Environmental Science/Public Policy Major | Duke Kunshan University

Environmental Science/Public Policy

China and many other countries in the world face environmental challenges including heavy air pollution, decreasing water quality, desertification, loss of natural areas and biodiversity, and social and environmental problems. Addressing these challenges requires interdisciplinary training to develop an understanding of the complex interactions between our environment and human society. The Public Policy track in Environmental Science provides specific additional training in broad policy skills and methods.

Career Path

Graduates can enter professions in environment, policy, and renewable energy with employers including non-governmental organizations, government agencies, consulting companies, research institutions, and universities. Some will also choose to pursue graduate study.

Environmental Science/Public Policy

The pressing needs for sustainable development and acceptable environmental quality are placing increasing demands upon governments and industries locally, nationally, and worldwide. To help meet those demands, the Environmental Science program is designed to provide training for students intending to enter environmental professions or to pursue graduate study in environmental science and related fields such as chemistry, public health, law, and policy. The Environmental Science major offers an interdisciplinary course of study that combines elements of the natural and social sciences relevant to understanding the biosphere and its interaction with human society. In order to appreciate and explore more deeply the effects of natural and human-induced processes, and the interactions of the physical components of the planet on the environment, students will take courses that lay the foundations for them to engage in careers that will allow them to influence environmental science and policy and to improve human and environmental health.

The Environmental Science major includes both coursework and experiential learning about the underlying science, and the social, political, legal and economic factors that both encourage and hinder environmental cooperation and competition around the world. All students pursuing this major must complete a set required Divisional Foundational courses that provide the required background and fundamentals in the discipline essential to advanced work in the major. The major includes a set of five required interdisciplinary courses (four set courses plus one to choose from a list of two courses) which provide a well-rounded, in-depth examination of environmental science and policy issues. In addition to the foundational and interdisciplinary and disciplinary requirements, students also have the choice of a number of elective courses that provide flexibility to add depth in their specific field of study, and/or explore other subject matters as they see fit.

The Public Policy track is designed for students most interested in the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of environmental sciences. The track provides a healthy balance between basic sciences and public policy aspects to prepare graduates for translating this knowledge into meaningful action and innovative policy solutions.

This major also has a track in Chemistry. Please see details on the chemistry track under Environmental Science/Chemistry.

Major Requirements

(Not every course listed is offered every semester, and the course list will be updated periodically. Please refer to the online Course Catalog for Courses offered in 2019-2020.)

Divisional Foundation Courses

Option 1: only applicable to Class of 2022 who have taken INTGSCI 101

Course Code Course Name Course Credit
MATH 101 Calculus (was Mathematical Foundations 1) 4
SOSC 101 Foundational Questions in Social Science 4
SOSC 102 Introduction to Research Methods 4
INTGSCI 101 Integrated Science 1 4

Option 2: Applicable to Class of 2023 and any student who has not taken INTGSCI 101

Course Code Course Name Course Credit
MATH 101 Calculus (was Mathematical Foundations 1) 4
SOSC 101 Foundational Questions in Social Science 4
SOSC 102 Introduction to Research Methods 4
BIOL 110 Integrated Science – Biology 4
CHEM 110 Integrated Science – Chemistry 4

Interdisciplinary Courses

Course Code Course Name Course Credit
ENVIR 101 Introduction to Environmental Sciences 4
ENVIR 102 Dynamic Earth and Oceans: Physical and Biological Sciences for the Environment 4
ENVIR 201 Applied Environmental Science and Policy 4
ENVIR 301 International Environmental Policy 4
And choose one course from the following three courses
ENVIR 202 Biodiversity and Conservation 4
ENVIR 302/ECON 302 Environmental Economics 4
ENVIR 404/ECON 404 Environmental Justice: The Economics of Race, Place and Pollution 4

Disciplinary Courses

Course Code Course Name Course Credit
PUBPOL 101 Introduction to Policy Analysis 4
PUBPOL 301 Political Analysis for Public Policy 4
PUBPOL 303 Policy Choice as Value Conflict 4
And choose one course from the following two courses
STATS 101 Introduction to Statistical Methods 4
MATH 205 Probability and Statistics (was Mathematical Foundations 3) 4
And choose one course from the following two courses
PUBPOL 304 Microeconomic Policy Tools 4
ECON 201 Intermediate Microeconomics I 4


Students can choose the recommended electives in the major or select other courses in different divisions as electives. The course list will be updated periodically.

Course Code Course Name Course Credit
PUBPOL 201 Climate Change Law and Policy 4
PUBPOL 202 Global Disasters: Science and Policy 4
ENVIR 203 The Theory and Practice of Sustainability 4
ENVIR 204 Global Environmental Issues and Policies 4
PUBPOL 209 The Politics of Environmental Crises 4
ENVIR 303 Climate Change and Society in China 4
ENVIR 305 Environment and Development Economics in Developing Countries 4
ENVIR 403 Energy Economics and Policy 4

Career Path

Graduates can enter professions in environment, policy, and renewable energy with employers including non-governmental organizations, government agencies, consulting companies, research institutions, universities and others. Some will also choose to pursue graduate study in environment, public policy, laws and other areas.

