Environmental Studies

The environmental studies major is administered through the Office of Environmental Studies and draws from curricula in the earth and natural sciences and the social sciences. See the program website at envs.colorado.edu/undergrad_program/C31/curriculum for details of the program requirements and current courses.

The bachelor’s degree program is composed of a required common curriculum that exposes all students to the basics of physical and social environmental sciences, as well as a choice among three specializations: climate and energy, natural resources and the environment, or sustainable development.   

The undergraduate degree in environmental studies emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:

  • the causes, scale, and relative importance of the major environmental problems in the United States and the world;
  • the complexity of factors relating to human interaction with the environment, especially the fact that environmental problems have both human and biophysical components; and
  • the general principles of human-environmental interaction, global habitability and environmental change, and sustainable human societies.

Environmental studies is an interdisciplinary program, drawing on courses and expertise from over a dozen departments. Students who also wish to pursue a traditional, discipline-based education are encouraged to double major or complete a minor in one of the participating departments. An internship program is offered to provide the upper-level student with practical experience working in the field.   

Students interested in environmental studies may want to consider the Baker Residential Academic Program. See Residential Academic Programs for more information.

Course code for this program is ENVS. 

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below. 

Common Curriculum

Students are expected to complete the following common curriculum:

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • ENVS 1000 Introduction to Environmental Studies—4

Biology Sequence (7-8 hours)

  • EBIO 1030/EBIO 1040 and EBIO 1050 Biology: A Human Approach and lab
  • EBIO 1210/EBIO 1220 and 1230/1240 General Biology and labs

Chemistry or Physics (3-5 hours)

  • CHEM 1011 Environmental Chemistry or CHEM 1113/1114 General Chemistry 1 and lab 
  • PHYS 2010 General Physics with lab or PHYS 1110 General Physics

Earth Science Sequence (7-8 hours)

  • ATOC 1050/ATOC 1060 and ATOC 1070 Weather and the Atmosphere/Our Changing Environment: El Niño, Ozone, and Climate and lab
  • GEOG 1001/GEOG 1011 Environmental Systems with labs 
  • GEOL 1010/GEOL 1060 (or /GEOL 1020 or /GEOL 1040) and GEOL 1030 Introduction to Geology/Global Change: An Earth Science Perspective (or /Introduction to Earth History or /Geology of Colorado) and lab

Intermediate Natural Science (3-4 hours) 

  • ATOC 3600/ENVS 3600/GEOG 3601 Principles of Climate 
  • CVEN/ENVS 3434 Applied Ecology 
  • EBIO 2040 Principles of Ecology with lab 
  • GEOG 3511 Hydrology with lab

Intermediate Social Science  (3 hours) 

  • ANTH 4020 Explorations in Anthropology: Conservation and Indigenous Peoples
  • SOCY 2077 Environment and Society 
  • SOCY 4007 Global Human Ecology
  • SOCY/ENVS 4027 Inequality, Democracy, and the Environment

Introductory and Intermediate Values (9 hours)

  • ECON 2010 Principles of Microeconomics
  • Choose one:
    ECON 3535 Natural Resources Economics
    ECON 3545 Environmental Economics
  • Choose one:
    ENVS/PHIL 3140 Environmental Ethics
    GEOG 3422 Conservation Thought
    PSCI 3064 Environmental Political Theory

Intermediate Policy (3 hours)

  • PSCI 2106 Introduction to Public Policy Analysis
  • PSCI 2116 Introduction to Environmental Policy and Policy Analysis
  • PSCI 3206 The Environment and Public Policy


One statistics or calculus course for 3-5 hours:

  • EBIO 4410-4 Biometry 
  • ECON 3818-3 Introduction to Statistics with Computer Applications 
  • GEOG/GEOL 3023-4 Statistics for Earth Sciences 
  • MATH 2510-3 Introduction to Statistics 
  • MATH 2520-3 Introduction to Biometry 
  • PSCI 2075-3 Quantitative Research Methods 
  • PSCI 3105-3 Designing Social Inquiry: An Introduction to Analyzing Political Phenomena
  • PSYC 3101-4 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology 
  • SOCY 2061-3 Introduction to Social Statistics 
  • MATH 1300-5 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1 
  • MATH 1310-5 Calculus, Stochastics and Modeling
  • APPM 1350-4 Calculus 1 for Engineers

