A Sustainable Curriculum


At COA, our courses reflect our values and concerns for the world.

Within each resource area (Arts and Design, Environmental Science, and Human Studies), there are courses that center on or incorporate discussion of sustainability and climate change. One example of the interdisciplinary education COA offers is the Human Ecology Core Course. This required course for first-year students not only introduces students to the relationships between humans and their natural and cultural environments but also allows them to explore ways of understanding these relationships. Sustainability and climate change are frequently addressed as some of the pertinent issues facing humankind.

Additional course offerings concerned with sustainability and climate change are listed below:

Courses Directly Addressing Climate Change

Climate Science – discusses properties of and factors influencing the earth‘s climate; final project consists of a design for a museum exhibit focused on climate change.
Global Environmental Politics: Theory and Practice – covers the politics and policy of regional and global environmental issues, including many of the major environmental treaties such as the Montreal Protocol and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Students role play UN climate negotiations.
Practical Activism – focuses on using grassroots organizing efforts to affect political change of human actions as they impact climate.
Practicum in Advanced Environmental Diplomacy – taught in the fall to prepare students to be effective youth leaders when they attend the UNFCCC, CBD, and FAO negotiations. In preparation for such negotiations, students study the history of negotiations, policy creation, and diplomatic obstacles to international policy development.

Courses with Climate Change Embedded in the Curricula

Polar Ecology and Exploration – discusses climate change while focusing on changes in ice cover and glaciation patterns, and how these affect the endemic fauna and flora.
Ecological Economics – examines how a paradigmatic shift away from both neo-classical (market) and Marxist economics can be achieved by making sustainability the foremost economic criterion.
Sustainability – explores definitions, movements toward, and prospects for achieving sustainability. It touches on various dimensions of sustainability including energy, agriculture, fisheries, forests, freshwater biodiversity, climate change, human population, industry economic growth and globalization, consumption, and justice/equity.
Hydropolitics – considers the effects of climate change on world water systems and human populations.
Environmental Law and Policy – examines the nature and scope of environmental, energy, and resource problems, including climate change, and the various legal mechanisms available to address these problems.
International Wildlife Policy and Protected Areas – examines the role of wildlife habitat conservation and sustainable development.
Marine Policy – provides a general understanding of both marine resources and current regional, national, and international policies to protect these resources. Threats to these resources, including climate change, are considered.
Left, Right, and Future: Alternative Political Philosophies – a political philosophy course, deals directly with sustainability and climate issues such as right relationships and a whole earth economy.
Project-Based Class in Residential Windpower – an interdisciplinary class that involves students’ siting, installing, and evaluating projects such as a working residential-scale wind turbine. In 2009, students sited a turbine at the college‘s Beech Hill Farm. In addition to gaining practical hands-on skills and experience, course participants not only learned the basic physics of energy generation and conservation but also gained the scientific knowledge essential to conserve energy, evaluate options for renewables, and organize and advocate for alternative energy projects.
Ecology and Natural History – emphasizes field studies of the ecology of Mount Desert Island through labs and field trips. Each exercise focuses on a central ecological concept such as intertidal biology and diversity, forest trees and site types, bedrock geology, soil biology, insect diversity, pollination ecology, freshwater biology, predation, herbivory, and the migration of birds. Climate change is discussed for the impact that it will have on all of these topics.
21st Century Entrepreneurship – provides students with knowledge of the history, theoretical foundations, opportunities, and practices of socially responsible business. The course is designed for students who desire a general understanding and fluency in the topic, would like to be more socially proactive consumers, want to foster socially responsible business as community activists, or are considering starting or working in a socially responsible business.
Environmental History – examines how human history shapes and has been shaped by the environment. Environmental history is one of the most exciting new fields in history. This course examines world history from Mesopotamia to the present to see the role of such things as resource scarcity, climate change, mythology, philosophy, imperialism, land policy, theology, plagues, scientific revolutions, the discovery of the new world, and the industrial revolution have on the natural, social, and built environments.
Environmental Issues in Developing Countries – looks at the commonalities of global warming, biodiversity loss, deforestation, loss of topsoil and desertification, increased risk to hazards such as floods and tsunamis, and coral reef decline. All of these environmental challenges most strongly come to bear in developing countries. This course examines these issues and how people (in both the developing and developed worlds) are responding to them.

Other classes, residencies, senior projects, and internships that frequently have a climate change component include Communicating Science, Agroecology, Bryology, Ecology, Environmental Law, Evolution, GIS, Lichen Biology, Marine Policy, and Salmon.

Courses Directly Addressing Sustainability

A wide variety of COA’s classes deal with the complexity of sustainability. Varying in topic, discipline, depth, and difficulty, these classes examine this issue from multiple perspectives.

In 2010, a class looked in-depth at COA’s food print—what we eat, where it comes from, and how it was grown. Other classes like Climate Justice and Contemporary Social Movement Strategies explore how activism can help society adopt more socially and ecologically sustainable practices. COA has also offered classes in sustainable business, moving beyond “big-box” stores, social and ecological resilience, system dynamics, and public lands.



See more about the academic program here.