EU Environmental Policies: On the Road to Sustainability

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Course Information
Political Science
Environmental Studies
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 

One course in political science


The Californian utopian novel Ecotopia, which impacted environmental discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, symbolizes the emergence of ‘sustainability’ in a wider public since the 1970s. More than half a million copies of the book that describes the formation of an ecologically viable society have been sold in almost a dozen languages. Since the 1970s, the green movement has developed into a major political force and has infused this originally American concept into contemporary European societies and politics. In recent years, due to the relative neglect of ecology in politics in the USA, the EU has taken on the global leadership role in environmental policies and, as a result, a number of ‘Ecotopian’ ideas have come to fruition in various European countries. Many innovations can now be observed first hand in Freiburg, the eco-capital of Germany, and be compared to the achievements in other cities in Eastern and Western Europe which will be visited during the IES Abroad course-related trips. Thus, the course will acquaint the students with the emergence of environmental thought and politics in the past few decades in contemporary Europe. Moreover, it will familiarize them with examples of applied best practice solutions which may serve as benchmarks for necessary adjustments of 21st-century society.

This course forms part of the IES Abroad Independent Research Program. It can be combined with the Introduction to Research Module for an additional 1 credit. 

Attendance policy: 

All IES courses require attendance and participation. Attendance is mandatory per IES policy. Any unexcused absence will incur a penalty of 3% on your final grade. Any student who has more than three (3) unexcused absences will receive an “F” as the final grade in the course. Absences due to sickness, religious observances, and family emergencies may be excusable at the discretion of the Center Director.

In the case of an excused absence, it is the student’s responsibility to inform the Academic Dean of the absence with an Official Excused Absence Form, as well as any other relevant documentation (e.g. a doctor’s note), and to keep a record thereof. This form must be turned in as soon as possible before the class, in the case of a planned absence, or immediately after the class, in the case of an unplanned absence, in order for the absence to be considered excused. It is also the student’s responsibility to inform the professor of the missed class. Students can collect and submit the Official Excused Absence Form from the office of the Academic Dean.


ASSIGNMENTS NOT HANDED IN ON THE DUE DATE WILL BE SUBJECT TO A 3% PENALTY PER DAY POST-DUE DATE (with the exception of students who have an excused absence).

The use of laptop computers during class is not permitted. Cell phones are to be switched off. Updated information on your course and readings can be found on Moodle.

Learning outcomes: 
By the end of the course, students will be able to:
  1. identify the roots of the modern environmental movement and the perceived shortcomings of highly developed western societies as diagnosed by recognized critics;
  2. understand the paradigmatic shift which has transported the concept of an environmentally oriented lifestyle from the notion of bucolic aestheticism to today’s political arena in which modern societies are fighting a global battle for the survival of the world as we know it;
  3. trace the integration of environmental politics and policies into the European political theaters on the national and supranational levels and learn about the initiatives the EU has launched in a number of important policy areas, thus putting itself at the forefront of a worldwide movement for a renewed and ecologically viable politics;
  4. learn about the achievements (and shortcomings) of these efforts in Freiburg, a city considered to be a showcase for green living, i.e. sustainable solutions in urban planning, community life, transportation, waste management, and alternative energy generation;
  5. discover areas for transfer of successful environmental policy between the innovative European cases and approaches for potential application in the students’ own communities in the United States
Method of presentation: 
Lectures, video clips, case studies, discussions, presentations by students, field study (in Freiburg,  Brussels and other field trips), meetings with policy-makers, lobbyists, EU administrative staff, etc.
Required work and form of assessment: 

Students will earn 3 credits for this course and will have to invest about 100 working hours to satisfy the course requirements. Distribution of hours: About 30 hours during 20 course sessions (contact teaching hours); 25 hours for reading assignments; 25 hours on the term paper and expert presentation; 15 hours on field trips and outings in the Freiburg area; 5 hours on the preparation for the final examination. 

