Major in the

Environmental Geography

This major focuses on the relationship between human activities and the natural and built environment, and humanity’s reliance on the earth’s natural resources.

Humanity has an ever-changing relationship with the natural environment. It is a complex, issues-rich relationship that requires careful and considered management.

The quality of the world’s societies and ecosystems depends on the sustainable management of our farmlands, forests and oceans. It is also determined by how we manage our cities and our handling of water supplies, energy, wastes and air. Technological advances to address these problems are rarely free of environmental costs and professionals working in this field must also negotiate contemporary political disputes.


Graduates of this major find employment in government, research and development, business and consultancies. Employment specialisation areas include:

  • Biodiversity 
  • Conservation
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Disaster risk management
  • International development
  • Natural resource management
  • Rural and urban planning
  • Social policy
  • Sustainable urban development.

Subjects you could take in this major

  • This subject explains the physical and social drivers of famines and related crises in social-ecological systems, including the collapse of civilizations and violent conflicts seemingly triggered by scarcity of food, water, and arable land. It proposes theories that explain famines and crises of scarcity, and tests these with evidence and cases studies. In this way the subject introduces key issues, concepts, and theories central to geography, development, environmental studies, and environmental science.

    The subject is interdisciplinary, providing student a broad range of knowledge and analytical tools. Specifically, the subject draws together science and social science, introducing students to multiple disciplinary knowledge and practices.

  • The subject introduces students to natural environments, and the elements and systems that shape the natural world. A critical understanding of these elements and systems is fundamental, not only to the sustainable management of natural environments, but also to nearly all aspects of human endeavor therein: including biodiversity and recreation management, primary production (agriculture and forestry), urban and regional land-use planning, environmental design (architecture and engineering), and local through to global environmental policy. In this subject, the student draws upon case studies and concepts from a broad range of disciplines to explore key components and processes of natural environments, and learns practical skills in landscape assessment for sustainable management and design. Major themes explored include plate tectonics; rocks and minerals; landscape processes and soil formation; weather, climate and climate change; microclimate; the water cycle and catchment hydrology; landscape ecology and the distribution, properties and functioning of different ecosystems. Practical skills in landscape assessment and interpretation are emphasised, as well as an appreciation of the effect of scale and temporal change in the examination of natural environments.

  • This subject considers progressive developments that are being generated through Indigenous and non-Indigenous dialogue and intersections in the context of Australian environmental thought. Students will critique and reconsider aspects of dominant Western ways of knowing and understanding, particularly deep-rooted assumptions surrounding the 'nonhuman'. Students will gain awareness of how these assumptions shape our lives and relationships with the world, and will examine connections between epistemology, life practices and environmental ethics. Through a study of Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental thinkers, and drawing from Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships with the land, students will think about ethical, social and political issues in relation to the ecology.

  • This subject is about a changing China. The focus of the subject is the ongoing social, economic and political transformation and the impacts of the reforms on China’s people and environment. The subject covers three sets of topics: Urban geography and China (housing and land reforms, changing morphology from socialism to capitalism, urban enclavism and gated communities, migrant workers and urban villages); China’s economic development (Open door policy and geography of “Made in China”; Wenzhou Model, Pearl-River-Delta Model, state-owned enterprises, inequality, poverty alleviation and migration, rural development and governance); and China’s environment challenges (water management, environmental governance, and climate change).

    This subject is about the changing geography of ‘Red Capitalist’ China. The focus of the subject is the ongoing social, economic and political transformation and the impacts of the reforms on China’s people and environment. The subject covers three sets of topics: China’s many faces (generation conflicts; ethnic minorities, rural China; physical landscapes and environment; Chinese women - “half sky”); China in transition (large is not beautiful, population policy and one-child only; China’s reform model; open door policy and geography of “Made in China”; population mobility and urbanisation; and spatial shifts of development focus); China’s major challenges (AIDS/HIV, geography of commercial sex industry; income polarisation; corruption and “Guanxi” with Chinese characteristics; “get rich quickly” and environmental cost; development and resource demand; and Three Gorges Dam resettlement).