Mathematical Foundations 1

The fundamental concepts and tools of calculus, probability, and linear algebra are essential to modern sciences, from the theories of physics and chemistry that have long been tightly coupled to mathematical ideas, to the collection and analysis of data on complex biological systems. Given the emerging technologies for collecting and sharing large data sets, some familiarity with computational and statistical methods is now also essential for modeling biological and physical systems and interpreting experimental results. MF1 is an introduction to differential and integral calculus that focuses on the concepts necessary for understanding the meaning of differential equations and their solutions. It includes an introduction to a software package for numerical solution of ordinary differential equations.

Integrated Science 1

This course focuses on the concept of energy and its relevance for explaining the behavior of natural systems. The conservation of energy and the transformations of energy from one form to another are crucial to the function of all systems, including familiar mechanical devices, molecular structures and reactions, and living organisms and ecosystems. By integrating perspectives from physics, chemistry, and biology, this course helps students see both the elegant simplicity of universal laws governing all physical systems and the intricate mechanisms at play in the biosphere. Topics include kinetic energy, potential energy, quantization of energy, energy conservation, cosmological and ecological processes.

Foundational Questions in Social Science

People everywhere ponder and debate fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human? How is society to be ordered? What is a moral life? Our ancestors asked such questions as well: it is likely that those questions lie at the origins of humanity itself. They also provide the foundations for much of the most important research in the social sciences today. This course examines the ways in which social scientists from a diversity of disciplines approach these fundamental questions. Study material for the course will include foundational texts from across the social sciences, as well as cutting-edge research from the present day. This course will not attempt to answer these vast questions, or provide neat solutions for students: rather, we want to excite students about the social sciences and whet their appetites for further study.

Introduction to Research Methods

This course provides students with an understanding of research designs and research methods used in the social sciences. Students will learn about the scientific method, research methods and design, measurement, and ethical issues. Topics include quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as mixed methods.

Introduction to Environmental Sciences

An introduction to the study of environmental sciences and policy through exploration of basic environmental principles in the life, physical, and social sciences. Emphasis on understanding how the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere function, and how these spheres interact with human consumption, production, and technological patterns and processes. The course includes field trips to local sites as relevant.

Applied Environmental Science and Policy

An examination of the interactions between the natural and the social systems as they relate to the environment. Focuses on ecological and earth system cycles, processes, and fundamental relationships, the environmental impact of human-induced change at the local, regional, and global levels. The role of technology and the policy process in determining how environmental problems evolve are addressed. Students will make use of ethical analysis to evaluate environmental tradeoffs, use case studies to integrate multiple disciplinary perspectives on environmental problems and to address issues of environmental justice.

International Environmental Policy

This course examines the international community’s responses to various global environmental problems. Because many environmental problems cross national borders, solutions require some form of global governance such as state-led mechanisms in the form of international environmental regimes. The course will thus explore how and why states both succeed and fail to negotiate international governance mechanisms. The course will also examine why some international environmental regimes are more effective than others and why states choose to comply with environmental regimes.

Dynamic Earth and Oceans: Physical and Biological Sciences for the Environment

Introduction to the dynamic processes that shape the Earth, the oceans, and the environment and their impact upon society. Earth science topics include volcanoes, earthquakes, seafloor spreading, floods, landslides, groundwater, seashores and geohazards. Ocean sciences topics include seafloor evolution, marine hazards, ocean currents and climate, waves and beach erosion, tides, hurricanes/cyclones, marine life and ecosystems, and marine resources. Emphasis on the formulation and testing of hypotheses, quantitative assessment of data, and technological developments that lead to understanding of the biosphere dynamics and associated current and future societal issues.

Biodiversity and Conservation

An overview of biological diversity, its patterns, and the current extinction crisis. Historical and theoretical foundations of conservation, from human values and law to criteria and frameworks for setting conservation priorities; island biogeography theory, landscape ecology, and socioeconomic considerations in reserve design; management of endangered species in the wild and in captivity; managing protected areas for long term viability of populations; the role of the landscape matrix around protected areas; and techniques for conserving biological diversity in semi-wild productive ecosystems such as forests.

Environmental Economics

The role of the environment in the theory and practice of economics. Topics include ways in which markets fail to efficiently allocate resources in the presence of pollution, along with the array of policies regulators used to correct those failures; the empirical techniques used by economists to put values on environmental commodities; and an examination of questions related to everyday environmental issues, particularly those confronting China, and the developing world.

Environmental Justice: The Economics of Race, Place and Pollution

Minorities and low-income households bear a disproportionate burden from environmental pollution. The inequality may happen in many countries, cultures and contexts. This course examines ways in which environmental injustices in the USA, China and in the world may arise out of discriminatory behavior and/or market forces founded on individual, firm, and government incentives. The course also analyses policies that are aimed at providing fair treatment and equal protection from pollution regardless of race, color, or income. The course first sets the theoretical framework used to document and explain disproportionate exposures. Based on this foundation, students then review existing empirical evidence through case studies and evaluate competing explanations of sources of injustice. The objective of this course is to enable students to examine environmental justice issues using an economics framework, which provides a different perspective for evaluating policies to address environmental inequities observed in today’s world.