Advanced Writing (3-5 hours)

  • EBIO 3940 Argument in Scientific Writing
  • ENVS 3020 Advanced Writing in Environmental Studies

Application  (minimum of 3 hours)

  • EBIO 4090 Coral Reef Ecology 
  • EBIO 4100 Mountain Research Station field course 
  • EBIO/ENVS/MUSM 4795 Museum Field Methods/Zoology and Botany 
  • ENVS 2100 Colorado Ecosystem Studies
  • ENVS 3001 Sustainable Solutions Consulting 
  • ENVS/CVEN 3434 Applied Ecology 
  • ENVS/GEOL 3520 Mining 4 Corners or ENVS 3930 Internship 
  • EVEN 4100 Environmental Sampling and Analysis 
  • GEOL 2700 and GEOL 4715
  • GEOL 4716 Field Geology 

Capstone Course (3 hours)

  • ATOC 4800 Policy Implications of Climate Controversies 
  • ENVS 3800 The Art of Research or
  • ENVS 4800 (Biofuels; Cultural Politics of Climate Change; Environmental Health Risk; Environmental Property and Protest; Philosophy of Climate Science; Rethinking Hurricane Katrina; Sustainable Development; or U.S. Environmental Policy)
  • ENVS 4990 Senior Thesis 
  • EBIO 4800 (Discovering Climate Change or Ecosystem Management;  Land Use Sustainability; Microbial Ecology; Novel Ecosystems; or Soil Ecology)
  • GEOG 4742 Environment and Peoples 
  • GEOG 4430 Conservation Trends 
  • JOUR 4871 Environment, Media, and Culture

Specialization Courses

Choose one and complete 15 credits within it. Additional course options may be available.

Climate and Energy

  • ATOC 3300/GEOG 3301 Analysis of Climate and Weather Observations—3
  • ATOC 3500 Air Chemistry and Pollution—3
  • ATOC 4215 Descriptive Physical Oceanography—3
  • ATOC 4700  Special Topics: Weather Analysis and Forecasting—1-3
  • ATOC 4720 Introduction to Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics—3
  • ATOC 4750 Desert Meteorology and Climate—3
  • ENVS/PHYS 3070 Energy and the Environment—3
  • ENVS /GEOL 3520 Environmental Issues in Geosciences—3
  • ENVS 3621 Energy Policy and Society—3
  • ENVS 4100 Topics in Environmental Policy: Energy Policy—3
  • ENVS 4800 Policy and Climate—3
  • ENVS/GEOG 4201 Biometeorology—3
  • GEOG 4271 The Arctic Climate System—3
  • GEOL 3040 Global Change: The Recent Geological Record—3
  • GEOL 4060 Oceanography—4

Natural Resources and the Environment

  • CVEN 4404 Water Chemistry—3
  • CVEN 4414 Water Chemistry Laboratory—1
  • EBIO/ENVS 3040 Conservation Biology—4
  • EBIO 3190 Tropical Marine Ecology—3
  • EBIO 3270 Ecostream Ecology—3
  • EBIO 4020 Stream Biology—3
  • EBIO 4030 Limnology—3
  • EBIO 4060 Landscape Ecology—3
  • EBIO/ENVS/GEOL 4160 Introduction to Biogeochemistry—3
  • EBIO 4460 Fish Ecology—1-5
  • ENVD 4023 Environmental Impact Assessment—3
  • ENVS/PHYS 3070 Energy and the Environment—3
  • ENVS 4120 Food and the Environment—3
  • GEOG 3053 Cartography: Visualization and Information Design—4
  • GEOG 3251 Mountain Geography—3
  • GEOG 3351 Biogeography—3
  • GEOG 4120 Glaciers and Permafrost—1-3
  • GEOG 4321 Snow Hydrology—3-4
  • GEOG 4501 Water Resources and Water Management of Western U.S.—3
  • GEOG/GEOL 4093 Remote Sensing of the Environment—4
  • GEOG/GEOL 4241 Principles of Geomorphology—4
  • GEOG 4371 Forest Geography: Principles and Dynamics—3
  • GEOL 3030 Introduction to Hydrogeology—3
  • GEOL 3320 Introduction to Geochemistry—3
  • GEOL 4060 Oceanography—4