  • This subject introduces students to four major ecological questions that can be addressed at the levels of individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems. Making use of aquatic and terrestrial examples, topics include organisms and the physical environment, life histories, population growth and regulation, managing populations, theoretical models, species interactions, community change and energy flows. The practical component will emphasise approaches to the collection and analysis of ecological data, and how to interpret and write scientific papers.

  • This subject comprises a 10 day intensive field trip to tropical far North Queensland in the mid-year break before the start of 2nd semester and a laboratory project to be completed during 2nd semester. Students will engage with topics such as past climate change, biogeography, glacial cycles, changes in sea level, archaeological trends, the effects of people on the environment and the development of modern landscapes. On completion, students should be familiar with the major forces which have shaped physical landscapes over the past 2 million years and the nature of anthropogenic impacts on landscapes. Students should acquire field and laboratory skills in palaeoenvironmental, archaeological and biogeographical methods.

  • This subject explores a range of contemporary environmental problems in Australia and internationally. It uses case studies to understand the following: the history and emergence of the issues; the key actors who engage with and manage these issues; and the political dynamics and strategies for governance. The subject examines the multiple dimensions (scientific, socio-cultural, economic, political) of environmental issues and the forms of knowledge and types of power that construct and mediate people’s relationships with the environment. Students should become familiar with the factors that lead to environmental conflicts and the mechanisms used to contain or resolve them, and be able to interpret them in the context of broader questions relating to environmental governance and sustainability.

  • Inequality is a global phenomenon – something widely found to be growing within and between nations. This subject takes a critical geographic perspective, focused on understanding the variety of scales at which inequality appears. It looks beneath national comparative statistics on global inequality to (1) investigate the ways in which inequality is generated and materially experienced in selected societies, social groups and places, and (2) analyse how new forms and conditions of inequality may be emerging with the advent of conditions termed the Anthropocene (an epoch in which environmental conditions on our planet are profoundly influenced by human action). The subject examines ideas of justice that propose ways of reducing inequality, in the light of processes generating a variety of inequalities at different scales, and for different social groups and places. Examples will be drawn from urban, regional, neighbourhood and national contexts in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

  • This subject examines how the spaces inside cities, the qualities and resources of their built environments, and the features of their neighbourhoods and communities, enhance or limit the opportunities of different groups of city dwellers. Starting from conceptual positions that foreground inequality, difference and encounter, we ask who benefits and who loses from particular socio-spatial arrangements. Issues investigated will include: the growth of gated communities for the wealthy; homelessness; the privatisation of urban public services; cities as the spaces of identified social groups (women, youth, those of particular ethnicities) and the urban activisms associated with such 'differences'; interactions in public space and in the micro-public places of the multicultural city. Cases and examples will be drawn from cities around the world, primarily from developed countries. Students will explore the socio-spaces of Melbourne in research for their major essay.

  • This subject focuses on the relationship between landforms and the diversity of plants and animals they host. It investigates the way in which certain landscapes support particular types of ecosystems and the roles played by climate, time and earth surface processes in maintaining and forcing change in those ecosystems. The key systems covered include river, wetland, groundwater, karst, desert and alpine. The subject also considers human impacts and climate change and how these may determine biodiversity and geomorphological trajectories of these systems. Field work (of up to 5 days through the semester) will be a key learning mode. Through lectures, practicals and field exercises, skills will be developed in a range of analytical techniques used to investigate relevant environmental processes and changes.

  • Post-conflict nation states are entangled with a diverse range of historically contingent and differently understood forms of social, economic and environmental governance. This creates new challenges and very often new conflict. This subject draws on critical geographies of development to examine the significance of difference to post-conflict development processes in the Asia Pacific region, including East Timor, Cambodia and The Philippines. It asks how ideas of social and cultural difference are deployed and experienced by a range of actors, and explores how these ideas are (re)negotiated as a result of social and political change and power. This subject provides students with a variety of theoretical lenses with which to analyze post-conflict development and social and cultural difference in the region. Difference and its relationship to development in post-conflict settings will be investigated through case studies of ethnicity and race, population mobility, material culture, urban development, justice and accountability mechanisms, and livelihood, conservation and resource exploitation conflicts.

