Elective Courses

Students in the MA in Climate and Society must take a minimum of four graduate level elective courses (one social science and three general electives) for a total of 12 credits. These electives can be taken at any of the graduate schools across the Columbia campus provided they allow cross-registration.

Below is a sample of elective classes. It should be noted that the following electives are not offered every semester, nor is this a comprehensive list of available electives.

Prospective students can also search for courses on Vergil, Columbia's course directory. Courses with course codes of 4000 and above are graduate level courses. 

A Sample of Elective Courses

This course begins with an overview of the causes and effects of global climate change and the methods available to control and adapt to it. We will then examine the negotiation, implementation and current status of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. In the context of an administration that has expressed skepticism about climate change and is working to repeal many of the greenhouse gas regulations adopted during the Obama administration, the focus will then turn to the past and proposed actions of the U.S. Congress, the executive branch and the courts, as well as regional, state and municipal efforts. The Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act will receive special attention, as will the authority of the administration to reverse prior policy, and the legal modes available for resistance. We will evaluate the various legal tools that are available to address climate change, including cap-and-trade schemes; carbon taxation; command-and-control regulation; litigation; and securities disclosures. The roles of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, carbon capture and sequestration, and forestry and agriculture will each receive close attention.  Implications for international human rights, international trade, environmental justice, and international and intergenerational equity will be discussed. The course will conclude with examination of proposals for adaptation and geoengineering. 

This course focuses on the finance and market aspects of the clean energy economy, and integrates technology, policy and finance to evaluate both the opportunities and challenges. There is a focus on renewable energy generation, as mass electrification using clean generation sources is necessary to sustain our energy-dependent lives and economies. The course also looks at energy efficiency, including specific end-uses of energy that are responsible for the majority of emissions (e.g., personal vehicles, buildings). Throughout the course, finance will be analyzed as a barrier to, or enabler of, greater adoption of clean energy

In August 2016, a working group of the International Geological Congress voted to acknowledge a new geological epoch, following 11,700 years of the Holocene, and that it would be called The Anthropocene. The announcement indicated a new era in the earth’s chronology marked by the consequences of human activity on the planet’s ecosystems. Closely related to discussions of sustainability, investigations into the Anthropocene tend to focus on environmental and ecological issues while ignoring its social justice dimensions. This course will investigate how Human Rights has and will be impacted by the Anthropocene, with special attention paid to the human dimensions and consequences of anthropogenic change. Do new and troubling revelations about anthropogenic mistreatment of the earth and its resources modify or amplify the kinds of responsibilities that govern activity between individuals and communities? How do we scale the human response from the urban, to the periurban, to the rural? How must the study of Human Rights evolve to address violence and mistreatment associated not just among humans but also amid human habitats? What sorts of juridical changes must occur to recognize and respond to new manifestations of social injustice that relate directly to consequences of anthropogenic changes to the Earth system? Topics will include discussions of the Environmental Justice movement, agribusiness, access to (and allocation of) natural resources, population growth; its global impact, advocacy for stronger and more accountability through environmental legal change, biodiversity in urban environments, and the growing category of environmental refugees.

For much of recent history, climate change policy has focused on mitigation. Reducing emissions and shifting our energy sources away from fossil fuels, for example, are actions that could slow the pace of climate change. But since human populations are vulnerable to baseline climate, and the climate is already changing, policy-makers have also begun to address adaptation. This course will explore dimensions of climate adaptation across sectors and scales. With a thematic focus on pervasive global inequities, students will also consider challenges associated with international development and disaster risk management. An inter-disciplinary framework will enrich the course, and students will learn about perspectives from the natural sciences, law, architecture, anthropology, humanitarian aid, and public policy.

The course aims to explore sea level changes that take place over a wide variety of timescales and are the result of multiple solid Earth and climatic processes. The course will link a series of solid Earth processes such as mantle convection, viscoelastic deformation, and plate tectonics to the paleoclimate record and investigate how these processes contribute to our understanding of past and present changes in sea level and climate. The course will step chronologically through time starting with long term sea level changes over the Phanerozoic, followed by Plio-Pleistocene ice age sea level variations and lastly modern and future sea level change. This is a cross-disciplinary course, which is aimed at students with interests in geophysics, cryosphere evolution, ocean dynamics, sedimentology, paleogeography, and past and present climate.