Big Ideas courses come to the School of the Environment

Thursday, May 14, 2015 11:00:00 AM

We are pleased to announce that the School of the Environment will be the new home of the Faculty of Arts and Science “Big Ideas” courses, starting in September 2015.  These courses were introduced two years ago to give first-year students an opportunity to explore topical and challenging issues from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.  This approach resonates with the School’s mandate to enhance and expand environmental teaching and research through interdisciplinary programs that look at many aspects of the human-nature relationship, including some of the most important issues of our day.

In their new home, the former Big Ideas courses on The Internet and The Future of Energy (see for descriptions) have been refashioned to focus more specifically on their environmental implications and to fit comfortably in the School’s existing undergraduate curriculum.  Four new courses will be offered as special topics: two dealing with the environment and the digital world and two addressing energy and the environment.  Each course will be taught by a team of three professors who will weave together perspectives from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Professors Miriam Diamond (Earth Sciences) and Steve Easterbrook (Computer Science) will be two of the instructors for ENV281F Special Topics in the Environment: Big Ideas in the Digital World 1 – Is the Internet Green? and ENV381S Special Topics in the Environment: Big Ideas in the Digital World 2 – Social Media and Environmentalism.  ENV281 will engage students in a critical evaluation of the social and environmental impacts of the internet, while ENV381 will examine the impacts of social media on environmental thinking and policy-making.

Professors Ben Akrigg (Classics) and Adonis Yatchew (Economics) are two of the team who will teach ENV282F Special Topics in the Environment: Big Ideas in Energy 1 – Technology and Society and ENV382S Special Topics in the Environment: Big Ideas in Energy 2 – Economics, Politics and Security.  ENV282 will take an historical perspective on the development of energy technologies, and how that development has influenced and been influenced by the development of human societies, as well as exploring alternative options for the future.  In ENV382, students will be introduced to the central ideas in economics, politics and security that are essential to understanding today’s complex energy and environmental decisions.

The courses will be offered at the second and third year level, and are open to all undergraduate students in the School’s programs, as well as to students in programs in other departments.  All four courses will count as electives for the Environmental Studies Major and Minor and for the Environmental Science Major. 

More information about the courses can be found at
For questions about registration, contact Undergraduate Student Advisor David Powell at