GEOG 1972 Environment-Society Geography


Diego Melo (GPTI)


The course examines interactions between humans and the environment across the globe from a geographical perspective. It introduces different analytical perspectives through which to understand nature-society relationships, with a focus on social, cultural and political-economic dimensions, and uses examples from different natural resource sectors (e.g. water, agriculture) and countries.


During this introductory course, you will:

  1. Categorize ten analytical approaches commonly deployed to investigate relations between human beings and the “natural” environment.
  2. Explain the significance, merits, and limitations of each approach and apply each to an “object of concern” or an environmental issue.
  3. Gain tools to think critically about environmental problems and solutions, particularly deforestation, fossil fuel extraction, and the conservation of watersheds worldwide.

The study of global and regional environmental issues evokes one of the most profound questions of our times: What is, and what ought to be, the relationship between humans and the environment? To answer this, we must also ask: What is “nature” and how do people from various places with diverging histories conceptualize it differently? What drives human modification of the earth and its non-human inhabitants, and how are specific groups of people differentially affected by these modifications? Topics we will cover include human-induced climate change; population and consumption; environmental hazards, ethics, and justice; wildlife conservation; forest management; environmental racism; water and waste.

The first part of the course will be devoted to learning about six common analytical perspectives through which the environment-society relationship is often interpreted. These perspectives define issues and problems in distinct ways and propose distinct types of solutions. We will use carbon dioxide, trees, and uranium as examples to work through these perspectives. As we learn about anthropogenic climate change, we also learn whether a proposed solution is based on a market, institutional, or risks and hazards approach, to name only a few. This first part is designed to introduce you to the insights and limitations of dominant approaches to environmental concerns.

In the second part of the class, we will dive into four critical perspectives and apply their frameworks to several non-human objects and beings. Examining oil, wolves, tuna, bottled water, and electronic waste from these multiple analytical perspectives will give you an opportunity to develop and advance your critical thinking skills, providing you with an expanded toolbox with which to interpret environmental issues. Overall, we will work toward an understanding of “nature” that is inseparable from the history of capitalism, racism, and the gendered division of labor, as we learn more about environmental justice debates in the United States, India, Ecuador, Tanzania, and New Zealand.

Through this class, you should find that geography offers an integrated way of understanding environment-society relations that is useful for addressing some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, and potential solutions to them. After these fifteen weeks, you will have a sharp lens to interpret the social relations that have produced what we call “nature” and “the environment.”


Reading Quizzes (10 at 2% each, or 40 out 200 points): Every module will include a short reading quiz (about 5 questions). These quizzes will be timed and open-book and are designed to test your understanding of each week’s reading. You will have three opportunities to take each reading quiz and your grade will be the average score of your total attempts. There will be a total of 11 quizzes, but only 10 will count toward your final grade.

Discussion Forums (5 at 5% each, or 50 out of 200): We will watch six (6) outstanding documentaries and discuss them in online forums in relation to the the topic of the week. Only five (5) of these will count toward your final grade. Each discussion will have a prompt that you must respond to and you will be asked to comment on one of your classmates’ posts. These are the titles of the films:

  1. Banking Nature (2016)
  2. The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement (2020)
  3. This Changes Everything (2015)
  4. A Place without People: Tanzania (2009)
  5. Awake, a Dream from Standing Rock (2017)
  6. The E-Waste Tragedy (2014)

Short Papers (2 at 10% each, or 40 out of 200 points): You will have two (2) opportunities to practice your academic writing as you respond to prompts designed to test your understanding of course material. These papers will address the following topics:

  1. Deforestation: How should world forests be preserved?
  2. Climate Change: Is fracking good for Colorado and the Planet?

Exams (15% for the midterm, 20% for the final, or 70 out of 200 points): There will be two exams: a midterm and final exam. They will both include multiple choice, true/false statements, matching, fill in the blanks, and short answer questions.

Grades will be assigned as follows:

Table – Grading Scale
Letter Grade A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D D- F
Percentage Grade 94-100 90-93 87-89 83-86 80-82 77-79 73-76 70-72 67-69 63-66 60-62 <60

Now that you’ve selected your favorite Continuing Education courses, email or print the information, including class number, to more easily search Buff Portal and enroll. Still have questions? Contact an advisor.


Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado