Course Redesign: Motivating Environmental Change through Writing

(*add intro, narrative, and pictures)

I just wanted to drop a quick note to remind you our final is this Friday.

You need to bring any work you have not turned in along with your printed course goals letter, explaining what grade you think you should earn and what specific learning opportunities helped you learn the learning outcomes.  Be sure to look at the example letter from my American Government class from an “A” (4) student and review the course goals rubric on our class website.

You need to be on time for this final exam which is at 9:30 in the KCC Urban Farm between T2 and T8.

Your exam will be to practice your children’s eco-lesson with me or another student and to turn in your final advocacy letter and video or read aloud in the farm.  Let’s keep the final assessment fun and low stress as a reward for our hard work in the farm and in the classroom.

If you have any questions or concerns please email me at and I will get back to you as soon as possible.  Please be patient and direct as this time of the semester holds many deadlines for each of my classes and all students. 

Grades should be available on CUNYFirst no later than June 17.    

Example Children’s Eco-Lesson


Example Course Goals Letter from American Government

I strongly believe that I deserve a B in this class because although it is hard to “impact lives” with opinions that are often times radically different from those of the listener(s), I present my views in a well articulated manner using support and acknowledging the clear limitations of each topic. One very clear limitation within a democracy is that there always seems to be a difficulty among interest. Thus leading to a lengthy decision making process. Decision making involves the discussion of problems policies and politics. It also must involve a window of opportunity, consisting of a focusing event and a final decision.

Like Simon said in the winning message “Legitimate governance requires deliberative majorities to reach consensus on a particular decision or context”. In other words, real governments require explaining views to reach an agreement on a particular decision and context. To be able to make a final decision or at least be involved in the initial discussion, one must be able to advocate their opinions to others and frame them in a way that appeals to the listener(s).

I also understand that opinions and political identity go hand-in-hand. You cannot share something about a topic you have no comment on and you cannot reflect on something you never shared. Without a political identity it is impossible to sensibly deliberate and effectively act. Establishing an identity for yourself is not only an imperative step in attempting to make a change but also quintessential in politics.The simple fact that I seem to have established a political identity and strengthened my ability to share my views will eventually prove fruitful.

Welcome to Environmental Politics.  On this page you will find:

1. Course Goals

2. Required Materials

3.  Our Collective Course Inquiry Question

4. Structured Learning Opportunities

5.  Assessment (Grading)

6. Detailed Course Outline

7. Additional Learning Opportunities

You can find a traditional syllabus here and please email me at

Course Goals:  

Analyze the ACTIVITIES and POLITICS of HUMANS, local & global, in a RELATIONSHIP with Earth, to become a self-conscious activity with provoked reflection & to generate superb NEW CONCEPTS.

environmental politics

Required Materials:

Writing Resources:

 Baseline Response to Course Inquiry Question:

Please conduct a basic Google Search and find different perspectives to the following inquiry question for our course: how can we measure individual contributions to ecological damage and provide adequate solutions to change paradigms of inaction particularly among those most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate?

Please turn in a typed reflection letter summarizing your findings and opinions sometime before the end of the course term.

Structured Learning Opportunities:

*Each assignment is worth ten points except for the in-class time 5 paragraph response and climate change reading template which are worth 5 points each (maximum 90 points).

 Pedagogy Responses:

  • 5 Paragraph timed “How do you sense the environment” in class response
  • Dr. Alvarez Blog assignment
  • In Class Assignment Reading Template: Climate Change Reading – Council on Foreign Relations
  • 5 Paragraph Photo-Essay to be submitted for peer review with citation to readings
  • Flood zone and political representative information response
  • Brain map – eco-lesson for kids
  • Eco-Fest documentation
  • 5 point outline: letter of advocacy to a decision-maker using rhetorical skills
  • Pop eco-culture response
  • Desertification rhetoric response
  • Extra Credit Alternative Spring Break: KCC Urban Farm and/or Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Field Research
  • Extra Credit Community Mapping Assignment

Assessment (grading):

Eco-Kids Lesson

Course Goals Letter: Typed, Printed, and Due at Final Exam

Letter of Advocacy + Read aloud or Video

Weekly Reflection Journal (or e-mail)

