Environmental Sociology for A Rapidly Warming World

Course Description

Environmental problems are rooted in societies’ complex and changing relationship with the natural world. Understanding those environmental problems, let alone solving them, requires careful investigation of nature-society interactions. Students will examine the social and historical foundations of contemporary environmental problems and societal efforts to address or resolve those problems. Building on these foundations, we will explore the social dimensions of: climate change, preparing for and responding to environmental disasters, and building sustainable cities.

This course will utilize key concepts in sociology such as race and class to engage with theories of environmental sustainability through various topical lenses including food systems, animals (wild and domestic), environmental disasters, and pollution, with the goal of illustrating the principle social forces driving unsustainable development.

Students will read scholarly and popular press articles and attend lectures; they will then develop their ideas both in large- and small-group discussions as well as by writing individual reflections on course material. I will also maintain an EdDiscussion forum with posting requirements so that students can engage with their classmates' ideas outside of class time.

Given the faltering efforts to reign in climate change and shift to a sustainable economy, it is vitally important to understand which aspects of our society are limiting our ability to do so. By better understanding the myriad forces pushing our globe towards calamity, I hope students will better understand what has gone wrong and where they can start to fix it.

As a result of this course, I am confident that you will:

  • Know some of the ways that society is deeply entwined with the natural world
  • Know how social inequalities often have consequences for the places and environments in which people live
  • Be able to explain how different aspects of the economy impact the environment
  • Find value in a deeper understanding of how environmental problems and social problems are often reflections of one another
The issues presented in this course have their roots in many longstanding inequalities, be they along racial, gender, or class dimensions. These are all areas of ongoing research in sociology, and students who take this course will be well-positioned to further their learning in other topic areas in the discipline.


This course takes a critical, empirically founded perspective regarding capitalism and inequality that is likely inconsistent with some students' views on politics and the economy. While the course material is based on empirical research, there are political implications that follow from the findings and arguments presented. I expect that older students will have an easier time reconciling environmental sociological research with their prior understandings, but I can sum up the prerequisite mindset as follows: This course is not intended for students who are ideologically wedded to their views on the environment, society, and politics: if a student is unwilling to question their positions, then there is no point in learning the skills and theories taught in this course; however, those who wish to become more critical thinkers and gain the tools necessary for social analysis are more than welcome.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 25, 2022 - August 05, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 12:15P-3:05P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Jon Nelson
Course Number: 10386