Courses taught

Behavior and Environment (NRE 560, SW 710 [Social Work] and UP 560 [Urban Planning])
This course examines human-environment interactions from the perspective of environmental psychology. It builds on two main themes. First, that environmental problems are fundamentally people problems requiring an understanding of how people think, what they care about, and the conditions under which they act most reasonably. Second, that human behavior is best understood when studied in the context of the environment, both present and evolutionary. The course develops an information processing model of human nature and then uses this model to study human decision making, the settings in which humans function best, how they cope with non-preferred settings, how they might pursue their psychological well being on a resource finite, and increasingly fragile, planet. A culminating theme is the psychology of well being and the promotion of environmental stewardship behavior. The objective of the course is for students to leave with a model of human behavior that applies to a wide variety of environmental situations. (Fall terms)
Psychology of Environmental Stewardship (NRE 561)
One of the enduring challenges of crafting a sustainable society is to create one in which we will all want to live. An austere existence may prove to be an ecologically necessity. But it is unlikely that people will eagerly pursue such a somber life if it is promoted merely as an unfortunate necessity of survival. The issue here is how to frame such a future so that people not only accept it but actually look forward to it as an adventure. This is primarily a behavioral, not a political nor technological, challenge. Two forms of stewardship are argued as essential parts of a sustainable society, one with an external focus - individual conservation behavior - and one with an internal focus - mental attention management and restoration. Their potential interaction is fascinating to contemplate. This course develops approaches to promoting conservation behavior with a focus on achieving durable change. The course uses current research in the fields of environmental and social psychology to examine, critique and expand on models of human behavior. Students come to understand that humans normally require both informational and motivational interventions before they are willing and able to alter their behavior and further that only certain types of interventions result in long-lasting behavior change. (Winter terms)
Localization Seminar (NRE 564)
The future form of life patterns, settlements, and societies may differ substantially from what most of us have come to expect. Among our many possibilities is a future involving highly localized lives. Presumably the material standard of consumption in such a society would be substantially lower than that of the present. Possibly the sense of well-being will be greater. A premise of this effort is that air emissions will need to drop by well over 85% in the industrialized nations. This will likely require a comparable drop in overall natural resource usage. We will explore the implications of this 85% drop, envision a successful accommodation to the drop, and design the transition to such a future. Localization is well underway, albeit invisible to the global managers and techno-optimists. What it lacks is a unifying theme, a framework for coping with emerging biophysical constraints. This course builds such a framework, preliminary as it necessarily must be. The course assumes that a fundamental departure from recent life patterns will occur and that much about the transition will be hard. Fortunately, humans’ desire for a stable, secure and familiar existence turns out not to be a status quo bias but rather a cognitive map bias, and cognitive maps can be altered. To aid alteration, the framework we develop during the course assumes that a multitude of small experiments will be conducted, quickly and simultaneously, and some will fail. And yet adjusting to austerity can be satisfying in a way present generations have forgotten or never experienced. Localization is thus a dynamic, ongoing and long-term process that, paradoxically for many, can bring out the best in people. (Co-taught with Professor Princen) (Fall terms).

The course readings work through the nuances of the topic positing that, while historical insights exist, a downshift of this sort is unprecedented. Successful approaches will be those that engage people and institutions in their own discovery of how to transition rapidly and well. Small experiments are needed, many of them, starting now.
  1. The first section outlines the context of localization and the need and inevitability of making a transition. This material will help students to envision positive future scenarios, some quite familiar, others novel.
  2. The next section outlines ways to organize, govern, and provision ourselves under a more austere existence. Some look to our agrarian past, others to new patterns of exchange and ownership structure.
Localization Seminar 1  (Autumn 2008)
Localization Seminar 2  (Winter 2009)
Localization Seminar 3  (Autumn 2009)
Localization Seminar 4  (Autumn 2010)
Localization Seminar 5  (Autumn 2012)

Localization Seminar 6  (Autumn 2013)
Localization course 1  (Half-term - Autumn 2014)
Localization course 2  (Half-term - Autumn 2015)
Localization Seminar 7  (Autumn 2016)
Localization Seminar 8  (Autumn 2017)

Conservation Behavior Seminar (NRE 661)
An advanced graduate seminar that examines research on promoting conservation and stewardship behavior among individual citizens. The focus is on emerging research themes focusing most closely on recently published materials and manuscripts. The course is a setting for developing researchable questions and exploring divergent behavior change paradigms. The objectives of the course are for students to learn to carefully critique current work, to formulate their own strategies for effective behavioral interventions, and to begin preparing their own empirical research. The course is a participative, high-interaction experience. Classes explore the week's readings and their implications for behavioral researchers and program managers. The role of discussion leader is rotated. Students select topics of interest and, in cooperation with the instructor, create a selection of relevant readings and facilitate a discussion of the topic. (Occasional fall terms)
Re-Connection and Re-Vitalization (NRE 568)
Faced with a great many environmental challenges, it has become urgent that we transition to a sustainable life pattern. While this is a necessary change, it may be a difficult transition at first. There are, however, several unexpected aspects to recommend it. The course discusses how a life of voluntary frugality increases the long-term physical and psychological well-being of people. The course examines how the coming transition re-connects people with the natural world in unexpected ways, re-vitalizing mental clarity, and re-storing natural and social systems, especially those that directly provide for our physical sustenance .Throughout, brief but positive case studies are presented. (Co-taught with Professor Princen) (Occasional fall terms)