* I use a multi-method assessment process focused on you as an individual.  The more you participate in the teaching and learning process the easier it is to document your learning and achieve our course goals.  However, not all students learn the same way and I recognize that quality of work varies for different assignments and structured learning opportunities.  In short, we use a points system to document which assignments and in-class learning opportunities you were able to complete satisfactorily.  If you completed all the work and correctly completed the photo-essay, eco-kids lesson, and letter of advocacy you would have a total of 90 points or an A-.  Because I will be working with you directly I can differentiate target outcomes based on your academic and career interests and needs.  The course goals rubric helps you see what is expected of a college student in my class.  A “4” student is an “A” student, a “3” is a “B” student and a “2” is a “C’ student.  A “1” student has submitted work that needs revision before it can be considered.  For those of you concerned about GPA this would correspond as 4: A+,  3: B+ , 2:C.  The required final exam and related work provides opportunities for you to document these course goals.  Please feel free to email me or talk to me in class to help you fully understand this process.


Education Commentator, E.D. Hirsch Jr., argues that not all students enter the classroom with the same background contextual knowledge. Because some students are unaware of what the expectations of prior knowledge are many simply never catch up. In an effort to provide technological digital help try out the resources below if you want powerful tools that provide law and society answers from numerous sources and platforms.

Thomas Congressional Bill Search 

WNYC New York Public Radio 

the Guardian

BBC World News

the Economist

 Google Scholar


Cornell Legal Institute

Course Outline:

*It is consistent expectation that learners will have read the materials listed before the class meeting to be considered present.

Meeting One.  What is Climate Change?  What does it mean to be human? An evolutionists point of view in class assignment.

Environmental Politics is an odd term considering that most of nature cannot advocate in a political arena,  Climate change is one of those global challenges that has not natural advocate.  For those afraid and who feel powerless it can be someone else or something else that must and will solve it one way or the other.  For those stubbornly optimistic about global cooperation and the ability of humans to adapt to our individual and collective environments we critically analyze the laws, regulations, and agreements that attempt political solutions to growing real problems.

Opening Diagnostics: How do you sense the environment 5 paragraph essay response, critical judgment, primary source surveys.

Discussion: Introduction & Overview: Politics – War and Violence – the Environment; Does democratic thinking (tolerance, logical reasoning, and deliberation) require non-violence and ecological awareness?

Assignment: Read through Dr. Alvarez’ Ecology Blog, visit the websites for the New York Central Park Conservancy and New York Botanical Gardens, and write a short response about one thing you found interesting about each site and why.  Read the pedagogy response questions and add these to the bottom of your assignment.  You may type or hand-write this assignment.

Meeting Tw0.  What is Climate Change part 2.  Reading Template CFR Climate Change in class assignment and  Writing Workshop 1: How do we sense the environment photo-essays: brainstorming and drafting

 When learners discover the realities of our global and environmental challenges they sometimes have a difficult time locating their own role and agency in the process.  Following Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina we have seen very little change in political action or community preparation.  It is easy to get overwhelmed because this problem is a big challenge that cannot be fixed by one person, organization, or government.  It requires a lifestyle change.  When we think of our solidarity with others across the global who have to struggle through these environmental changes without modern technology or political systems we then should consider our individual choices as particular actions of our own choosing.  How we sense our environments in our daily life becomes critical.

Discussion: What is an immediate simple lifestyle change that all people should adopt in a given society or community?

Assignment: Beginning in our class meeting draft a five paragraph photo-essay that takes a narrative position as to how you “sense” the environment.  You should decide whether you want to response to a literal definition of sense (touch, see, smell, taste, hear) or a figurative definition (how you experience things or your world view).  You need to quote and cite to one of our required materials.  Please feel free to submit over email to for feedback and help.

Meeting Three.  Nature versus Chemistry in the media.  Radiolab Limits of Science.

 How much political power should we give away to science, technology, and more and more, entertainment and design (TED), when it comes to improving the human and natural condition?  This question is bound to arise when considering resiliency or adaptation to climate change.  Unfortunately those with the greatest access to technology and economic development are the least in need of these tools.  Review the flood map on WNYC and consider that the most vulnerable climate change communities are also those that are most underserved and underrepresented.  There is a huge disconnect from policymakers and low income communities who are barely prepared to respond let along prepare for the effects of climate change.

Discussion: How should a democracy which aims to be fair and just allocate resources to prepare and respond to climate change disasters?

 Assignment: What flood zone are you in?  Look up who your local council member is, your state legislator, and our US Senators: what information do they have about climate change?  What about economic development?  Please write a short response to what you find in this short research assignment.

Meeting Four.  Photo-Essay peer review and draft submission with selected visuals.

 My Eco-Urban partner and I went to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas this January.  We were lucky enough to get an interview and tour with one of the volunteers.  I will share a photo-essay I am working on as well as one that I worked on with last semester’s class to help model how to approach editing your final photo-essays.  Be sure to address at least one of the points on our course goals rubric and ask how your essay could be improved to communicate your main point and purpose.

Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

We will begin our field research study and after-school program development pilot with a basic eco-lesson about starting seeds.  My partner Jay and I designed this lesson and used it at PS 126 in the Lower East Side.  This lesson will get us started with our growing projects and will model how to approach lesson design for eco-education.  One of your final projects is to design and demonstrate your eco-lesson in the farm.

Assignment.  Please submit a “brain-map” showing your brainstorm and resource organization process in response to: what is an ecologically based 15 minute children’s lesson that should be made available to NYC school teachers?

“Alternative Spring Break”  at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and/or KCC Urban Farm lesson practice.  Please email me or speak to me in class if you are interested in these extra-credit research projects.

Meeting Five.  Constitutional Law and Environmental Politics: EPA v. Homer City

I argue that our out of date political systems, designed in the mental model of the Enlightenment, put to great an emphasis on economic rationalism.  As such, courts can only serve as referees in the political struggle between the economy and jobs on the one side, and the harmful effects of these activities on the other.  Put in context of the “commerce clause” there are a wide-array of activities Congress can regulate but the executive branch cannot enforce or monitor.  Changing paradigms of inaction may require redesigning our political systems.

Discussion:  If you could design a decision-making system for your house or apartment building that reduced energy use and ecological impact what are some basic provisions you would want first and foremost?

Assignment:  Document that you attended at least one event at Eco-Fest or volunteer to speak at our climate change and eco-education panel.

Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

Please join us at the KCC Urban Farm at 11:30 for the final hour of our class.  We will be learning how to plant seeds directly into our adopted raised bed.  We will be responsible for our bed and plants and we will harvest our work later this semester.  I encourage you to bring a notebook (or your reflection journal) and take pictures, sketch, draw, etc., as you work.  Our goal is to think about and document how we can teach others sustainable living.

Meeting Six: Eco-Fest

 Eco-Fest is a celebration of our collaborative efforts to create a sustainable world.

Assignment:  For our next class, read through the Kyoto Protocol and Rio Convention.  Be prepared to discuss why the trade and cap system is failing and what the Rio Convention tried to do to move forward with carbon emission reduction.

Meeting Seven.  (MAY 1) International Treaties, Laws, and Conventions.  Writing Workshop Two: Argumentation and Rhetorical skills.

Assignment: Draft a 5 point outline for your Letter of Advocacy.  Use your rhetorical skills, ethos, pathos, and logos for three of the points (either 1 each or a combination or three times on one) as well as an introduction and conclusion that restates your request.  Focus on a decision maker that has the power to make the change you are requesting.  Remember, many issues have an environmental or ecological impact.

Letter of Advocacy Workshop Materials

Rhetorics + Advocacy Workshop

Types of Counter-Arguments- Word

Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

Please visit the KCC Urban Farm after 11:30 for the final hour of our class.  You will need to maintain and document our adopted bed.  We will discuss how to stimulate and nurture growth next week.  You should google “fertilizer”, “compost”, and “permaculture” before or after this session to deepen your understanding.

Meeting Eight.  Popular Culture and Environmental change: Silent Spring, in-class Eating Animals assignment, and One Under-reported news story.

With an abundance of messages and a wide variety of people who attended last year’s “People’s Climate Change March” it can be difficult to identify what environmental issues have become a part of pop culture.  When we consider “going green” or review the litany of “green” advertising we must also reconsider those who have urged environmental action before it became a “hip” fad among the wealthy “fashionistas” and “foodies.”

