Environmental Science and Public Policy

Professor Michael B. McElroy, Head Tutor

The concentration in Environmental Science and Public Policy (ESPP) is designed to provide a multidisciplinary introduction to current problems of the environment. It is founded on the premise that the ability to form rational judgments concerning many of the complex challenges confronting society today involving the environment requires both an understanding of the underlying scientific and technical issues and an appreciation for the relevant economic, political, legal, historical, and ethical dimensions. It offers students an opportunity to specialize in a specific area of either natural or social science relating to the environment. All students have to satisfy a core of requirements in biology, chemistry, earth and planetary sciences, economics, government, and mathematics. Depending on preparation, students are encouraged to substitute more advanced courses for those required and take elective courses in their main area of interest.

Students in the junior year take one of several seminars envisaged as a central integrating component of the concentration. The seminars cover a number of current environmental issues, comprehensively and in depth. They involve students and faculty from a number of departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and from several of the professional schools, including the Kennedy School of Government, the Medical School, and the Graduate School of Design. Topics covered change from year to year, but have included policy issues relating to depletion of stratospheric ozone, conservation of wetlands, ecology and land use, environmental justice, conservation and biodiversity, and global change and human health.

In the senior year, students wishing to be considered for honors are expected to write a thesis applying skills and knowledge gained in their course and tutorial experience to a specific environmental issue.

The concentration is overseen by a Committee on Degrees functioning as a board of tutors including representatives from other departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and from other Schools as appropriate to ensure the requisite breadth of the program.

Basic Requirements: 16 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. Environmental Science and Public Policy 10.

    2. Two half-courses in biology:

      1. One chosen from: Organismic and Evolutionary Biology 10, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology 53, Life Sciences 1a, or Life Sciences 1b.

      2. Organismic and Evolutionary Biology 55.

      3. Students with Biology Advanced Placement credit may petition to be exempted from one of the introductory level biological sciences courses by substituting a suitable higher level course.

    3. Two half-courses in mathematics or statistics to be chosen from Mathematics 1a and 1b; Mathematics 1b plus Mathematics 19a, 20 or 21a; Mathematics 1b plus Statistics 100 or 102; Mathematics 1b plus Applied Mathematics 21a; Mathematics 19 plus Statistics 100 or 102; Mathematics 19a and 19b; Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b; or Mathematics 21a and 21b.

    4. Physical Sciences 1.

    5. An advanced course in the physical sciences, one chosen from Chemistry 17, Chemistry 20, or Engineering Sciences 164, or Physics 11a plus Physics 11b.

    6. Two half-courses in environmental science/engineering: Earth and Planetary Sciences 5 and either Earth and Planetary Sciences 7, Earth and Planetary Sciences 8, or Engineering Sciences 6.

    7. Two half-courses in economics: one half-course in microeconomics (e.g., Social Analysis 10a) and Economics 1661. Students may satisfy the microeconomics requirement by taking Social Analysis 10, a full course. The course may be divided with credit, in which case students may use the first term to satisfy the requirement. The second term of Social Analysis 10 may count as an elective within ESPP.

    8. ESPP 78.

    9. One half-course junior seminar, ESPP 90.

    10. Additional half-courses approved by the concentration to reach a total of 16 half-courses (see items 5a and 5b).

  2. Tutorials: Junior year, ESPP 90 seminar required of all concentrators.

  3. Thesis: None.

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. Students applying for the concentration are required to submit a short essay indicating why this concentration suits their interests and career plans. Concentrators are required to formulate plans of study designed to comply with the concentration requirements, to indicate when the courses will be taken without time conflicts and to identify elective courses that will provide in-depth understanding of a particular area of environmental science and/or policy. Study plans are established in consultation with and approved by the head tutor. Thereafter, study plans are reviewed and approved by the student’s concentration adviser.

    2. A list of courses judged of particular relevance for Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrators that may be chosen as electives is available from the head tutor. Other courses may be substituted by petition to the Committee on Degrees in Environmental Science and Public Policy.

    3. Pass/Fail: One elective course may be taken Pass/Fail.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 17 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

  2.       a-i. Same as Basic Requirements.

    1. ESPP 99r (one term).

    2. Additional half-courses approved by the concentration to reach a total of seventeen half-courses (see items 5a-c in Basic Requirements).

  3. Tutorials:

    1. Junior year: ESPP 90 seminar required of all concentrators.

    2. Senior year: ESPP 99r (one term), required. Two terms may be taken, but only one term may count toward meeting concentration requirements.

  4. Thesis: Required. Ordinarily written as part of ESPP 99r.

  5. General Examination: None.

  6. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements.


