The Center for Environmental Studies grew from multiple previous initiatives. In 2002, Walter Isle, Professor of English, and Paul Harcombe, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, founded the Center for the Study of the Environment and Society (CSES) and with it the Environmental Studies program (ENST), a curricular effort to sponsor courses about environment and ecology across disciplines. In 2011, a faculty-led initiative produced the Cultures of Energy Working Group, which was funded by Rice’s Humanities Research Center and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to explore energy from a range of disciplines across the arts, humanities, architecture and social sciences.

Out of the Cultures of Energy working group emerged, in 2013, the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) under the leadership of Dominic Boyer (Professor of Anthropology), who incorporated both the CSES and ENST and helped grow the ENST program into a thriving multidisciplinary minor while offering invigorating programs, from arts exhibitions to the annual Cultures of Energy symposium.

In 2019, the schools of Humanities and Architecture became home to the renamed Center for Environmental Studies, under the direction of Joseph Campana (Professor of English), which continues the work of the CSES and CENHS by broadening our rubric to recognize the growing diversity of topics and approaches to energy and ecology in our research and by sustaining and deepening our commitments to educating, through the Environmental Studies program, future generations who face the urgent, accumulating impacts of our ecological moment.

Today, our faculty engage in science and technology studies; climate and environmental history; the anthropology of energy systems and transitions; the sociologies of toxicity; climate vulnerability; the increasingly wide and varied impacts of waste; environmental justice and environmental racism; the study of infrastructure and the practice of sustainable design in both urban and coastal contexts; philosophies and theologies of disaster and recovery; extreme weather; the cultural ideas of biodiversity and the impact of thinking about extinction; the different horizons of expectation and theories of survival embedded in terms like sustainability, adaptation, and resilience. We present, commission, and create arts and media engaging with the immediacy and lived experience of energy, ecology, climate, disaster, storms, waste and more.