Graduate Course Descriptions

ENV1001H F is the core course for the graduate Collaborative Specialization in Environmental Studies at the School of the Environment. In this course, we address the topic of “environmental decision-making”, which we understand broadly as the challenging process of how humans engage with the natural world, and the many iterative (and sometimes invisible) decisions we make about how to organize human societies and activities.

While decision-making is itself a field of study, this course takes a more flexible interpretation of the term, involving choices about, and affecting, the environment. With a focus on the insights from across a range of disciplines—throughout the humanities, social sciences, and natural and applied sciences—and with attention to fields beyond academia, we consider multiple perspectives on the environment.

Through bi-weekly guest lectures, student presentations, group projects, and individual written assignments, we explore themes of worldviews and values (what assumptions we make about the world that shapes the kinds of decisions we can make), conflicting interests and information (at multiple scales), and decision-making models and tools (a survey of the range of tools that are available), along with questions of uncertainty, adaptation, and iterative decision-making processes.

In a time of online learning provoked by public health concerns, we will turn analytic attention to the benefits and challenges associated with a range of virtual technologies for interdisciplinary collaboration, research, and decision-making. As travel becomes constrained not only by pandemic conditions but also as a response to climate change and environmental degradation, we anticipate the need for these tools will increase in the future. In the class, then, we will consider how online platforms may be useful in enabling ongoing research efforts at a distance, and how different strategies and tools may be designed for better communication and action.

Students should emerge from the course with a broader set of perspectives on environmental and social challenges, enhanced communication skills across disciplines, and additional experience working in diverse teams. In addition, based on our new online course structure, students should also leave the course more confident about the options for virtual collaboration across disciplines.

Our central goal in the course and the Collaborative Specialization program is to enable conversations to take place within and beyond the classroom about the challenges of human-environment relationships, with new ideas on creative and just approaches to social and political decisions, and bioacoustics—as well as with electroacoustic composition, sonic art, and everyday sound-based practices. We will also consider pressing issues for the humanistic study of the environment, and reflect on the value and ethics of an acoustic approach. This course is open to students with any disciplinary background. Proficiency in music is not required.

This course will provide an introduction to the study of public policy, from the perspective of political science. It begins from the premise that policymaking is an inherently political process, and seeks to demonstrate the ways in which policies are a reflection of power, values and interest groups.  

The course will be divided into three parts:


  • First, we discuss basic concepts that underpin environmental policy: What is the distinction between market and polis? What are the goals of environmental policy?  What are the obstacles to collective action?
  • Second, we will examine the mechanics of policymaking: how the policymaking process works, and what types of instruments are available to protect and manage the environment.
  • Finally, the last portion of the class will be devoted to examining cases of national and international environmental policy.


This course will cover popular statistical models for the analysis of ecological data. There will be a particular focus on the statistical properties and assumptions underlying the methods. We will cover topics such as identifiability/estimability, understanding the theory underlying distinct inferential approaches and their impact on ecological conclusions, as well as simulation-based model assessment.

Climate change, which is driven by global warming, is one of the most pressing global environmental crises of our generation and our children’s and grandchildren’s generations. Although the crisis has only been recognized in the public sphere in the past couple of decades, the foundations of our understanding of global warming are almost two centuries old. We will use The Warming Papers, a compilation of the canonical papers describing the scientific logic of global warming, as our guide.

This course will lay out the scientific logic of global warming from Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier’s 1824 paper on what would come to be known as the greenhouse effect, through to the most recent discoveries, and will cover climate physics and the carbon cycle.

"Will religions assume a disengaged pose as species go extinct, forests are exterminated, soil, air, and water are polluted beyond restoration, and human health and well-being deteriorate?" -Mary Evelyn Tucker.

The connection among worldviews, religion and ecology, while perplexing for many, has been of growing academic and pragmatic concern in recent years. Scientists, policy makers, and activists have of late been frustrated with the long-term efficacy of their actions, and have begun to reflect on the underlying worldviews and core values of their work. Is the neoliberal economic model a worldview, for example? Is consumerism? This has led to a recrudescence of interest in religious worldviews as a source of environmental theory and practice.

The fact that certain religious groups are beginning to take ecological systems seriously is a distinctive, important emergence within environmentalism. Given that approximately eighty-five percent of the human family reads their reality through a religious lens, any environmental policy or ethic that does not relate to religious concerns potentially ignores dialogue with ethical and moral traditions held by the majority of the world's peoples.

