Course Overview

This course will examine the interconnection of industrial and infrastructure development and with environmental issues related to community health, social and environmental justice. Evidence is mounting that unprecedented economic growth experienced by human societies has induced a state of crisis for the Earth’s ecological systems. Many of the public goods provided by them – fresh water, clean air, abundant fisheries, nutritious soils, low sea levels, and moderate weather — are increasingly at risk. The engineering systems which are needed to support human activity require resource materials and energy at unprecedented rates. Extraction and manufacture of these have the greatest impacts on the most vulnerable societies, which have already suffered the historical impacts of colonization. In this course, we will explore specific issues in an applied, place-based framework, focusing on ways of understanding larger challenges as they manifest themselves. We will also ask fundamental questions about environmental justice, exploring how social power dynamics along racial, economic, and cultural lines are pertinent to understanding people’s disproportionate access to clean, safe, and productive environments, on the one hand, and their unequal exposure to environmental harms, on the other. Through the examination of contemporary case studies, students in this course will be able to demonstrate an advanced level of understanding about the social causes and consequences of environmental racism and inequality, as well as the ways that innovation in engineering can alternately perpetuate environmental inequality and alleviate it.


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