We at Sierra scouted university catalogs nationwide to patch together a dream team of all-star teachers and sure-hit courses. Here are the academic picks for which we'd shell out private-school tuition:
MICHAEL POLLAN, Journalism, UC Berkeley
Rarely do a book's ideas seep so thoroughly into the collective mind as did those from Pollan's bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Though his theories resonate in diverse academic circles - food science, genetics, agriculture, ecology, dietetics - Pollan is by trade a journalist, and that's what he teaches at Berkeley. His recent classes have had names like "Getting Over Wilderness," "Science Reporting: Covering the Food Chain," and my favorite, "The Editor as God."
JARED DIAMOND, Geography, UCLA
The Pulitzer-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is one of the world's foremost experts on how humans' impact on nature can lead to disaster. Diamond's degrees are in physiology and biochemistry, but his classes, including "Past Societies and Their Lessons for Our Own Future," are anchored in history. He's also a trailblazer in conservation biology, studying why some species are prone to extinction.
ELINOR OSTROM, Political Science, Indiana University
Last year, Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics. A pioneer in studying the management of communal resources, she teaches such opaque-sounding courses as "Institutional Analysis and Development: Micro." But her topics are specific: how humans make collective decisions and whether individuals govern resources better than institutions do.
AL GORE, Interdisciplinary, Middle Tennessee State University
A polarizing figure? Perhaps. But the former VP has much to teach. After persuading 51 million people to vote for him to be leader of the Western world, he's clearly qualified to teach a class called "Community Building."
JAMES HANSEN, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
The world's most famous climatologist, and the first to speak out loudly about a potential global-warming apocalypse, Hansen is an adjunct professor at Columbia. His class, "Introduction to Planetary Atmosphere and Climate Change," must be popular, because he won the university's Teaching Excellence Award in the Humanities and was named Outstanding Teacher in the Core Curriculum.
Green Buildings and Behavior, Stanford University
To get into this limited-enrollment class, you have to write an essay about why you think campus sustainability is important. Once in, you get to dig through trash at Stanford's recycling center and learn to implement a campus-wide energy plan. Students also get coached to draft and deploy conservation messages. After finishing the course, students are eligible to be sustainability coordinators of campus buildings.
Environmental Innovation Practicum, University of Washington
This seminar preps students for UW's annual Environmental Innovation Challenge, during which teams build prototypes and develop business plans for products that will help solve environmental problems. Bonus: The team that develops the winning gizmo gets $10,000.
Foundations of Ecopsychology, Lewis & Clark College
During this graduate-level class, Thomas Joseph Doherty, editor of the journal Ecopsychology, helps students examine the healing effects of natural places and guides them through ways that people develop "environment identities."
Ecogeomorphology, UC Davis
Students get their feet wet during this multidisciplinary, 12-person class about watershed issues. Experts from Davis's Center for Watershed Sciences help students prepare peer-reviewed reports for publication. The fun part: a two-week trip into a watery ecosystem. Past excursions have gone to Alaska's Copper River, British Columbia's Skeena River, or Oregon's Grand Ronde.
Environmental Ethics and Policy, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Students pondering law school would do well to take this class, which examines the value of nature, as well as human obligations to other animals and future generations. Professor Jim Sheppard, a fan of such thinkers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Stuart Mill, helps students grasp why environmentalism is a matter of personal responsibility.
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