Religions traditionally challenge their members to ask foundational questions of human existence; such as what is the place or role of the human in the universe? What are the ethical and moral imperatives of being human? What responsibilities do humans have, if any, to other aspects of creation? As the ecological challenge forces the human family to deeply query social, economic, political, cultural, and ethical traditions, many are beginning to argue that the reading assistance of the world's religious traditions in - 2 - 2, answering such queries might be helpful, and perhaps necessary, for an informed and effective response to the world's current ecological plight.

The participation of religions in environmental movements is of course not unproblematic. Certain religions have been fingered and faulted for their accent on transcendence, and for their patriarchal, hierarchical systems, which help engender a disregard for the earth and the women who have been historically associated with it--as ecofeminism suggests. Moreover, religions, as institutions, have not been at the vanguard of the environmental movement, and many potential pitfalls, such as sectarianism, fundamentalism, and triumphalism, surround the involvement of the world's religions in environmental questions.

While much of the religious discourse around ecology has entailed ontological, doctrinal, and cosmological or "worldview" questions, there have also been religious responses that take issues of class, race, gender, poverty, and justice seriously. Indeed, many tensions have surfaced and continue to exist between these two broadly outlined ecological approaches. Thus, the question has emerged whether the ecological contributions of the world's religions are chiefly in the realm of worldviews, doctrine, and cosmology, or in the realm of a political and economic critique.

Through weekly seminars, we will probe sundry ecological worldviews, religious and otherwise, and how they help shape environmental discourse, practice, and theory.

This course situates students and campuses within the context of broader movements for more ecologically rational and socially-just food systems. Topics include critical food systems pedagogy; the political economy of campus food systems; student food (in)security and health; campus food systems alternatives; campus food growing spaces; student/campus-based food movements; campus-community partnerships. The course is praxis-driven and will provide students with opportunities to engage in change-making on their campus, and beyond, through an action-focused project with a campus and/or community partner.

ENV1111H: Special Topics in Adaptation and Resilience As the world faces an era of environmental change, particularly in the area of climate, the question of how humanity can anticipate and respond in a sustainable manner is receiving increasing attention. This special topics course will introduce students to a wide range of topics and issues as they relate to adaptation and resilience. Through readings, course work and discussion, students will use a transdisciplinary approach to explore the adjustment of natural and human systems to change, in order to reduce harmful impacts and take advantage of beneficial opportunities. In addition, students will explore the ability of such systems to absorb change, maintain their function, and evolve in ways that improve their future sustainability. Topics for examination may include extreme events (e.g. flooding, drought, wildfires), gradual changes (e.g. permafrost, sea level rise), urban scale (e.g. public safety, public health, food security) and the wider Canadian context (e.g. natural resources, food production and biodiversity). 

ENV1112H: Special Topics in Global Change ScienceHuman-induced global environmental change has emerged as one of this millennium’s defining scientific and societal challenges. This special topics course will introduce students to a wide range of topics and issues as they relate to global change science. Through readings, course work and discussion, students will study a range of topics that may include the different components of the Earth's environment, from the atmosphere to the ocean to the biosphere, and of the many ways they interact. Students will approach course content through a transdisciplinary approach. For example, as the full impact of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere depends on a complex set of feedback effects, students may analyze changes in ocean chemistry, ocean circulation patterns, biological processes in plants and soils, atmospheric convection and cloud formation, and geological processes such as rock weathering.  

2022-23 Topic: Data Science for Environmental and Sustainability ScientistsEnvironmental scientists are increasingly in need of strong data manipulation, analysis, and visualization skills. The focus of this course is on acquiring and interpreting data to help gain a better understanding our physical environment. Students will access data from a variety of sources in order to study current global environmental challenges in climate, air quality, and land use change. Skills in the programming language R will be developed to visualize, map, and model data using state-of-the-art approaches in geographic information systems, spatial statistics, and time-series analysis. Near the end of the course, students will undertake a case-study using open data to explore a current environmental issue of their choice, giving a flavor of a real-life application of environmental data science. Prerequisites: basic statistics.

ENV1113H: Special Topics in Social Sustainability Environmental worldviews – the assumptions, values, norms and paradigms used to understand the human relationship with nature – have enormous influence largely because they are unexamined and taken for granted. This special topics course will use a transdisciplinary approach to introduce students to a wide range of topics and issues as they relate to social sustainability. Through readings, course work and discussion, topics may address issues of equity, diversity, social cohesion, quality of life, behavioural sustainability, and democracy and governance as related to the human-nature relationship. Topics may also encompass the social components that allow for change or that prevent change towards sustainable solutions, such as public policy and market activity, societal attitudes toward nature, organizations, and social movements. 

