Concentrating On and In the Environment


The proposed Environmental Science and Public Policy (ESPP) concentration has been the subject of much debate this year. Recently, with the faculty members and deans repeatedly discussing the outline, it seems the concentration is now on the fast track to being approved--well, at least in terms of Harvard's administrative velocity.

The concentration needs approval from three committees before being institutionalized--the Educational Policy Council, the Faculty Council and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Educational Policy Council overwhelmingly supported its administrative and financial structure recently.

The Faculty Council is in the process of seriously debating the specifics of ESPP's requirements. Its members will be meeting for the third time on this issue next week. We expect the vote to be approved at this time. In addition, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had a chance to comment on November 10, the day before the final vote by the Council. Why has the concentration been passed around like a hot potato?

It is not really a question of content anymore. But since the concentration is so interdisciplinary, everyone just wants a chance to say his or her schpeil.

So the commenters, many of whom are brand new to the debate, waste time asking questions that have already been fully addressed. Two questions have risen to the top: is the Concentration specific enough, and, on the other hand, is it broad enough?


Although the casual observer often comes to this conclusion, his or her response shows that the individual has missed the point of ESPP. And it shows the Concentration is both broad and deep enough.

The Concentration is flexible. Strong enough to require a student to have a general, interdisciplinary knowledge of environmental issues, yet it also directs a student towards one specific topic. Except now he or she is not limited to covering that topic from one discipline. The concentrator addresses the issue being able to integrate science with policy.

From personal experience as a participant in the new ESPP junior tutorial, I am witnessing the fact that this major effectively integrates natural and social sciences in a coherent, practical and informative manner.

In support of the breadth debate, consider its requirements--everyone in ESPP must take two biology courses, two math, at least two chemistry including a semester of organic, two earth and planetary sciences, two government, Social Analysis 10, Historical Studies A-12, and two semesters of a junior tutorial. That's essentially all the requirements pre-meds need to fill!

For years now, the faculty joined last year by students have worked together to construct a thoughtful, sound concentration. We honestly feel that it is the best outline possible given the already existing courses at Harvard and at nearby universities.

We now have the support of the concentration from the White House. When Vice President-elect Al Gore '69 lectured here last spring, he supported the ESPP proposal. In fact, he held up the students' outline during his talk.

Environmental professions require a working knowledge of many fields. Gore, for example, obviously has read and discussed environmental issues with everyone from economists to scientists. The goal of an environmentalist is, in fact, to unite specialists in all areas to find long-term solutions to our environmental problems.

Only now is he qualified to make environmental policy decisions. He now longer needs to take the word of special interest groups and PACs because he already knows or has access to the same information. Sadly, environmental expertise is sorely lacking in Congress.

The depth of the concentration follows the similar philosophy of a major that already exists, Social Studies. Its structure employs an multi-faceted approach in its thesis. The thesis focuses on one specific topic, and the student analyzes it from the view point of opposing social scientists. If this idea is appropriate for the very broad subject of Social Studies, it is even more so for ESPP.

Similarly, after or in conjunction with completing the aforementioned "pre-requisites," the ESPP student would then hone in on a specific aspect of environmental concern. One may study the relationship between United States policy and rain forest depletion. This student's remaining concentration credits would approach this issue.