Environmental Studies

The interdisciplinary Environmental Studies major is administered through the Environmental Studies Program and draws courses from 16 departments and four colleges on the CU-Boulder campus. The major teaches the integration of science, policy, and values as applied to environmental issues. Students acquire an awareness of the complexity of factors relating to human interaction with the environment. They become acutely aware that environmental problems have both human and biophysical components, and they gain knowledge of the general principles of human-environmental interaction, global habitability, environmental change, and sustainable human societies.

To complete the ENVS major, students take foundational courses in sciences, policy, ethics, economics, writing and math, as well an internship or field course, and a capstone course. Fifteen credit hours of “specialization” courses are required, allowing students to focus in one content area such as climate and energy, natural resources, or sustainable development.

See the program website at envs.colorado.edu/undergrad_program/C31/curriculum for details of the program requirements and current courses.

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. 

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

1. Natural Sciences Requirements

Purpose: Understand the natural sciences, understand how this process generates knowledge, and be able to apply the scientific process in the results of natural and scientific research to problems and questions as they relate to what is broadly called the environment.

Introductory Course—mandatory:

  • ENVS 1000 Introduction to Environmental Studies—4

Biology Sequence—complete one sequence and applicable lab(s):

  • EBIO 1030 and EBIO 1040 + EBIO 1050 Biology: A Human Approach and lab—7
  • EBIO 1210 + EBIO 1230 and EBIO 1220 + EBIO 1240 General Biology and labs—8

Chemistry or Physics Course—complete one and lab, if lab is corequisite:

  • CHEM 1011 Environmental Chemistry—3
  • CHEM 1113 + CHEM 1114 General Chemistry 1 and lab—5
  • PHYS 1110 General Physics—4
  • PHYS 2010 General Physics with lab—5

Earth Science Sequence—complete one sequence and associated lab(s):  

  • ATOC 1050 and ATOC 1060 + ATOC 1070 Weather and the Atmosphere/ Our Changing Environment: El Nino, Ozone, and Climate and lab—7
  • GEOG 1001 and GEOG 1011 Environmental Systems with labs—8
  • GEOL 1010 and GEOL 1060 (or GEOL 1020 or GEOL 1040) + GEOL 1030 Introduction to Geology and Global Change: An Earth Science Perspective (or Introduction to Earth History or Geology of Colorado) and lab—7

Intermediate Natural Science—complete one:

  • ATOC 3600/ENVS 3600/GEOG 3601 Principles of Climate—3
  • CVEN/ENVS 3434 Applied Ecology—3
  • EBIO 2040 Principles of Ecology with lab—4
  • ENVS 2000 Introduction to Applied Ecology for Environmental Studies—4
  • GEOG 3511 Hydrology with lab—4

2.  Social Sciences Requirement

Purpose: Develop a familiarity with the drivers of human actions regarding social ecological systems.

Intermediate Social Science—complete one:

  • ENVS 3030 Topics in Environmental Social Sciences—3
  • ENVS 3032 Environment, Media and Society—3
  • SOCY 2077 Environment and Society—3

3.  Values Requirements

Purpose: Examine both the economic drivers and the underlying moral beliefs, personal and social ethics, principles, and theoretical commitments that might be informing environmental discourse and also driving human actions and decisions.

Environmental Economics

  • ECON 2010 Principles of Microeconomics—4

and complete one:

  • ECON 3535 Natural Resource Economics—3
  • ECON 3545 Environmental Economics—3

Environmental Ethics—complete one:

  • ENVS/PHIL 3140 Environmental Ethics—3
  • GEOG 3422 Conservation Thought—3
  • PSCI 3064 Environmental Political Theory—3

 4. Policy Requirement

Purpose: Learn to systematically analyze environmental problems and critically assess the ways in which public policies may help to address these problems. Students will learn a basic knowledge of existing environmental laws and policies and the processes through which environmental policies are made and implemented.

Intermediate Policy—complete one;     

  • PSCI 2106 Introduction to Public Policy Analysis—3    
  • PSCI 2116 Introduction to Environmental Policy—3     
  • PSCI 3206 The Environment and Public Policy—3

5.  Math Requirement

Purpose: Use mathematics to understand complex issues and systems, and to help solve problems.

Choose between statistics or calculus 1, and complete one course:


  • EBIO 4410 Biometry—4
  • GEOG/GEOL 3023 Statistics for Earth Sciences—4     
  • MATH 2510 Introduction to Statistics—3       
  • MATH 2520 Introduction to Biometry—3        
  • PSCI 2075 Quantitative Research Methods—3  
  • PSCI 3105 Designing Social Inquiry: An Introduction to Analyzing Political Phenomena—3
  • PSYC 3101 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology—4
  • SOCY 2061 Introduction to Social Statistics—3

Calculus  1

  • MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1—5
  • MATH 1310 Calculus, Stochastics and Modeling—5
  • APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers—4

6. Writing Requirement

Purpose: Develop an understanding of rhetorical situations in professional writing and be able to apply critical thinking skills when delivering or receiving information. Students learn to frame a problem and develop an idea from knowledge based on research.