ENV1114H: Special Topics in the Sustainability Transition Since the Industrial Revolution, the world has put in place a system of infrastructure, production, markets, public policy, values and culture based on fossil-fuel energy. Today, we are tentatively beginning to make changes in all those areas, starting the transition to a low-carbon economy and a sustainable society. This special topics course may examine areas such as the challenges and opportunities in our scientific understanding of the impacts driving the transition; the role of the ICT (information & communication technology) revolution; energy-system technologies; core economic concepts related to environmental and resource sustainability; societal perceptions, values and norms; and issues of governance and politics, lifestyle, human settlement, livelihood, culture, economic activity, and trade. As these challenges constitute an interconnected system spanning civil society, state and market, the course content will be examined through a transdisciplinary approach.  

This course is organized around the idea of “capitalist nature”.ⁱⁱ Specifically, the course is concerned most centrally with six questions: 


  1.  What are the unique political, ecological, and geographical dynamics of environmental change propelled by capital accumulation and the dynamics of specifically capitalist forms of “commodification”? 
  2. How and why is nature commodified (however partially) in a capitalist political economy, and what are the associated problems and contradictions? 
  3. How do the contemporary dynamics of environmental change, environmental politics, and environmental justice shape and help us understand transformations in markets, commodity production regimes, and capitalist social relations and institutions more broadly? 
  4. How can we understand the main currents of policy and regulatory responses to these dynamics? 
  5. How do prevailing ideas about nature (non-human as well as human) reflect, reinforce and subvert capital accumulation? 
  6. Is there or can there be any such thing as “green capitalism”? 1 O'Connor, M. (1993). On the misadventures of capitalist nature. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 4(3), 7-40. 




  • To develop some conceptual tools to analyse how capitalist dynamics transform or metabolize nature (in the broadest sense and including in material and semiotic registers), how biophysical processes become enrolled in and actively constitute capital accumulation and commodification, and how environmental politics and environmental justice shape a (more than) capitalist society. 
  • To develop and refine critical reading skills, and in particular, to read more closely, carefully, and critically (which does not mean antagonistically) than we would otherwise be able to do on our own. 
  • To read and luxuriate in the joy of scholarly reading and thinking about scholarly reading. 
  • To participate in and learn from group discussions of assigned readings.

ⁱⁱSource: O'Connor, M. (1993). On the misadventures of capitalist nature. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 4(3), 7-40.


Law, policy, and ethics are key in understanding how we respect, manage and utilize our environment. This course will introduce students to basic principles of environmental law. What is it? How did it evolve? Does it deal fairly with resource preservation, use, and allocation? Can it deal with complex emerging problems such as climate change, species at risk, accumulation of toxics, urban sprawl and so on?

We will review the state of the environmental law, with an emphasis on topical issues in Toronto, Ontario, and Canada. Throughout the course, students will be asked to consider the ethical foundations for environmental laws, and their capability of addressing today’s challenges. We will also consider how to present information in a legal setting. Students will be required to research and prepare a presentation (on-line) on a current issue in environmental law. This work will be done individually, and as a group, using the tools available on Quercus.

Freshwater is both plentiful and renewable. Yet, freshwater resources at both the global and local levels are becoming increasingly scarce, partly due to population growth, increasing demands for energy and food, and climate change, and partly due to poor management and policies. We have failed to understand the complexity of water systems…so here we are- in the middle of day zeros, unavailability of safe drinking water, lack of access to sanitation, and increasing contaminants in our water bodies.

This course, therefore, will focus on water management and policy in the context of scarcity with special emphasis on science-based policies for sustainable aquatic ecosystems. In order to frame sound policies for future sustainability, we will navigate this course through the lens of four pillars that should support all water management strategies.


  • The first pillar is to integrate the strong spiritual and cultural connections we have with water especially learning from the indigenous cultures of the world.
  • The second pillar is to invest in understanding the science of water and integrating with innovative technologies.
  • The third pillar is to examine water as an economic good, in terms of demand, supply and financing.
  • Finally, the fourth pillar is to create and implement effective management and governance policies based on combination of demand side, soft path and integrated watershed management. In the absence of, or weakness in any of the pillars, water sector is vulnerable to continued inequity, depletion and contamination.


This course introduces the principles of environmental toxicology and risk assessment. Study of the basic principles of toxicology, including routes of exposure, dose response, and target organ effects from exposure to environmental toxicants will be covered. The course presents the quantitative methods used to assess the human health risks associated with exposure to toxicants, focusing on the four major components of risk assessment:


  • hazard identification
  • dose-response assessment
  • exposure assessment
  • risk characterization.

Risk communication and public consultation will also be addressed. The course will include an overview of Canadian regulations and policies and their impact on the practical realties facing practitioners, policy makers, and stakeholders. We will explore risk assessment issues related to exposure to contaminated sites, air quality, and projects undergoing Environmental Assessment.


The intent is to make this course hands on and practical so that you are able to participate as a team member conducting human health and ecological risk assessment upon its completion. The course will be based on actual undertakings of Canadian risk assessment projects.

Climate Finance involves the application of new and established financial market instruments and practices to the management of climate change-related risks and investment opportunities, and the incorporation of such factors into stock valuation and selection processes, as well as shareholder engagement strategies. Asset owners and managers, banks, insurance companies, venture capitalists, corporations and government agencies are becoming increasingly engaged in the financing of climate change mitigation and resilience in order to manage risks and capitalize on new opportunities. This course explores the research, projected outcomes and recommendations from the IPCC, multi-stakeholder initiatives and finance collaborations, and assesses signals of future actions to address them. An in-depth knowledge of financial markets is not required. 

Students leaving the course will be able to apply their new knowledge to a variety of career paths. The following professions and/or fields will benefit from a knowledge of climate finance and environmental markets: 


  • Financial analyst, portfolio manager, financial product development
  • Investment and management consultant
  • Sustainability specialists (especially for firms in high impact sectors such as oil & gas, forestry, chemicals, metals and mining and utilities) 
  • Commodities trader
  • Venture capitalist, private equity or real estate investor
  • Credit and insurance risk analysts; - Investor relations, public relations, communications 
  • Not-for-profit managers and executives 

The objective of the course is to provide students with a firm grounding in the range of issues at stake in climate change and the application of finance to address it. The course will examine how established practices, procedures, and tools from within the mainstream financial and corporate markets are being adapted to integrate a climate lens in the pursuit of financial performance goals from both an investor and corporate perspective.


This is a mandatory course for students in the Master of Environment and Sustainability program that will provide an opportunity for students to explore and develop a thesis topic under the guidance of their supervisor(s). The course will bring students together as part of a larger seminar series on transdisciplinary research methods in environment and sustainability. As part of this, students will be introduced to primary concepts relating to environmental sustainability and the conceptual and methodological tools needed to conduct interdisciplinary research. Students will be expected to develop a research proposal under the guidance of their Master’s thesis supervisor(s), that will include a description of their identified research topic, a literature review and a proposed research methodology.

This is a mandatory course that builds upon what was learned in ENV1197H in support of students refining and finalizing their intended research topics. This will include developing a research plan for data collection, fieldwork, or equivalent, based on the research proposal submitted in the preceding term. Seminars every two weeks will bring the students together for invited talks from faculty members, who will present examples of recent interdisciplinary-based research projects, including methodological approaches taken and their associated advantages and disadvantages.

A course delivered by a graduate faculty member for an individual student, on a topic related to the student’s graduate program. Such a course is equivalent in terms of reading, organized academic activities, and written assignments to a regular graduate course. Approval to enroll in this course is given by the graduate unit in which the student is registered and approval from the unit offering the course also is required. The graduate unit offering the course is responsible for entering a subtitle in the course offering that will appear on the student’s academic record. Students who wish to take this course should first contact and consult on this option with the School of the Program Assistant and Graduate Student Advisor.

A Special Topics course varies from a regular course in that the environment content may vary from offering to offering.

2022-23 Special Topic: Photovoltaic Imaginaries: Community Based Experiments in Sustainability Transitions

This course combines seminar style reading and discussion and participatory design and prototyping with a community-based organization to investigate the particular forms of culture, sociality, and governance that emerge around small-scale, off-grid solar energy sytstems. In addition to learning about solar technologies, students will also gain practical experience with community engaged research and learn about core concepts in science and technology studies (STS) and critical design. Instructor approval is required. 

A Special Topics course varies from a regular course in that the environment & health content may vary from offering to offering.