  • Midterm - 20%
  • Term paper - 25%
  • Expert presentation - 10%
  • Final - 25%
  • Participation - 20%
The midterm (90 minutes) will be held after the end of the first part of the class and focus on the  contents of the required readings and the classroom sessions. It will consist of three short answer  questions and a one page essay question. Study questions will be provided.   The term paper is in the form of a research paper (25 %, 8-10 pages) focussing on a selected aspect  of environmental policy in the EU. The topic is to be determined by the professor, after consultation  with the student. A preliminary topic, outline, and a bibliography will have to be handed in approx. one  month before the term paper is due. The topic of the term paper can be related to the topic of the  expert presentation.   The expert presentation (10%) refers to a presentation that one student or a group of students will  prepare for a denoted session.   The final exam (25 %) will be comprehensive in nature. In 120 minutes, students will write three  short essays dealing with topics that cover topic s from the entire class. Study questions will be  provided.   Participation does not only refer to the required presence of students during the scheduled class sessions, but also to the participation in the field trips, outings and/or special events in and around  Freiburg.   Students are required to complete all reading assignments and will be expected to demonstrate this through regularly assigned homework, pop quizzes and/or insightful and relevant contributions to in class discussion. All of these components will count toward the class participation grade. Written assignments (homework and quizzes) will count toward 50% of the participation grade, while in-class participation (including field trips and Model EU) will count toward 50% of the grade. Written assignments not handed in on time or not fulfilled in a satisfactory manner (e.g. not really answering a question) will lead to a 5 point deduction from a total of 50 points (50% of participation grade).



Readings & Assignments

Part I: Sustainability in Thought and Politics

Session 1



The end of the world as we know it? Sustainability,

Europe and the US at the beginning of the 21 Century


True or not true?

“An average European citizen uses about four times more resources than one in Africa and

three times more than one in Asia, but half of one in USA, Canada or Australia?”


“Europe's leadership manifests in five major areas: economic strength, with Europe now the

world's wealthiest trading bloc, nearly as large as the U.S. and China combined; the best

health care and other workfare supports for families and individuals; widespread use of

renewable energy technologies and conservation; the world's most advanced democracies;

and regional networks of trade, foreign aid, and investment that link one-third of the world

to the European Union”.


How do you react to the above quotation?

Reading: All of Ecotopia must be read by Monday, September 29.


Watching in preparation for second session:

Rifkin, Jeremy, The Third Industrial Revolution, World Forum Lille 2012,  (75 minutes)


Please come to Thursday’s class session prepared to answer the following


Who is Jeremy Rifkin? Characterize his views on the US and Europe respectively with regard

to their approach to environmental problems and policies?What are the most important

statements/observations in the US-Europe context (indicate minutes/seconds on video)?

Session 2


Ecotopia as an Alternative Vision:

an (Un-)American (?) utopian novel as a catalyst and blueprint for a better future


Ecotopia is often classified as a ‘utopia’.

Please explain the term and its history.


Session 3



Ecotopian Economics

Discussion of production, distribution, and consumption as described in the novel. Is this a

(socialist) centrally planned economy or a (capitalist) market economy?


Ecotopia in Perspective (politics, history, economics, science, philosophy)

Reading: Ecotopia must have been read before this session.


Recommended watching:

Callenbach on you tube (2008: Ecotopia or Bust)

The Hollowing Out of the American Empire (Callenbach in Freiburg, 2009)

Recommended reading:

An Epistle to the Ecotopians: Chick’s last message

Session 4



Threats to Survival – Events and Mindsets

Discussion of

Lynn White, The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis (6 pages)

Reading: Clive Ponting, A New Green History of the World (pp. 1-35).


Reflection questions on Ponting:

Chapter One: The Lessons of Easter Island (pp. 1-7)

Chapter Two: The Foundations of History (pp. 8-16)

Chapter Three: Ninety-Nine Per Cent of Human History (pp. 17-35)


Session 5



Emergence of Green Politics, and the Convergence of Science and Politics: The

Greening of America and Europe - From protest politics and life-style options to

pressure groups and political parties

Reading: Clive Ponting, A New Green History of the World (pp. 36-86).


