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Environmental Studies - Overview


Programs in environmental studies prepare people to work on protecting the balance of nature. Students learn principles of both the natural and social sciences to help understand and solve problems in the environment. They study ecosystems, habitats, economics, law, and public policies related to the natural world and its needs.

When you were growing up, someone may have told you the "Golden Rule": do unto others as you would have others do unto you. After all, our actions affect other people, right? But how does this advice apply to nature?

Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and staunch environmentalist, once pointed out that "man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself." Does this seem extreme? You don't need to look far to see evidence supporting Carson's statement.

Movies such as "Erin Brockovich" and "A Civil Action" document cases where the irresponsible actions of some companies toward the environment affected the health of human beings. You can find litter not just on the streets but even on the campgrounds at state parks you love to visit. A news report of an oil spill usually includes pictures of the bodies of oil-drenched birds and fish. Although recycling certain types of plastic releases toxic fumes, commercials advertise plastic food containers that you don't need to feel "guilty" about throwing away.

Carson's statement can work the opposite way, also. Recycled glass and plastic can be used to build a park bench or even to pave a walking trail. Grocery stores in Ireland charge consumers for plastic bags, limiting the number of stray bags floating around on sidewalks. The U.S. government protects several sites of natural beauty and wildlife by naming them national parks.

You can see from these examples that protecting our natural surroundings is a complex and varied task. In the same way, learning to care for our environment requires you to study many different subjects. Fields such as sociology, public policy, biology, chemistry, law, and even literature can teach you about a different aspect of our relationship to the environment.

Choosing to major in the interdisciplinary field of environmental studies offers many benefits. One of these is the opportunity to create and shape your own course of study based on your interests. For example, if public policies related to urban areas concerns you, you might study land use laws, environmental design, and conflict management. Or, if you feel passionate about community development in third world countries, you might study agriculture, biodiversity, and resource economics.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs in environmental studies. In general, a bachelor's degree takes about four years of full-time study after high school, and a master's degree about one to two years after that. If you want to pursue a doctoral degree, you need three to four additional years after earning a master's degree.

Some two-year colleges offer an associate degree program. You can sometimes transfer your credits from this type of program to a four-year school.

Depending on your school, you may be able to focus on a particular area of environmental studies. Possible areas vary from program to program, but a list of examples follows:

• Environmental Business
• Environmental Economics
• Environmental Ethics
• Environmental Public Policy and Management
• Global Environmental Issues and Development

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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