  • This subject aims to think critically and rigorously about the relationship between social and natural worlds. Its primary purpose is to question the idea that the environment exists outside of, and independent from, the realms of science, culture, politics and economy. Students will be introduced to different conceptual frameworks for understanding the environment as a social entity; to the processes by which capitalism and science structures social and environmental relations; and to alternative modes of living in, and thinking about, the environment. These broad themes will be addressed through engaging examples from Australia and beyond. Particular attention will be given to the concept of 'wilderness'; the postcolonial nature of the zoo; ecotourism; the politics of visualising nature (e.g. through wildlife documentary); the 'new natures' of genetic modification; and ideas about 'environmental justice' and ‘climate crisis’.

  • This subject outlines the development of geomorphology as a discipline, the different approaches used to study landforms and theory of landscape processes and evolution. Topics covered include the denudation system; weathering; hill slopes; fluvial processes and landforms; glacial processes and landforms; karst landscapes and processes; deserts and aeolian processes; the coastal system and processes; and landform change during the Quaternary. Emphasis is placed on understanding the geomorphological processes that shape these landscapes. Through lectures, practicals and field exercises students should develop skills in the use of a range of analytical techniques for investigating landform processes and change. Students should also develop an appreciation of the ways landforms and process can be incorporated into environmental management and land use planning.

  • This subject introduces students to the physical environment, history and development challenges facing contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. Students will examine in detail intellectual and ethical debates surrounding the strategies undertaken by postcolonial African states and the overseas development “industry” to tackle poverty, inequality, environmental change and the colonial legacy. Students will consider how Africa’s problems are portrayed and understood by the rest of the world. Topics may include: the physical environment and competing understandings of environmental change; the history and governance of the continent; regional case studies (West Africa and the D.R. Congo); agrarian transformations and rural livelihoods; development projects and rise of the NGO; military conflict and mineral wealth; hunger, famine, and the controversies of the relief industry; forestry; wildlife conservation; and urban geographies.

  • Fire is one of the most important controls over the distribution of vegetation on Earth. This subject examines the role of fire in natural systems, with a particular emphasis on the importance of fire in determining global vegetation patterns and dynamics over long periods of time. The aim is to understand how terrestrial systems have evolved to cope with and exploit fire, and to place the extreme flammability Australia's vegetation within a global context. The subject will examine concepts such as resilience, positive feedback loops, hysteresis and alternative stable states. The use of fire by humans to manipulate environments will be examined, with a particular emphasis on the variety of approaches employed by people across a diversity of environments over long periods of time, allowing an exploration of the social and cultural dynamics of fire and environmental management. A mid-semester field excursion in Tasmania will visit a number of sites which will exemplify the subject themes. The practical exercises leading up to the field trip will focus on how to gather fire-related ecological data. The practical exercises following the field trip will be devoted to processing, analysing, interpreting and reporting on the field data. At the end of the subject, students will have gained an understanding of the way in which fire has shaped natural systems, as well as acquiring the skills necessary to formulate and test hypotheses.

    More information about the subject and field trip can be seen at:

    The estimated additional cost of the 7 day field trip to Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, is in the vicinity of $750. The field trip will take place during teaching week 3 – students will be required to arrange this with other subjects.

  • This subject consists of a two-week field trip to China in July with some pre-departure (in semester 1) and post-field trip workshop/seminars (in semester 2) in Melbourne. The subject is designed to develop students’ interests in Asia, in China in particular, and in the interactions between society, economy, government, and the environment. While in China, students will interact with local communities, academics and environmental managers who will inform them about issues and processes in China. This will be supplemented by site visits and household interviews. The field trip will be under the supervision of the subject coordinators. Students are responsible for the cost of airfares, accommodation and food.