Sustainable Development

  • ANTH 4020 Explorations in Anthrolpology: Conservation and Indigenous Peoples
  • ECON 3403 International Economics and Policy—3
  • ECON 3784 Economic Development and Policy—3
  • ENVS 4100 Agriculture and the Environment—3
  • ENVS 4800 Sustainable Development—3
  • GEOG 3402 Natural Hazards—3
  • GEOG 3682 Geography of International Development—3
  • GEOG 3812 Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean—3
  • GEOG 3822 Geography of China—3
  • GEOG 3862 Geography of Africa—3
  • GEOG 4632 Development of Geography—3
  • GEOG 4712 Political Geography—3
  • GEOG 4732 Population Geography—3
  • GEOG 4852 Health and Medical Geography—3
  • HIST 4417 Environmental History of North America—3
  • PHIL 2140 Environmental Justice—3
  • PSCI 3206 The Environment and Public Policy—3
  • PSCI 4012 Global Development—3
  • SOCY 3002 Population and Society—3

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in environmental studies, students should meet the following requirements:

  • Begin the common curriculum in the freshman year.
  • Declare environmental studies as the major by the beginning of the second semester.
  • Students must consult with a major advisor to determine adequate progress toward completion of major requirements.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Environmental Studies

Opportunities for interdisciplinary graduate studies and original research, leading to the MS and PhD degrees, are available with a variety of emphases, including water sciences, environmental policy and sustainability, energy, environmental social sciences, and biogeosciences. Particular programs of study are limited only by course offerings and faculty expertise.

The graduate program in environmental studies is undergoing revision. Students should consult the website at envs.colorado.edu/grad_program for updated information.

Master’s Degree

Candidates for the master’s degree in environmental studies must complete at least 36 credit hours of graduate course work. Both thesis (Plan I) and non-thesis (Plan II) options are available. Plan I requires that the student write and successfully defend a thesis for 6 research credits. Students who opt for Plan II must complete a 2-credit internship as part of their program. Additional information can be found at envs.colorado.edu/grad_program/C22/Masters/.

Doctoral Degree

The PhD degree is a research degree, involving the production of a major piece of original research (the dissertation). Candidates for the doctoral degree must complete at least 42 degree-hours from a list of approved ENVS core and elective courses. In addition, 30 semester hours of dissertation credit must be taken. Students are expected to form an advisory committee of five faculty members (including one from outside ENVS) soon after beginning their studies. This committee helps the student in designing a research program and in making choices concerning course work. The PhD comprehensive exam is administered by the student dissertation committee and must be taken within the first five semesters of degree work. It consists of a written research proposal on the dissertation topic, a formal presentation summarizing the student research progress, and an oral examination centered on the student research. Upon the student completion of the dissertation, a final examination is administered by the dissertation committee.

Additional information may be found at envs.colorado.edu/grad_program/C23/PhD.

Dual Degree Programs


This is a dual degree program offered in conjunction with the Leeds School of Business. It requires 36 hours of graduate work in environmental studies and 43 hours of MBA course work (with 12 hours of environmental studies course work applying toward the required 55 credits for the MBA). The MBA program will be considered the student’s primary program. Additional information is available at envs.colorado.edu/grad_program/C55/ENVS-Business.


This is a dual degree program offered in conjunction with the Law School. The Law School will grant credit for acceptable performance in graduate-level environmental studies courses toward the JD degree for up to 9 (for MS students) or 12 (for PhD students) credit hours of the required 89 credits for the JD degree. Environmental studies will grant up to 9 (for MS students) or 12 (for PhD students) credit hours of acceptable performance in law courses. The JD program will be considered the student’s primary program. Additional information is available at envs.colorado.edu/grad_program/C54/ENVS-law