Environment & Sustainability Minor

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UPDATE, March 2017:  The Environment & Sustainability Minor has been approved, and will be available to MIT undergraduates in all majors beginning September 2017.

The E&S Minor is designed to address both people and the planet in an integrated manner. The interdisciplinary construct of the Minor is the direct result of this need for deep integration.

The Minor is structured along four content pillars:

1. Earth Systems and Climate Science;
2. Environmental Governance;
3. Environmental Histories and Cultures, and;
4. Engineering for Sustainability.

Each of these pillars contributes essential conceptual knowledge as well as tools and methods relevant to the exigencies of the real world. Each pillar represents a range of perspectives and expertise and therefore acts as a composite of fields coupled together to provide a holistic and engaging view of a complex situation.

Earth Systems and Climate Science encompasses distinct disciplines such as ecology, geology, meteorology and more for an understanding of the physics, chemistry and biology of the Earth and its climate; Environmental Governance includes political science, environmental law and justice, environmental management and other fields in an understanding of the distribution of power and decision-making in society and, in particular, the strategies and tools directed toward consciously directing our relation to the environment; Environmental Histories and Cultures enlists historical, anthropological, cultural studies and the humanities as well as urban studies and planning for an understanding of the anthropogenic transformation of the environment through our economies, cities and other human settlements, and institutions; Engineering for Sustainability is comprised of a vast panoply of engineering and design disciplines directed toward innovation and including expertise in construction and manufacture processes, operation, use, reuse and disposition of materials, devices, and systems for sustainable and humane development.

Integration across disciplines that address human and natural systems reveals complex properties such as unintended consequences (e.g., the premature proliferation of gasoline additives that improved automobile performance but introduced widespread groundwater contamination) as well as co-benefits (e.g., reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to address climate change also reduce some negative health effects from air pollution). The integrative, interdisciplinary structure of the E&S Minor foregrounds these and other properties that are critical for effectively understanding and addressing the complexities of environmental issues today and in the future.

Major learning outcomes for the E&S Minor include the following capabilities:

  • Analyze complex human and environmental systems and their interconnections across multiple scales (individual and collective; local, regional, national, international, global), including trade-off and feedback effects as well as the impact of uncertainty and unintended consequences;
  • Evaluate past, present, and future socio-environmental conditions, events, and scenarios with respect to ethics and equity, technical and economic feasibility, ecosystem health, and societal well-being;
  • Acquire and process various forms of quantitative and qualitative data and understand and employ various metrics used to monitor and assess the state of environmental systems;
  • Apply multiple problem-solving strategies to current and emerging environment and sustainability challenges;
  • Design viable solutions and sustainable transition pathways; and
  • Recognize, motivate, and collaborate with diverse, conflicting constituencies.

These learning outcomes will reflect knowledge and skills that cut across the Minor’s four content pillars.