  • This subject provides a detailed synthesis of the physical processes and linkages operating within the earth’s coastal systems. The coast is one of the most intensively utilised landscapes worldwide and Australia is no exception. Population densities and development pressures are all rapidly rising providing ever increasing stress on the landscape. Intense human development is however a relatively recent phenomena. Coastal landforms operate over much longer timescales than people. Beaches and dunes have natural cycles of erosion and deposition of decadal to centennial scales while cliffs may have a history of several thousand years. It is therefore impossible to successfully manage, or simply enjoy this environment without knowledge of how it evolved and operates. During this course we will explore the operation and management of the key landforms found at the shore.

  • This subject consists of a 12 day field trip to East Timor in July with pre-departure information sessions in Semester 1 and a post-trip workshop in Semester two. The subject is designed to develop students’ understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and in particular of the complex geographies of small island and post-conflict states. Students will gain an in situ appreciation of the historical and contemporary issues relevant to East Timor and develop their empirical and analytical research skills while carrying out small group research into the impacts of conflict, climate and culture on social and economic development and the environment. While in East Timor, students will participate in a number of rural, urban and remote site visits during which time they will interact with local communities, civil society leaders, academics, government and aid organizations. The field trip will be under the supervision of the subject coordinators. Students are responsible for the cost of airfares, internal travel, accommodation and food.

    Note this subject may be taken as the Capstone subject for the Geography major and all students completing this subject, whether this subject serves as the Geography Capstone or not, will be invited to present findings from their fieldwork at a special end-of-semester event, to which Geography staff will be invited.

  • Environmental issues will be addressed with the aid of economic theory. Topics include sustainability of economies; pollution as an externality; approaches to dealing with pollution in different countries; methods of valuing the environment and environmental damage; effect on future generations; environmental amenity as a public good; and the environment and economic development.

  • Fluvial Geomorphology is the study of rivers as physical systems and their role in shaping the surface of the earth. Students who complete the subject will not only see the landscape with new eyes, but they will have knowledge and skills essential for anyone interested in the management of rivers for environmental purposes. We will emphasise a strong process-based approach based on sediment transport and deposition, coupled with examination of modern stream channel change in the light of climate and land use changes over the last two million years. The course will provide an understanding of how and why the variety of natural rivers comes about, including the unique streams of Australia.

  • This subject examines the nature and causes of past changes in Earth’s climate during the Quaternary Period (the last 2.7 million years), with a particular emphasis on the last glacial-interglacial cycle. It aims to place modern climate and the projections of future global warming into a longer-term perspective, and will allow students to understand why human interference in the climate system may be a legitimate cause for concern. Emphasis is placed on how Earth materials (ice, rocks, sediments, landforms, biological materials) record past climate changes, the techniques used to extract this ‘palaeoenvironmental information’, and the principles that govern how this information is interpreted. Most of the subject will run prior to the start of semester one and be based around a field trip to the South Island of New Zealand. A pre-field trip essay will give students the basic background to the nature of Quaternary palaeoclimate. A series of lectures (held in New Zealand) will then cover the theoretical aspects of the subject in more detail, providing an important primer to the field work. The field component itself focuses on how particular environments (coastal, lake, fluvial, cave, and glacial) preserve evidence of past climate change. A further series of lectures and practicals will be conducted during the first 6 weeks of semester, and will focus on the nature of palaeoclimate data and how these are processed and interpreted. By the end of the subject, students will not only appreciate the dynamics of Earth’s past climate and the mechanisms that have forced it, but also the way in which we practice this important and growing field of study.

    The estimated cost of the field trip is in the vicinity of $900. The field trip will take place in the weeks immediately prior to the first week of Semester 1.

  • This field class subject, combining on-campus classes with periodic off-campus field work in the Melbourne area, asks the question: in what ways are local sites globally connected? Sites selected for field study around Melbourne will vary year by year, as will the specific processes studied geographically at those sites. For example, study might be made of a selection of places and communities damaged by recent bushfire or flood, investigating how globally-sourced advice, personnel and equipment played a part in responding to those events, forging lasting links between those local places and the sources of their global assistance. Or, the global sources of contamination of local ocean sites might be studied. Or, the global worlds of social media might be mapped, by looking at a set of local social media users within particular urban populations. Or, the manner in which local environmental or urban policies may be drawn from overseas situations might be examined and critiqued, involving investigation of governance sites/settings in our local area and the ways they connect globally.