Complete one course:

  • EBIO 3940 Argument in Scientific Writing—3    
  • ENVS 3020 Advanced Writing in ENVS—3       

7.  Application Requirement

Purpose: Improve students’ ability to integrate the knowledge and skills taught in the ENVS major, and to emphasize their real world applications.

Complete one course:

  • EBIO 4090 Coral Reef Ecology—2
  • EBIO 4100 Mountain Research Station field course—3
  • EBIO/ENVS/MUSM 4795 Museum Field Methods/Zoology and Botany—3
  • ENVS 2100 Topics in Applied Environmental Studies—3
  • ENVS 3001 Sustainable Solutions Consulting—3
  • ENVS 3100 Topics in Applied Environmental Studies—3
  • ENVS 3103 Mining 4 Corners—3
  • ENVS/CVEN 3434 Applied Ecology—3
  • ENVS 3930 Internship—3  
  • EVEN 4100 Environmental Sampling and Analysis—3
  • GEOL 2700 Introduction to Field Geology—2

8. Specialization Requirement

Purpose: Allow students to focus on one aspect of environmental studies to develop a deeper understanding. Students choose one specialization and complete a minimum of 15 credits within it. The specializations are: 1) climate and energy; 2) natural resources and the environment; and 3) sustainable development. For lists of courses offered during a semester please consult http://envs.colorado.edu/undergrad_program/C31/Curriculum.

Climate and Energy (Option 1)

  • 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 Weather Analysis and Forecasting—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 3521 Climate, Politics, and Policy—3
  • ENVS 3621 Energy, Policy, and Society—3
  • ENVS/GEOG 4201 Biometeorology—3
  • ENVS 4800 Policy and Climate—3
  • GEOG 4271 The Arctic Climate System—3
  • GEOL 3040 Global Change: The Recent Geological Record—4
  • GEOL 4060 Oceanography—4

Natural Resources and the Environment (Option 2)

  • CVEN 4404 Water Chemistry—3
  • CVEN 4414 Water Chemistry Laboratory—1
  • EBIO/ENVS 3040 Conservation Biology—3
  • EBIO 3190 Tropical Marine Ecology—3
  • EBIO 3270 Ecosystem Ecology—3
  • EBIO 4020 Stream Biology—3
  • EBIO 4030 Limnology—3
  • EBIO 4060 Landscape Ecology—3
  • EBIO/ENVS/GEOL 4160 Introduction to Biogeochemistry—3
  • ENVD 4023 Environmental Impact Assessment—3
  • ENVS/PHYS 3070 Energy and the Environment—3
  • GEOG 3053 Cartography: Visualization and Information Design—4
  • GEOG 3251 Mountain Geography—3
  • GEOG 3351 Biogeography—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 (Option 3)

  • ANTH 4020 Explorations in Anthropology: Conservation and Indigenous Peoples—3
  • ECON 3403 International Economics and Policy—3
  • ECON 3784 Economic Development and Policy—3
  • ENVS/SOCY 4027 Inequality, Democracy, and the Environment—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 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 TheEnvironment and Public Policy—3
  • PSCI 4012 Global Development—3
  • SOCY 3002 Population and Society—3
  • SOCY 4007 Global Human Ecology—3

Additional Notes regarding approved ENVS specialization courses:

  1. Topics courses may apply to the ENVS specialization requirement, although offerings will vary semester by semester. The current semester course list includes topics classes. Visit http://envs.colorado.edu/undergrad_program/C73/Current%20Courses to see applicable subtopics.
  2.  Topics course numbers that may apply to the ENVS major, depending upon course content, include:
    • ANTH 4020 Explorations in Anthropology
    • ATOC 4500 Special Topics in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
    • EBIO 4460 Special Topics
    • ENVS 4100 Topics in Environmental Policy
    • GEOG 4100, 4110, and 4120 Special Topics in Geography
    • SOCY 4047 Topics in Environment and Society

9. Capstone Requirement

This capstone requirement provides an opportunity for students to pursue intellectual integration of the multiple scientific disciplines and allows students to demonstrate competence in integrative analysis and problem solving.

Complete one course:

  • ATOC 4800 Policy Implications of Climate Controversies—3
  • EBIO 4800 Critical Thinking in Biology—3
  • ENVS 3800 The Art of Research—3
  • ENVS 4800 Critical Thinking in Environmental Studies—3
  • ENVS 4990 Senior Thesis—3
  • GEOG 4430 Conservation Trends—3
  • GEOG 4742 Environment and Peoples—3

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 sciences, policy, and values and theory. 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 32 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