Introduction to Policy Analysis

Basic concepts of analytical thinking including quantitative methods for assessing the probabilities of outcomes and appraising policy alternatives. Illustrated by problems faced by busy decision makers in government, business, law, medicine.

Political Analysis for Public Policy

Analysis of the political and organizational processes which influence the formulation and implementation of public policy. Alternative models.

Introduction to Statistical Methods

This course covers techniques for organizing data, computing, and interpreting measures of central tendency, variability, and association. Estimation, confidence intervals, tests of hypotheses, t-tests, correlation, and regression. Possible topics: analysis of variance and chi-square tests, computer statistical packages.

Policy Choice as Value Conflict

Public policy should be informed by evidence and facts, but it cannot be determined by them. People disagree about public policy not only because they disagree about empirical matters but also because they hold different understandings of familiar political concepts and they assign different weightings to competing political values. This course aims both to illustrate these general propositions and, more importantly, to introduce the tools and techniques with which one can construct and critique reasoned arguments about the political concepts and values that underpin policy choice. The course will be divided into four sections, each of which focuses on a set of contemporary policy disputes whose resolution depends upon clarifying and justifying our understanding of an underlying political concept and its associated values. The four concepts whose policy implications we shall explore are: democracy, justice, liberty, and rights. Readings are mostly works of contemporary political philosophy.

Microeconomic Policy Tools

Development and application of analytical economic tools in a policy environment. Emphasis on application of economic methods in a variety of policy settings and developing testable hypotheses that might be used to guide economic policy. Analytical topics include willingness to pay, derived demand, multi-market interactions, comparative advantage, investment analysis, and decision making under uncertainty. Applications include tax analysis, including incidence, effective protection, shadow pricing, introduction to government expenditures, labor market policy, examples of regulation and pricing externalities.

Intermediate Microeconomics I

Introduction of the concepts of preferences and technologies. Intermediate development of the theory of demand, supply and competitive equilibrium from individual preferences and technologies. Income and substitution effects, uncompensated demand and marginal willingness to pay. Conditions under which competitive markets result in efficient outcomes. Conditions under which government policy has the potential to increase efficiency. Tension between economic efficiency and different notions of equity.

Climate Change and Society in China

Analysis of Earth’s climate history and links between climate and society in China, as well as physical climatology and the future climate in China. Topics include: global climate system, climate feedbacks, energy balance, basic circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, hydrological cycle and carbon cycle, paleoclimate reconstruction, record of natural variations of past climate with emphasis on past changes of monsoon rainfall reconstructed from paleoclimate archives for the past, extrinsic forcing mechanisms of observed paleoclimatic variations. The impact of climate variability and change on Chinese society and history will be discussed.

The Theory and Practice of Sustainability

Theories and practices of sustainability explored with application to the campus and local community environment, including economic, social and environmental factors, and a local to global reach. The Duke and Duke Kunshan campuses are used as case studies to illustrate institutional practices including building design and operations, utility supply and consumption, carbon offsets design and calculation, transportation, water, sustainability education and communication, behavior change, waste production and recycling, and procurement. In a service-learning project, students will perform sustainability inventories and cost/benefit analyses, and gather behavior change data.

Global Disasters: Science and Policy

In this interdisciplinary course, students will examine the multifaceted aspects of "global" disasters. The first segment of the course will examine the science behind the disasters, discuss the range of meteorologic, hydrologic and geologic factors that cause disasters; explore how societies plan for and/or respond to the immediate and long-term physical, social, emotional and spiritual issues associated with survival; and present case studies of response, recovery and reconstruction efforts. In the second phase of the course, some of the most pressing and rapidly evolving economic calamities will be addressed. In the third segment of the course, the focus will shift to political "disasters" and how natural and/or economic events can destabilize a political system. Students will attend the lecture and labs components of the course and complete on-line quizzes to demonstrate understanding of the material presented. Additionally, they will prepare one research paper on a relevant topic, the results of which will be presented to the class.

Climate Change Law and Policy

Integrated scientific background for the impact of humans on the natural environment. Topics covered include greenhouse gases and climate, local and regional ozone pollution, long-range pollution transport, acid rain, atmospheric particulate matter pollution, and stratospheric ozone depletion. Course will cover different policy instruments used to address climate change including legal regime, cap-and-trade schemes, emissions taxes, allowance trading, regulatory tools at different spatial scale (local, regional, national, global). Adaptation to climate change and geoengineering will also be examined.

Environment and Development Economics in Developing Countries

Course will focus on the major challenges developing countries face in balancing environmental management and economic growth. Class will use economic analyses to examine these challenges and to devise policy solutions, especially given that developing countries often have weak institutional capacity and fewer financial resources to cope with environmental pollution.

Energy Economics and Policy

This course examines the economics of markets and policies for different energy supply sources (such as petroleum, coal, natural gas, electricity, renewables, nuclear), energy demand and efficiency, and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the economy and environment. We will explore rationales for why markets for energy and energy-using technologies have historically been subject to extensive government intervention. Other topics include markets for energy and energy-using technologies, energy price regulation, and energy security.