Global Political Ecology at the University of Barcelona

There is a class offered at the University of Barcelona called Global Political Ecology, where students learn about the complexities and power dynamics involved in decisions and conflicts related to the environment. The class asks the following question: Can ecological sustainability, social equity, and economic development be tackled simultaneously?

Just another day of academia, right? 

Not quite. 

For many GLOCAL students taking this elective, Global Political Ecology has come as a pleasant surprise. A three-and-a-half hour session every Monday, the class varies in its structure, from traditional-style lectures to featured speakers discussing various subjects. On one particular sunny day, the class went to a nearby park to learn and play outside.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes the class so special. The professor, Federico Demaria, is passionate, dynamic, and knowledgeable. The class is also small — usually 10-13 people in attendance at most — and everyone is engaged, talkative, and shares a common interest. Thus, perhaps it is the intangible energy of the classroom that makes it so special. 

“Political ecology is a course that made me question already existing theories and well-received practices in the discipline, and gave me a different angle with respect to both issues and solutions. I would recommend this course to anyone who does not think that the world is ‘flat’. Even more, I would love to see the course on the compulsory list for the GLOCAL curriculum”

– Teona Chakvetadze

The professor, Federico Demario, teaching students outdoors

But there are more tangible factors that impact the quality of this course, too. Almost each week, the professor invites a guest speaker to come to the class and speak on an interesting subject. And it turns out the professor is well-connected, because students have had the opportunity to hear from experts on concepts such as the “Tragedy of the Commons,” waste pickers in Barcelona, and decolonial feminist political ecologies — among others. 

On one especially memorable day, the author of the class textbook, The Environmentalism of the Poor: A study of ecological conflicts and valuation, came to the class to speak. Joan Martinez Alier is one of the world’s leading ecological economists, and it was a true honour to learn from him about the range and impact of environmental conflicts around the world.

“Global Political Ecology is a very future-oriented class with hands-on experiences and innovative teaching methods. The course aims to cover diverse ecological distribution conflicts from all over the world and highlight their similarities. Overall, it is a very interactive class with interesting guest speakers and room for critical questions and individual interests.”

– Ken Goigner

Students pose in a photo with Juan Martinez Alier, one of the world's leading ecological economists

Mr. Martinez Alier is also the founder of the EjAtlas, which is an online inventory that tracks environmental conflicts around the world. As part of the class assessment, students are tasked with inputting a new environmental conflict into the Atlas — an exciting opportunity to contribute to a global environmental tracking system, and also to have one’s name published online! 

Mr. Demario, meanwhile, is a champion of the concept of degrowth, one response among many to current global environmental problems and injustices. 

With two months left to the semester, it’s hard to say what students will learn next. But that’s just another great aspect of the course — each Monday is a completely new and exciting experience.


“I don’t think it’s too much to say that the Political Ecology course will be the course with the biggest impact on my worldview during the Master. Besides the general idea of seeing environmental conflicts as a result of different power relations in the world and focusing on social groups that suffer from them, I learn mind-blowing aspects of the discipline every week. I think every GLOCAL student should take this course because a sustainable future on our planet will only be possible through a change in our economic system, and we can play a major role in shaping this.”

– Mel Thut

Read more about other interesting courses in GLOCAL: