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Introduction to Sustainability Studies (STS 363/H)

Program in Science, Technology, and Society

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Fall 2017


Organizational Details

Instructor: Dr. Maurie Cohen

Time: Tuesdays, 6‒9pm

Room: Kupfrian 204

Course Website: http://moodle.njit.edu


Office Location: Cullimore 427

Office Hours: Tuesdays, Noon–2pm and by appointment

Telephone: 973.596.5281

E-mail: mcohen@njit.edu

Personal Website: https://mauriecohen.net/



Over the past three decades, the pursuit of sustainable development has become a prominent objective for many policy makers concerned with issues at the intersection of society, economy, and environment. The international community has created new institutions to foster sustainability and reoriented the focus of existing organizations. At the local level, there have been numerous initiatives implemented to facilitate more sustainable land-use practices and businesses have taken incremental steps to reduce the adverse impacts of their operations. Despite this progress, sustainable development remains an ill-defined (perhaps even elusive) concept and evidence of unambiguous achievements—especially in the United States—can be difficult to ascertain. Moreover, developed and developing countries have formulated largely different (and potentially incompatible) agendas with which to engage with the notion of sustainability. Large countries with emergent economies, most notably China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, pose especially vexing dilemmas. This course devotes primary attention to the challenges that sustainable development holds for affluent countries (the so-called G-20; see http://www.g20.org). We examine the intellectual roots of the concept and explore why it has become a central feature of international politics and policy planning in such a relatively short period of time. Of additional interest is how the sustainability agenda is likely to evolve over the next few decades given the onset of anthropogenic climate change and increasingly pervasive biophysical constraints on economic growth.


Required Readings

Mulligan, Martin. 2015. An Introduction to Sustainability: Environment, Social, and Personal Perspectives. New York: Routledge (available in paperback; ISBN 0415706445)

McDonough, William and Michael Braungart. 2013. The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance. New York: North Point Press (available in paperback; ISBN 0865477485).

Jackson, Tim. 2009. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet. London: Earthscan [available in both hardback (ISBN 9781849713238) and paperback (ISBN 9781844078943) and at http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications.php?id=914].


Other readings and multimedia presentations will be available via the course website (http://moodle.njit.edu). Items are organized in weekly folders and can be viewed online or saved to your computer.



The evaluation of student performance is comprised of four components. Since the course will be conducted in accordance with a seminar format, attendance and participation are especially important.


  1. Class Attendance (15%): Students are expected to attend each class session. You will be required to sign a weekly attendance sheet and late arrival (more than twenty minutes) will be treated as an absence. Each student will be granted two “free absences” during the semester; every subsequent absence will mean a full letter-grade reduction in the attendance portion of your final grade (i.e., three absences is a B, four absences is a C, and so forth).


  1. Class Participation (25%): All students are encouraged to engage actively in class discussions by offering comments, posing questions, and demonstrating familiarity with the course material. At regular intervals throughout the semester students will be provided with a performance update on class participation.


  1. Midterm Exam (30%): The midterm is intended to be a “synthesizing experience.” As such, I will provide an article one week in advance that integrates across the various themes covered during the first half of the semester. On the day of the midterm, I will then give you several questions and you will have the full class session to write your responses (bring your own laptop!). While working on the midterm you will be able to freely consult all course materials including lecture notes, required readings, and multimedia presentations.


  1. Final Exam (30%): The final exam will use the same format described above for the midterm though the scope of the assignment will span the full semester.


Important Notices

Students enrolled in this course are forewarned that the consequences of plagiarism or academic misconduct of any kind are severe. Violations will be handled in accordance with the rules outlined in the University Code on Academic Integrity. If you are unfamiliar with these procedures, refer to https://www5.njit.edu/doss/policies/conductcode/index.php.


Final grades are not subject to post-semester adjustment—with the exception of the change of a grading error. Under no circumstances will students be given the opportunity to complete extra-credit papers or other assignments to bolster their final grades.


Course Schedule


Week 1 (September 5): Conceptual and Scientific Foundations of Sustainability


Editorial. 2008. Earthstruck. The New York Times, 24 December.

Morton, Oliver. 2008. Not-so-lonely planet. The New York Times, 24 December.

Zimmer, Carl. 2009. Provocative new study warns of crossing planetary boundaries. Yale Environment 360.

Rockström, Johan. 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461(24):472–475.

McKibben, Bill. 2009. A timely reminder of the real limits to growth. Yale Environment 360.


Week 2 (September 12): International Politics and Institutions


Mulligan, An Introduction to Sustainability, Chapters 1, 2, and 4.


Week 3 (September 19): Are We There Yet? Measuring Sustainability


Mulligan, An Introduction to Sustainability, Chapters 8 and 12.


Week 4 (September 26): Sustainability and Technoscience I—The Theory and Practice of Ecological Modernization


Kolbert, Elizabeth. 2007. Mr. Green: environmentalism’s most optimistic guru. The New Yorker, January 22.

Lovins, Amory, L. Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawken. 1999. A road map for natural capitalism. Harvard Business Review, May‒June, pp. 145–158.

Nijhuis, Michelle. 2015. Is the “Ecomodernist Manifesto” the future of environmentalism. The New Yorker, 2 June.

Breakthrough Institute. 2015. An Ecomodernist Manifesto. Oakland, CA: Breakthrough Institute.


Week 5 (October 3)­: Sustainability and Technoscience II: Industrial Ecology and Earth Systems Engineering


Mulligan, An Introduction to Sustainability, Chapters 5 and 16.

Frosch, Robert. 1995. Industrial ecology: adapting technology for a sustainable world. Environment 37(10):16–28+34.

Specter, Michael. 2012. The climate fixers: Is there a technological solution to global warming? The New Yorker, 14 May.


Week 6 (October 10): Sustainability and Technoscience III: Architecture and Design


McDonough, William and Michael Braungart, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance.


Week 7 (October 17): Sustainability and the Limits of Techoscientific Innovation


Huesemann, Michael. 2015. Why technology can’t save us. IFG Teach-in on Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth (see also the video version of the text at http://www.ratical.org/ratville/AoS/MHuesemann102514.html).

Zehner, Ozzie. 2014. Unclean at any speed. IEEE Spectrum, 30 June.

Owen, David. 2010. The efficiency dilemma. The New Yorker, 20 December.

Mulligan, An Introduction to Sustainability, Chapters 10 and 11.


Week 8 (October 24): Midterm Exam


Week 9 (October 31): Gross Domestic Product and its Flaws


Mulligan, An Introduction to Sustainability, Chapter 9.

Clifford Cobb, Ted Halstead, and Jonathan Rowe. 1995. If the GDP is up, why is America down? The Atlantic, October.

Gertner, Jon. 2010. The rise and fall of the GDP. The New York Times Magazine, 13 May.


Week 10 (November 7): Is a Steady-State Economy Possible…Inevitable?


Mulligan, An Introduction to Sustainability, Chapter 6.

Wolf, Martin. 2012. Is unlimited growth a thing of the past? Financial Times, 2 October.

Gordon, R. 2012. Is economic growth over? Faltering innovation confronts the six headwinds. Center for Economic Policy Research, Policy Insight #63.

Speth, James Gustave. 2008. Modern capitalism: out of control, pp. 46–66 in The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Week 11 (November 14): Toward Sustainable Consumption and Lifestyles


Assadourian, Erik. 2013. Re-engineering cultures to create a sustainable civilization, pp. 113–125 in State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Maniates, Michael. 2002. Individualization: plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world? pp. 43–66 in Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates, and Ken Conca, Eds. Confronting Consumption. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


November 21: No class: Thursday schedule in effect


Week 12 (November 28): New Politics of Progress I


Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth, pp. 1–102.


Week 13 (December 5): New Politics of Progress II


Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth, pp. 103–207.


Week 14 (December 12): Forecasting the Future and Designing Pathways for Sustainability Transitions


Raskin, Paul, Tariq Banuri, Gilberto Gallopín, Pablo Gutman, Al Hammond, Robert Kates, and Rob Swart. 2002. Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead. Boston: Stockholm Environmental Institute and Tellus Institute (downloadable at http://www.tellus.org or via Moodle).


Final Exam as Scheduled