Discussion:  Review the Silent Spring clip below and think about how we get our food today.  Do we know whether they derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO)?  Are there new more dangerous pesticides and fertilizers?  Does it matter?


  Assignment:  Look through environmental news stories on your favorite or accessible news source.  You may also consider Mother Jones, the Economist, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the Guardian as these all have environmental focused sections.  What story or stories do you feel are most underreported and why?

Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

Please join us at the KCC Urban Farm at 11:30 for the final hour of our class.  We will be learning how to transplant our indoor seedlings into our adopted raised bed.  We will be responsible for our bed and plants and we will harvest our work later this semester.  I encourage you to bring a notebook (or your reflection journal) and take pictures, sketch, draw, etc., as you work.  Our goal is to think about and document how we can teach others sustainable living.

Meeting Nine.* skip this assignment  Desertification and writing in preparation for academic publication and presentation.

When I collaborated with another student in a different environmental class in college I was surprised at how little I had learned about the reality of the politics of the environment.  My classmate provided hundreds of pages of information that clashed with my previously held beliefs about governmental regulations, enforcement, and laws.  I began to realize that systems are managed by individuals, all with different beliefs and ideas.  As we completed this joint paper I found myself learning most through our conversations and at times arguments.  This last step of writing, public sharing, is probably the most important if you think about it.  How would anyone know what was going on if we only wrote to ourselves?

Discussion:  How do we modernize this information for decision makers?

Assignment:  Please briefly respond to the following after reading the Desertification Paper: how do I use ethos, pathos, and logos to present the argument that business first strategies are not effective environmental approaches and how can you use the same tools in your letter of advocacy?

Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

Please join us at the KCC Urban Farm at 11:30 for the final hour of our class.  We will be maintaining and documenting our adopted beds.

Meeting Ten.  KCC Urban Farm check-in and Post-Malthusian theory.

Bounded rationality is a political science theoretical framework that applies learning from neurology and behavioral sciences to the decision making process.  In short, our political systems are disconnected from how we actually make decisions and tend to be biased toward short term benefits, emotion over rational thinking, and a set of shortcuts we develop in every aspect of our life when we don’t have enough time, information, or otherwise “computing power” to make complicated decisions.

 The tragedy of the commons, where each individual looks after her own interest, can be overcome through specific adaptations in our created system, usually using computers or other technology.  Specifically humans needs to be able to communicate to first construct a problem space where each member can arrive at an understanding before arriving at a solution.  There also needs to be an agreement among members that they will keep promises and punish promise breakers.

A philosopher, theologian, and political commentator Thomas Robert Malthus argued that when the population increased beyond sustainability humans would be ravaged with terrible disease, food shortages, and conflict (war) over natural resources.  Today we see the direct evidence of this population growth problem but most academic scholars and policy makers understand that we could live in a post-Malthusian world, meaning if we could address bounded rationality, overcome the tragedy of the commons, and create sustainable living systems, population growth and access to resources could be managed peacefully.

Discussion:  Even if not cool, how can we make science education more popular among young people in an ever crowding media driven information system?

 Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

Please join us at the KCC Urban Farm at 11:30 for the final hour of our class.  We will be maintaining and documenting our adopted beds.

Meeting Eleven.  Final Exam June 12 at 8:30.  Civic Engagement on the Campus:  Sharing our children’s structured learning opportunities at the farm.

From the first day we have wondered how we can model decision making and lifestyle change at a small scale in order to understand the enormous challenges governments have in managing political change to confront urgent climate change problems.  Second only to war/violence climate change is the most pressing issue facing our generation and children.  If we want to seriously make environmental political changes we must move beyond the frame of business or ecology and begin to build on the knowledge gained by previous generations, including our global immigrant populations that have often confronted climate change in their home countries.

Civic Engagement on the Campus: KCC URBAN FARM Bed Demonstration Site

Please join us at the KCC Urban Farm at 11:30 for the final hour of our class.  We will be presenting our eco-lessons and begin enjoying our harvest or the “fruits of our labor”!

Exam Preparation.  Read Letter of Advocacy or submit video.  Turn in reflective weekly journal or email.

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