There is a pressing need to study the complex relationships between the environment and human health, especially as we are increasingly challenged by environmental health issues. This course introduces students to various issues related to environment and health in providing an academic environment of inquiry and dialogue where graduate students from various disciplines can exchange ideas, information and insights.

Through participation in the affiliated public environment and health seminar series and student-led seminars, the aim is to expose the students to the many ways that issues related to the environment and health are framed, examined, discussed, and addressed.

The course will stimulate students to reflect on this diverse discussion and to integrate their work into a broader context and perspective. Students will have the opportunity to explore linkages between environmental factors and health issues as these intersect with environmental and health policy, toxicological impacts, psychosocial factors, economic factors, and ethical and legal issues. 

Upon course completion, students will: 

• Have an understanding of the complex, interdisciplinary nature of environment and health issues.

• Have an understanding of the importance of cross-disciplinary dialogue to fully comprehend how human health and the environment are interconnected and to develop effective interventions.

• Have acquired the skills necessary to research and critically assess scholarly information on topics related to environment and health and to communicate them in a manner that fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and engagement.

The course will introduce students to a wide range of topics and issues as they relate to the environment and health of vulnerable populations. Through readings, course

work and discussion, students will explore the concept of vulnerability and the range of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute to disproportionate exposures and health impacts among “at risk” populations. Case studies and topics will be examined to exemplify how and why certain populations may be especially vulnerable to various environmental hazards. Topics for examination will be chosen to demonstrate the wide range of potential human health effects due to chemical and other exposures. Issues related to equity and justice will be critically examined.

This course will examine how attitudes towards human nature and non-human nature have changed over the period from Mesolithic times until the present in Western society. By reading and discussing historical arguments and contemporary documents we will attempt to uncover the underlying assumptions about the world that were characteristic of different periods in the history of Western culture. The underlying question is whether contemporary concerns about sustainability require fundamental changes in the way we conceive of ourselves and our environment.

This is a course about ideas and their effects. It is based upon the belief that if we are to solve sustainability problems we must understand their roots - that is, we must understand the attitudes, behaviours and ways of thinking, which have given rise to these problems. To do this we must re-examine the ideas about human and external nature that we have come to accept as conventional wisdom. 

The question at the core of the course is what kinds of changes are required to achieve a sustainable future. Some analysts have concluded that such changes can be made through reforms without radically altering the fundamentals of modern frameworks of thought - the currently predominant assumptions about the external world and how it works, and about human nature and social relationships. Others disagree. They hold that there is something basically wrong with how we have been treating the environment and each other, and that we must challenge the current conventional wisdom about the world and our place in it. Within this group there are differences of opinion about what is basically wrong and what challenges should be mounted, but such analysts share the view that the problems are fundamental.

This is a required course that MES students will take in the Summer term, working individually with their supervisor.  It follows on the development of the research proposal and completion of ENV1197 in the Fall term and the completion of ENV1198 in the Winter term.  During the Summer, students will complete their research and write up their thesis by the end of August. The thesis should be no longer than 15,000 words. At the end of the program, students will present their thesis research to faculty and other students at the annual MES Research Showcase.   

Master’s students who are pursuing a course-work stream degree program in their home unit and do not have an internship requirement built in their home unit degree program, when registering on ROSI/ACORN for the internship, shall use the School’s designated course code (ENV4444H,Y) for this purpose.

Master’s students who have an internship requirement built in their home unit degree program, will use their home unit degree program code designator to register on ROSI/ACORN.  

The internship taken in their home unit degree program will count towards both their master’s degree program credits and the respective collaborative specialization requirements, provided it is an environment (or environment & health) related internship or has an environment (or environment & health) related component. For a more detailed description of the Internship requirement, please visit the Internship Guidelines webpage.

Master’s students who are pursuing a course-work stream degree program in their home unit and do not have a research paper requirement included in their home unit degree program, when registering on ROSI/ACORN for the research paper, shall use the School’s designated course code (ENV5555Y) for this purpose. 

Master’s students who have a research paper requirement built in their home unit degree program, will use their home unit degree program code designator to register on ROSI/ACORN. The research paper written for their home unit degree program will count towards both their master’s degree program credits and the respective collaborative specialization requirements, provided it is on an environment (or environment & health) related topic entirely or has an environment (or environment & health) related component included in it.

For a more detailed description of the Internship requirement, please visit the Research Paper and Thesis Guidelines webpage.