I may allow you to switch the day for which you write a prep paper, but you must ask me about this at least 24-hours in advance). Prep papers should be typed and between one and two pages long. The prep papers involve two components: a topic discussion and an issue identification (issue id):

Topic Discussion
For the topic discussion, I would like you to write two-to-three paragraphs or so about some aspect of the reading for that day that grabs your attention and you would like to discuss. I am not looking for you to summarize the reading. Instead, I would like you to identify some theme or issue raised in the reading and interpret its significance. You need not deal with the reading as a whole; in fact, you may want to focus on a small part of the larger reading.

Issue ID
The second component of the prep paper is the identification of some issue that can be suitable for class discussion. This can be one or two sentences long, and it can be as simple as identifying a quote from one of the readings that you find illuminating and interesting, or questionable. You might also raise a point of comparison (e.g. the different ways that Muir and Guha regard wilderness). The issue may be related to your topic discussion, though it need not be. Be prepared with these: I will on occasion ask you to present your issue id in class.

Academic Honesty
Faith in your academic integrity is vital to all we do at UPS. It should go without saying that the college expects that all work submitted for evaluation in courses will be the product of the student’s own labor and imagination. Of course, you are free to speak with others about your work and share ideas and perspectives. In writing your papers, though, you are developing your own ideas and arguments. You can incorporate the ideas or words of others in your own paper, but to do so you must properly cite your sources. Turning in a paper that attempts to pass off the words or ideas of others as your own constitutes plagiarism (see The Logger for more information). Like other forms of cheating, plagiarism is a contamination that pollutes our environment. Students who knowingly turn in work that involves plagiarism or is marred by other forms of cheating will not pass the course, though more severe penalties may be recommended for egregious cases.

One can understand the temptation to turn in illegitimate work: students working under intense pressures may turn to cheating as an easy way out. But to do so, you not only steal the work of others, you cheat yourself and your fellow students as well. A real degree from UPS cannot be obtained through looting. If you are worried about your grade or completing an assignment, please come and talk to me. I can work with you to help you get over the hurdles and make it possible for you to get something positive out of the course.

Course Schedule 
Readings should be completed by the day in which they will be discussed, and you should bring the appropriate texts with you to class.

Part I: "Nature" and The Wilderness Idea
Week 1 Nature
T 9.3: Introduction: The Elements of Nature and Human Society
Th 9.5: Anthropocentrism and its Discontents [Group A and B]

1. Lynn White, "Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis"
2. Genesis
3. Charles Darwin, from On the Origins of Species
4. John Muir, "Anthropocentrism and Predation"
5. Daniel Botkin, from Discordant Harmonies
6. Vandana Shiva, from Staying Alive

Week 2 The Rise of Wilderness
T 9.10: [Group C]

7. Henry David Thoreau, "Walking" and "Huckleberries"
8. Richard White, "Discovering Nature in North America"

Quiz 1

Th 9.12: [Group D]

The Wilderness Idea
9. John Muir, from Our National Parks
10. John Muir, "The Hetch Hetchy Valley," Sierra Club Bulletin (1908)
11. Wallace Stegnar, "Coda: Wilderness Letter" (1960)

Week 3 Wilderness Reconsidered
T 9.17: Wilderness Deconstructed [Group E]

12. William Cronon, "The Trouble with Wilderness"
13. Ramachandra Guha, "Radical Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique"

Th 9.19: Wilderness Defended [Group A]

14. Donald Waller, "Getting Back to the Right Nature"
15. Gary Nabham, "Cultural Parallax: The Wilderness Concept in Crisis"
McNeil, 336-340

Part II: The Ecological Indian?
Week 4 Native Environmental Relations
T 9.24: [Group B]

16. Richard Nelson, "The Watchful World"
17. Richard White, from The Roots of Dependency

Quiz 2

Th 9.26: [Group C]

18. Shephard Krech III, from The Ecological Indian
19. Winona LaDuke, from All My Relations

Week 5 Endangered Species and Cultures
T 10.1: Of Whales and Panthers [Group D] 

Linda Hogan, Power, 1-97 
McNeil, 237-243

Th 10.3: [Group E] 

Linda Hogan, Power, 99-235 
McNeil, 262-264

Quiz 3

Part III: Water and Power
Week 6 The Reclamation Promise
T 10.8: [Group A] 

McNeil, ch. 5, 118-148
20. Donald Worster, "The Flow of Power in History"

Th 10.10: Film: An American Nile 
Paper due in class

Week 7 Concrete Problems
T 10.15: [Group B]

21. Donald Worster, "Water as a Tool of Empire" 
McNeil, ch 6, 149-156; 183-191

Th 10.17: [Group C]

22. David James Duncan, "Salmon’s Second Coming"
23. Carolyn Merchant, "Fish First!"
Recommended: 24. Michael Dudley, "Traditional Native Hawaiian Environmental Philosophy"

Part IV: Fire and Air
Week 8 The Fire this Time
T 10.22: [Group D]

25. Stephen Pyne, "Firestick History"
26. Mike Davis, "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn"

Th 10.24: [Group E]

McNeil, 10-17 and ch 3, 50-83

Quiz 4

Week 9 El Niño, Global Warming, and other "Natural" Disasters
T 10.29: [Group A]

27. Mike Davis, from Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World

Th 10.31: Rising Waters 

McNeil, 102-117 

Prospectus due by noon, Friday

Part V Land and Life
Week 10 Agribusiness
T 11.5: [Group B] 

McNeil, 22-26, 212-227
28. Carey McWilliams, from Factories in the Field (1939)
29. John Steinbeck, from the Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Th 11.7: [Group C]

30. Vandana Shiva, "The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply" and "Genetic Engineering and Food Security"
31. "Interview with Cesar Chavez"
32. "Principles of Environmental Justice"

Week 11 Agriculture
T 11.12: [Group D]

33. Michael Pollan, from The Botany of Desire
Recommended: 34. Wendell Berry, "The Pleasures of Eating"

Th 11.14: Ethics, Community and the Land [Group E]

35. Aldo Leopold, "The Land Ethic"
36. Garret Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons"
37. Wendell Berry, "Conserving Communities" 

Paper due Friday by 3 p.m. [turn it in to the folder by my office]

Week 12 Forests: Mystery or management?
T 11.19: [Group A]

38. Robert Pogue Harrison, from Forests: the Shadows of Civilization
39. James Scott, "Nature and Space"
40. Nancy Langston, "Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares"
McNeil, 228-236

Quiz 5

Part VII: Consumption and the Reinvention of Nature
Th 11.21: Mouths to feed [Group B] 

McNeil, ch. 9, 269-295, 357-362
43. Ehrlich and Ehrlich, from The Population Explosion

Week 13: Where’s the beef?
T 11.26: [Group C]

41. Michael Pollan, "Power Steer"
42. Ted Steinberg, "The Secret History of Meat"

Quiz 6

Th 11.28: Thanksgiving

Week 14: Nature tm
T 12.3: Consuming Nature [Group D]

44. Jennifer Price, "Looking for Nature at the Mall"
45. John Kenneth Galbraith, "How Much Should a Country Consume?"
46. Carol Adams "Destabalizing Patriarchal Consumption"

Th 12.5: Reinventing Nature [Group E]

47. Jeremy Rifkin, "The Biotech Century" 
McNeil, 306-314 American West

Week 15: Looking at Nature/Looking at Ourselves
T 12.10: Animals and Us

48. David Quammen, "Animal Rights and Beyond"

Final paper due: Tuesday 12.17 by noon