Reflection questions on Ponting:

Chapter Four: The First Great Transition (pp. 36-66)

Chapter Five: Destruction and Survival (pp. 67-86)


Session 6


National and International Dimensions: The Green movement goes political in

Europe and the Europeanization of Green Parties: - From (The Club of) Rome to

Warsaw (and beyond)


How would you characterize the role of the US and that of the European Union in

(a) the international climate talks and (b) generally in the sphere of environmental



Fracking: Blessing or Evil? Your view, backed up with arguments.


TBC: Course-based meeting with an EU official from the Agricultural Commission, on issues

related to ‘green agriculture’ in Europe and the tricky points in the negotiations of the trade

agreement between the EU and the US

Reading: Clive Ponting, A New Green History of the World (pp. 87-115 and 137-170).


Reflection questions on Ponting:

Chapter Six: The Long Struggle (pp. 87-115)

Chapter Eight, The Rape of the World, pp. 137-170.


Session 7



EU Level: The establishment of environmental policies as a European policy domain

and its impact in an enlarged Europe

Reading: Clive Ponting, A New Green History of the World (pp. 231-264 and 265-293).

Reflection questions on Ponting:

Chapter Eleven, The Weight of Numbers, pp. 231-264.

Chapter Twelve, The Second Great Transition, pp. 265-293.

Chapter Thirteen, The Rise of the City, pp. 294-313.-.


Part II: Sustainability As A Political Program and in Practice:

the Example of Freiburg ‘Green City’ in Germany

Session 8


Term Paper: Check “What’s my topic?”


For a first approach to Freiburg, please look at the following:

Freiburg: Green City brochure at

What makes a city ‘green’?

Reading of Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen

Stadtentwicklung / Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (Freiburg: Herder, 2013)

Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung /

Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (Preface, and pp. 1-29): “Thoughts on


Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung /

Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (pp. 30-67): “The Green City”

Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung /

Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (pp. 68-99): „Rieselfeld

Session 9


Why I would (not) like to live in Freiburg?

Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung /

Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (pp. 100-41):“Vauban District”

Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung /

Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (pp. 142-177):“Energy Potential”

Wolfgang Frey, Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung /

Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development (pp. 178-199): “Life in Freiburg”


Session 10



Local field trip to Vauban or Rieselfeld


Session 11



Local field trip to Vauban or Rieselfeld


Part III: Global Green Power: the EU as a

Champion of Environmental Policies

Session 12





The EU’s image as an environmental champion: do you agree?

Check/qualify your sources. Please research the issue and be prepared to come to

class with a qualified opinion

“Environmental policy of the European Union”

Session 13



A Resilient City (Climate Change)

• Understanding climate change (Climate change v. global warming/cooling, natural v.

anthropogenic climate change, carbon cycle, greenhouse effect)

• Emission reduction mechanisms (Kyoto Protocol, EU Emissions Trading System)


An Energetic City (Energy)

• Sustainable energy (Renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy security)


European Environment Agency (2007), Europe’s environment: the fourth

assessment (pp. 145 – 174.)

EEA Signals 2009, “Climate change mitigation – Not just hot air.”

EEA Signals 2009, “Climate change adaptation – If the well runs dry.”

European Environment Agency (2007), Europe’s environment: the fourth

assessment (pp. 322 – 339.)

EEA Signals 2009, “Energy – If bioenergy goes boom.”

Session 14



A Vibrant City (Biodiversity)

EU Biodiversity Action Plan, Natura 2000 (Birds Directive, Habitat Directive)

• Species conversation, invasive alien species


A Conscientious City (Sustainable Consumption & Procurement)

Impact assessment of production and consumption (Life-cycle approach, Ecological


• Consumer information (Product labeling, greenwashing)

European Environment Agency (2007), Europe’s environment: the fourth

assessment (pp. 175 – 206.)

EEA Signals 2009, “Killer slugs and other aliens.”

European Environment Agency (2007), Europe’s environment: the fourth

assessment (pp. 251 – 277.)

World Wide Fund for Nature (2007), Europe 2007: Gross Domestic Product and Ecological Footprint.


Project: Calculate your Ecological Footprint


Session 15



A Clean City (Waste Management)

• EU Waste Hierarchy (Waste Framework Directive, Thematic Strategy on the

prevention and recycling of waste)

• Waste treatment (Landfill Directive, Waste Incineration Directive, IPPC Directive)


A Healthy City (Health, Quality of Life)

• Environment and human health (Environment and Health Strategy, Environment and

Health Action Plan)

• Pollutants and environmental factors affecting health (Air pollution, noise, VOCs, etc.)

European Environment Agency (2007), Europe’s environment: the fourth

assessment (pp. 278 – 289).

European Environment Agency (2009), Diverting waste from landfill:

effectiveness of waste-management policies in the European Union (pp. 7 – 20, 50 –61).

EEA Signals 2009, “Not in my back yard.”

European Environment Agency (2009), Ensuring quality of life in Europe’s cities and towns. (pp. 8 – 25, 102 - 103)

Session 16


A Productive City (Food & Agriculture)

Food and agriculture (Organics, GMOs, local food production, CAP)


A Well-Designed City (Built Environment, Urban Nature)

• Urban environment (Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment)

European Environment Agency (2007), Europe’s environment: the fourth

assessment (pp. 294 – 305.)

EEA Signals 2009, “Agriculture and environment – Taking CAP in hand.”

European Commission (2007), Integrated Environmental Management:

Guidance in relation to the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment.


Activity: Design a sustainable city


Session 17



A Sustainable City (Interrelatedness)

·         “Ecosystem thinking” (Interrelatedness / interdependence of issues and policy subsectors)

• Global perspective (One Planet, Ecological Footprint)


Session 18



Wrap up session on environmental policies of the EU

The EU as a Model? The European Dream of Jeremy Rifkin and its promise according to

Steven Hill


Session 19

Final Exam



Required readings: 
  • Callenbach, Ernest. Ecotopia. New York, Bantam Books: 1990.
  • European Commission, Integrated Environmental Management: Guidance in relation to the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment. Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2007.
  • European Environment Agency, Diverting waste from landfill: effectiveness of waste-management policies in the European Union. Copenhagen, European Environment Agency, 2009.
  • European Environment Agency, Europe’s environment: the fourth assessment. Copenhagen, European Environment Agency: 2007.
  • European Environment Agency. Ensuring quality of life in Europe's cities and towns: Tackling the environmental challenges driven by European and global change. Copenhagen, European Environment Agency: 2009.
  • European Environment Agency. EEA Signals 2009: Key Environmental Issues Facing Europe. Copenhagen, European Environment Agency: 2009.
  • Freiburg: Green City Brochure (5/2011),, available online at
  • Frey, Wolfgang, ed. Freiburg: Green City: Wege zu einer nachhaltigen Stadtentwicklung / Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development. Freiburg im Breisgau, Herder Verlag 2013.
  • ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. Case Study # 94 - Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Long-term strategies for climate protection in Green City Freiburg. Freiburg, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability: 2009.
  • Ponting, Clive. A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. Completely Revised and Updated Edition. London: Oenguin, 2007.
  • Rosenthal, Elisabeth. The New York Times, “In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars.” 12 May 2009.
  • The figures from the book "Renewable Energy - The Facts" are provided for download from Please feel free to use them for personal reference and in presentations and non-commercial publications, along with an acknowledgment of the book as the original source.
  • White, Lynn. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, pp.46-52, in: Joseph DesJardins, ed. Environmental Ethics: Concepts, Policy, Theory. London and Toronto: Mayfield, 1999.
  • World Wide Fund for Nature. Europe 2007: Gross Domestic Product and Ecological Footprint. Brussels, WWF: 2007.