Why Environmental Studies?

thevision_stairwellEnvironmental Studies is an established academic, practitioner, and scholarly field that is more than 60 years old. It has deep roots in ecology, geography, ethics, political science, physics, history, literature, and religious studies. The modern era of Environmental Studies as an academic field dates back to the late 1960s. Undergraduate programmes have seen three waves of growth: one in the early 1970s, another in the late 1980s, and a third (and ongoing) wave beginning around 2008. Each wave has built upon the strengths of the former, and created new and more relevant learning opportunities for students. Perhaps this is one reason why Environmental Studies is one of the fastest growing undergraduate fields in the United States, and increasingly around the world.

Environmental Studies is problem-driven, forward-looking, and inherently interdisciplinary, with vibrant professional associations and abundant opportunities to contribute in rewarding ways to our shared prosperity. Students of Environmental Studies learn how to translate a breadth of knowledge into serendipitous moments of insight and discovery. They also develop expertise in one or more fields, which allows for an optimal balance between breadth and depth. Environmental Studies is a convivial home to natural scientists, social scientists, and humanists, and especially to those who have a foot in more than one field or discipline.

As a field of study, a vocation, a profession, or a life-long passion, Environmental Studies is not for the faint of heart. Students, scholars, and practitioners of Environmental Studies are required to integrate research methodologies, information, and ways of knowing from multiple fields, which requires a certain intellectual grit. No colouring within the lines or simple memorisation and regurgitation. Those of us in the environmental studies community also frequently find ourselves struggling with the moral and emotional enormity of our work. As Aldo Leopold notes in one of the more famous quotes from our field:

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

The materials below offer some insight into this dynamic and engaging field. If you’re keen to learn more about what Environmental Studies is, and isn’t, and how it can help you discover and pursue your own passions, contact Professor Michael Maniates, Head of Studies of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College.


Photo credit: Staircase on this page is Eustaquio Santimano’s “The Vision,” from the MacRitchie Tree Top Walk in Singapore. Used under creative commons license.