Course Syllabus


Syllabus #1526
1 - 3 credits


J. Richard Mayer
Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science



Topics in Environmental Science 307 is a variable credit (1 - 3 credits), self-paced, independent study course. Students earn from one to three academic credits through personal study, research, and completing assignments in topics they have chosen from a list of possible topics. See the list of topics below.

 Students work on one topic at a time and submit their assignments one at a time - one assignment for each topic chosen. Assignments require writing an essay at least two-pages, single-spaced, in good English. A 'Works Cited' section consisting of at least three literature and/or online references is required at the end of each assignment.

Students may submit a draft essay first, if they wish; the instructor will review the draft and make comments and suggestions for the student's final essay. 

Students receive a grade for each essay and a final course grade as well. This course is not repeatable for credit.


ESCI 101, an equivalent college-level science course, or the permission of the instructor. 


    • To encourage independent thought and critical thinking

    • To inspire students to pursue new knowledge and understanding in environmental science

    • To critically examine data, information, and viewpoints used to support an informed point of view

    • To write carefully-thought-out, meaningful answers to Topic questions.


This course requires critical thinking, the study of contemporary environmental science topics, and crafting of responsive and responsible essays to fulfill each Topic's assignments. Essays must reflect critical thought, current knowledge, and understanding of environmental science issues. Students are required to study relevant data, assimilate key information, and craft informed points of view.




  • Topic 1 - The Earth's Biomes

  • Topic 2 - Wilderness

  • Topic 3 - Biodiversity

  • Topic 3A - Endangered Species
  • Topic 4 - Tropical Rainforests

  • Topic 4A - Old-Growth Forests 

  • Topic 5 - National Forests and National Parks

  • Topic 6 - Fire Ecology

  • Topic 7 - World Populations and Demography


  • Topic 8 - Freshwater Resources

  • Topic 9 - Aquifers

  • Topic 10 - Potable Water

  • Topic 10A - Arsenic in Bangladesh Drinking Water

  • Topic 11 - Eutrophication

  • Topic 12 - Flint River Michigan Case Study

  • Topic 13 - Global Water Scarcity


  • Topic 14 - The Green Revolution
    Topic 15 - Organic Agriculture

  • Topic 16 - GMOs - Bioengineered Crops/LIvestock

  • Topic 17 - World Fisheries and Aquaculture


  • Topic 17A - Warming Oceans, Rising Seas, Declining pH

  • Topic 18 - Marine Systems

  • Topic 18A - Worldwide Marine Pollution - Plastics
  • Topic 19 - The Salish Sea

  • Topic 19A - Toxic Chemicals in the Salish Sea
  • Topic 20 - Southern Resident Orca Whales

  • Topic 21 - Saving Southern Resident Orca Whales

  • Topic 21A - Chinook Salmon

  • Topic 21B - The Columbia and Snake Rivers - Dams and Salmon


  • Topic 22 - Coal: Environmental and Political Issues

  • Topic 23 - Colstrip Montana and the Future of Coal

  • Topic 24 - Nuclear Power - 

  • Topic 24A - Nuclear Disaster at Chernobyl

  • Topic 24B- Japan's Fukushima Diiachi Nuclear Power Disaster and the Future of Nuclear Power in Japan 

  • Topic 25 - Petroleum

  • Topic 26 - Fracking

  • Topic 27 - The Keystone XL Pipeline

  • Topic 28 - Energy Transitions

  • Topic 29 - Biofuels


  • Topic 30 - Stratospheric Ozone

  • Topic 31 - Urban Air Pollution

  • Topic 32 - Acid Rain

  • Topic 33 - Heavy Metals


Topic 34 - Climate Change

Topic 34A - Bering Sea Ice Disappearing

TOPIC 34B - Recurring Warming of North Pacific Waters - "The Blob"

Topic 35 - Polar Bears and Global Warming

Topic 36 - The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Recent Reports


Topic "S" - Student Designed Major


ESCI 307 Course Evaluation


There is no textbook for this course. All of the materials needed to complete the course are on the Canvas website and online including materials I have written and internet sites that I want students to study. 


My objective in this course is to focus attention on important areas of contemporary environmental study. Students choose from one to three Topics depending on the number of academic credits to be earned. After choosing a Topic, students study materials and online resources presented for each Canvas Topic.

Finally, students are directed to write a two-page (minimum) single-spaced essay as directed. Students are directed to write technically correct assignments in good English. Students may choose to submit a draft paper first to seek advice and suggestions before submitting their final paper.

Students respond to the requirements set forth for each Topic - one Topic for each academic credit. One 'Works Cited' section is required for each essay.  Each 'Works Cited' section must reference three or more literature and/or online bibliographic citations. 

Submit your work and wait for my response before submitting a subsequent assignment. Remember to write your papers carefully and edit each one before submission. They should be written in proper English and reflect good composition including sensible paragraphs and correct spelling. Papers reflecting superficial examination of a subject or sloppy writing will be marked down or returned to be rewritten. 


Students have a choice of selecting a letter grade (A-F) or a pass/no pass grade for this course. Academic credit is earned as follows: one credit for each approved and graded assignment. Western students can only use pass/no pass grading in elective courses. Your overall course grade will be based on papers you have submitted and I have graded. I will take into account the progress you have made in this course. There are no tests or final exam.

Your instructor prefers assigning letter grades: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, or F. You most likely will never see a grade below C, as poorly written or poorly conceived papers are generally returned to you with comments on how to improve. A letter grade of C- or better is required to pass this course. However, if you choose the pass/no pass option your papers will be graded S or U for satisfactory or unsatisfactory work.      


Only one assignment may be submitted at a time. Please wait until I comment on or grade an assignment before you write a submit a subsequent one. ALWAYS make a copy of your work BEFORE submitting it. If lessons are lost, it is far easier to re-submit a copy than to rewrite an entire assignment. All assignments must be completed in order to receive credit for the course.

Time Considerations (a message from the Western Online office) - Start your reading right away and keep on a schedule. Organize your time so that you pace your work out over 10 or 12 weeks, just like a regular academic quarter. Treat your Self-paced course as the serious learning experience that it is. True learning takes time: time for reading, time for processing new information, time for reflection. When students get into trouble in a Self-paced course it is most often when they try to rush through a large part of the work at the end of the quarter or right before their own deadline.

Remember that grading takes time and our instructors have other classes and students. The instructor cannot be expected to grade assignments immediately because you have a deadline.


Dr. Mayer will be happy to answer any questions or provide assistance to help you with this course. Feel free to contact him by e-mail at the following address:


Dr. Mayer holds a B.S. degree in Chemistry from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., an M.A. degree from Columbia University in New York City, and a Ph.D. from Yale University. He has worked as a research chemist in the pharmaceutical industry (Sterling Drug Company), as a science administrator with the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., as an Environmental Research Center Director at State University of New York, as Dean of Huxley College at Western, and as a teacher and writer at Western, where he was the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching award. He retired from Western in 1999 but remains active in the teaching field. His special interests include renewable energy, water chemistry, groundwater quality, drinking water issues, pesticide transport, and the fate of organic chemicals in the environment.


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