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Environmental studies class employs unique blend of science, poetry

22 August 2002

BERKELEY - Little about the course title, "Introduction to Environmental Studies," makes it stand out. It’s the instructors and required reading that reveal a fresh approach to studying today’s global environmental issues — through a combination of science and the humanities.

Garrison Sposito, professor of environmental science, policy and management in the College of Natural Resources, and Robert Hass, professor of English and former U.S. poet laureate (1995-1997), are co-teaching the freshman course. In addition to the behavior of ecosystems, students will learn how the California landscape inspired writers from John Muir to Jack London to Joan Didion.

"We’re providing a seamless survey of environmental studies within the context of literary analysis with the goal of leading students towards responsible environmental stewardship," said Sposito. "In the real world, everything is connected, so it makes sense to have a class that is integrative rather than compartmentalized."

The course, taught twice before, in 1998 and 1999, returns this fall with material from Natural State, a literary anthology of California nature writing, poetry ranging from Horace to Gary Snyder, and essays on a variety of environmental dilemmas.

"We will read an essay by John Muir in which he sees a big Sierra storm coming, climbs up and lashes himself to a pine tree in order to experience the full force of the wind and rain," said Hass. "We are seeing the natural world through a unique lens, and that makes students more alive to and more analytic about how they feel about the natural world."

– Sarah Yang