    This is a field class subject, for which the field work will be conducted in Melbourne or its immediate environs. It is not an intensive subject. The subject will be conducted across semester 1, and will include: on-campus (Parkville) classes at the beginning and end of the semester (one 3-hour class per week in weeks 1 to 4, and one such class in week 9); 3-hour, off-campus, field work exercises in the class time of weeks 5-7; and one weekend (2 days x 8 hours each) of field work between weeks 7 and 9. There will be no classes or field work in weeks 10, 11 and 12.

    Note this subject may be taken as the Capstone subject for the Geography major and all students completing this subject, whether this subject serves as the Geography Capstone or not, will be invited to present findings from their fieldwork at a special end-of-semester event, to which Geography staff will be invited.

  • This subject examines theories in the discipline of ecology and biogeography as they pertain to riverine environments, emphasising the use of theory to understand how to solve environmental management problems in river ecosystems. The subject examines the population, community and ecosystem dynamics of rivers, and the geographical distributions and diversities of the organisms that inhabit these ecosystems. Through practicals and fieldwork, students should develop an understanding of the relations between catchment characteristics, the nature of the water body and its associated biota. Students should become aware of the multidisciplinary nature of ecosystem management and the need for critical examination of ideas in the literature.

  • Everyone knows what ‘Sustainable Development’ is, but if you stop to think, it may become less clear. Sustainable development has become a chameleon, suiting different needs and fulfilling different roles for different people with different interests. In this subject, we will explore this appealing-yet-slippery idea with the aim of deciding whether it is a suitable concept with which to explore the cultural, environmental, and economic challenges facing society. Is sustainable development a useful idea, or do we need to move on?

    In addition to the debates over sustainable development, this subject will provide students with the skills needed to examine, analyse, and report on challenges related to their interests. At its heart, the subject explores the primary question of sustainable development, which is whether it can be useful in a world (seemingly) approaching numerous catastrophic tipping points. The climate is changing, the oceans are acidifying, the soils cannot keep producing our food, and wealth is being concentrated amongst a smaller and smaller segment of the world. Is sustainable development helpful in understandings, and ideally changing, these trends?

    There are also more practical considerations surrounding the debate over sustainable development. Some people might be interested in having a greater impact on the world through development projects, micro-credit, or volunteering. Is sustainable development helpful? Can the concept help individuals engaged in improving our world (or at least trying)? Does it help ensure that their efforts are beneficial and not perverted by wider interests and processes?

    It is also worth considering if sustainable development might not be better thought of as an analytical framing: as a way of pulling apart problems or projects in order to better understand or assess their impact on ecological sustainability, development, or economics? Is sustainable development an analytical tool for making sense of ‘wicked’ problems?

    In this subject we will review the history of sustainable development, which draws together literature from Geography, Sociology, Engineering, Psychology, Economics, and the Sciences. We will explore critiques of sustainable development, and force ourselves to consider whether it is possible, practical, or even useful in the ‘real world’. We will explore several key challenges, using sustainable development as a lens or framing. And finally and most creatively, we will attempt to reinterpret sustainable development in a world of growing inequality.

    For more information see:

  • This subject examines the impacts of disasters in cities. It will explore why some groups are more vulnerable to particular hazards than others, while considering the role of social capital and adaptation for increasing the resilience of urban communities to disasters.This is important because the trend towards increasing urbanisation and larger cities is a major contributor to the rising toll of disaster losses globally. In addition, climate change predictions indicate that natural hazards such as bushfires, floods, storms and cyclones are likely to increase in intensity and possibly also frequency in many places, including cities. Contemporary cases will be used to highlight key issues and policy debates. Implications for urban planning and disaster planning and management in cities and at the rural-urban interface will be considered.

    Cases and examples will be drawn from around the world, primarily from developed countries. Students will have the opportunity to examine case/s of their own choosing (with approval from the subject coordinator), and will undertake locally based research in preparation of the field report. There will be a local field trip associated with this subject.