Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

Course Objectives and Scope

This course has three basic goals. First, it is an introduction to the politics of U.S. environmental policy making. We explore how conflicting political, economic, and social interests and values contend for influence and exert power in the realm of environmental policy. We look at the ways in which local, regional, and national governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations and interest groups, and the public interact in defining environmental problems, and formulating and implementing solutions.

Second, we investigate how, where, and when science and engineering enter the environmental policy process and how they compete with other, frequently more powerful, policy-shaping forces. The cases illustrate how politics often dictates acceptance of tradeoffs and compromise among divergent values and interests, where purely science-based and engineering-based analyses would suggest more 'elegant' solutions. In essence we try to explain how and why solving real-world environmental problems differs from solving engineering problem sets.

Third, the course explores how applying different analytic frameworks--or, conceptual lenses--to view a given environmental problem can produce very different perceptions of the problem and its solutions. If market economists and radical ecologists both understand the same science, why are their solutions so different?


Criteria for HASS CI Subjects: Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.

The course is organized into lectures and recitation sections. There will be two weekly lectures each of 1-1/2 hours duration. The lectures will delve into the primary topic for the week, covering theoretical and analytical issues as well as the substantive questions raised in the reading material. In particular, the lectures will emphasize alternative ways of examining a given topic. Students are encouraged to ask questions and offer comments in lecture class.

There will be a weekly recitation session of 1 hour, with several sections to choose among. The recitation sections will explore lecture and reading topics in greater detail, provide the opportunity for broad discussion among the students, and correct the mistakes made in lecture class by the lecturer. Some recitation sessions will focus more explicitly on topics implied, but not directly covered, in the lectures. No recitation section will have more than 18 students.

Reading Materials

(1) The two of the required course readings are:

  • Layzer, Judith A. The Environmental Case. Washington D.C.: CQ Press, 2002. 
  • Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn. Environmental Politics. Wadsworth Press, 2001.

(2) Students are also required to follow environmental news by monitoring the GREENWIRE news service. GREENWIRE can be accessed from any computer with an MIT IP address at

All the readings assignments relevant to a given week's class discussion must be read prior to that class.

Requirements and Grading

Grades will be determined by student performance on all of the following:

  • Class participation/class presentations: 25%

    Students are required to attend both the weekly lectures and a weekly recitation. Failure to regularly attend lectures and recitation sections will result in automatic failure of the course regardless of other grades. Regular attendance means no more than one unexcused absence from lecture or one unexcused absence from recitation section.

    Both lecture and recitation section will involve extensive student oral participation, commenting, questioning, and probing arguments and ideas.  Students will be required to prepare one or more oral presentations for lecture/recitation class.

  • Three Topical Papers:
    • Paper 1 is a three-page opinion-editorial. This will involve a rewriting exercise. Accordingly, the grade for this paper will be a composite of the initial draft (1/3) and the rewritten paper (2/3). (5%)
    • Papers 2 & 3 will each be eight page essays. (15% each)

Specific due dates for each paper are noted in the syllabus and late papers will be reduced 1/2 grade per day.

  • Final Exam: 40% 
    • Three-hour short-answer final exam, given during final week.