Students are running recycling programs, planting trees and restoring native plants, growing organic gardens, and fostering sustainable dining halls. They are finding ways to improve energy efficiency and water conservation and are pressing for new buildings to meet certification guidelines for sustainable construction. To help address climate change, students are urging their institutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, divest from fossil fuel corporations, and use and invest in renewable energy.


In response, nearly 700 university presidents have signed onto the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment—a public pledge to inventory emissions, set target dates and milestones for becoming carbon-neutral, take immediate steps to lower emissions, and integrate sustainability into the curriculum. By taking a course in environmental science, you are preparing yourself for a lifetime in a world increasingly dominated by concerns over sustainability. The course for which you are using a book right now likely did not exist a generation ago. But as society’s concerns have evolved, colleges and universities have adapted their academic curricula.


As our society comes to appreciate the challenges of creating a sustainable future, colleges and universities are helping students learn how to confront these challenges. Finding effective ways of living peacefully, healthfully, and sustainably on our diverse and complex planet will require a thorough scientific understanding of both natural and social systems. Environmental science helps us understand our intricate relationship with our environment and informs our attempts to solve and prevent environmental problems.