At the beginning of the first term of concentration the head tutor in Environmental Science and Public Policy assigns each student to one of the members of the Committee on Degrees in Environmental Science and Public Policy, based on the student’s interests. If desirable, the student is then reassigned to an adviser more appropriate for the student’s specific area of interest, depending on faculty availability. Students normally continue with the same adviser throughout their concentration, although advisers may be changed upon student request or faculty perception of academic needs. For honors candidates, the senior thesis adviser also acts as the concentration adviser. Students should meet individually with their adviser at least once each term to discuss course selections, research opportunities and other academic matters, but are encouraged to meet with their advisers more often throughout the year. The adviser’s signature on study cards is required. Students may also seek advice from any member of the Committee on Degrees in Environmental Science and Public Policy.

For up-to-date information on advising in Environmental Science and Public Policy, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


The Departments of Anthropology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; the Harvard Museum of Natural History; and the corresponding laboratories and libraries (Converse, Farlow, Kummel, MCZ, Tozzer) are in an interconnected set of buildings near Harvard Yard. The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography contains one of the finest collections of its kind in the country. The Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) houses extensive systematic collections of recent and fossil vertebrates and invertebrates. The Botanical Museum contains the Ware collection of glass models and plants with almost 800 life-size models and 3,200 enlarged flowers and anatomical sections; it represents more than 780 species and varieties in 164 families. The Harvard University Herbaria houses the Farlow Herbarium (a collection of fungi, lichens, algae, and bryophytes), the Grey Herbarium (a collection of vascular plants), the Arnold Arboretum Herbarium (a collection of woody genera), and the Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames. The Mineralogical Museum houses a world class collection of minerals, rocks, ores, and meteorites (totalling about 250,000 specimens), an impressive sampling of the Earth’s crust. Atmospheric, physical oceanography, and engineering sciences, as well as their laboratories and library (Blue Hill), are in Pierce Hall.

The Cabot Library in the Science Center has a capacity of 300,000 volumes and contains an interdisciplinary science collection (114,000 volumes) and ancillary learning aids (TV viewing rooms, microfiche readers, computers, interactive lecture console). The Science Center contains many modern laboratories with research quality equipment and apparatus.

The research laboratories of the pertinent science departments contain machine and glass shops, computers, and a wide array of modern and sophisticated instruments (such as optical scanning and electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, Auger spectrometer, x-ray diffractometers, XRF, NMR, and FTIR, as well as equipment for cineradiography, electromyography, and photography).

Forestry and other plant research is conducted at Harvard Forest, located on 3,000 acres in Petersham (100 km from Cambridge); it contains the Fisher Museum of Forestry, an extensive library, and research laboratories. Animal respiratory physiology, locomotion, and ecological physiology are studied at the Concord Field Station (CFS) in Bedford. A CFS van makes daily trips to and from Cambridge. The Arnold Arboretum (Jamaica Plain, Boston) consists of 265 acres of botanical gardens with 6,500 species and varieties of woody plants.

The main resource of the economics department is the Harvard Institute for Economic Research.

The government department does not have its own library, but the various centers and institutes with which department members are affiliated have libraries available to undergraduates (i.e., the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the Center for European Studies, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, the Center for Middle East Studies, and the Joint Center for Urban Studies). The department also maintains a data center for computer and data analysis work.

At the Kennedy School of Government is the Institute of Politics, which has study groups, forums, and information about summer internships and travel grants.

For the religious and ethical dimensions of the Environmental Science and Public Policy concentration students can draw not only upon the collections at Widener Library, the Fogg Art Museum, and the undergraduate libraries, but also upon the Andover-Harvard Library at the Divinity School and on area studies libraries (such as the Harvard-Yenching library). Another resource is the Center for the Study of World Religions.

The Harvard University Center for the Environment provides a focus for interdisciplinary, cross-faculty research and education in environmental studies at Harvard. The center draws its strength from faculty members and students from across the University and complements the environmental education and research activities of the community of scholars based in Harvard’s academic units. Stewarded by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Center is designed to serve the entire Harvard community by developing and facilitating projects and activities in the areas of environmental education, research, and outreach—adding the value of an integrated, collaborative approach to traditional academic pursuits.

The center’s website  provides a wealth of information resources, including: an on-line guide to environmental studies; courses; student groups; faculty and researchers; centers at Harvard; and electronic list serves for environmental events, jobs, and publications. The Center also supports a series of distinguished lectures, colloquia, and other events throughout the calendar year.


Additional information may be obtained from Professor Michael B. McElroy, Head Tutor (mbm@seas.harvard.edu), or Ms. Lorraine Maffeo, Undergraduate Coordinator, 24 Oxford Street, Room 315, (617-496-6995, maffeo@fas.harvard.edu), or by visiting www.espp.fas.harvard.edu.


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Foreign Cultures

Quantitative Reasoning

Historical Study A

Science A

Historical Study B

Science B

Literature and Arts A

Social Analysis

Literature and Arts B


Literature and Arts C


Moral Reasoning


For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.


Number of Concentrators as of December







Environmental Science & Public Policy






ESPP + another field






Another field + ESPP