Peter Klepeis

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Peter Klepeis

Professor of Geography

Department/Office Information

305 Ho Science Center
  • MW 1:00pm - 3:00pm (University of Cape Town)


BA, Colgate University, 1994; MA (1997), PhD (2000), Clark University

My research and teaching focus on nature-society relationships and themes in sustainability science. Drawing on perspectives from political ecology and environmental history, and bridging traditions in the social and natural sciences, I explore multiple forms of natural resource use and protection.

Case studies come from Mexico, Chile, Australia, the United States, and Ethiopia. Projects include the study of tropical deforestation in the Yucatan Peninsula, forest and rangeland degradation in southern Patagonia, the spread of invasive weeds in eastern New South Wales, the human dimensions of invasive earthworms in the Adirondack State Park, forest recovery processes in the Town of Eaton, NY, and church forest protection in northern Ethiopia. These last three studies involved collaboration with Colgate undergraduate geography students. A new project on the geography of happiness in Colombia is in its early stages.

Learn about more of my research and travel interests.

Peter Klepeis teaching Geog 251 in the geography department's GIS lab



Courses Taught



Taught Regularly

GEOG 121: Earth, Society & Sustainability
People have always modified nature. But the scale of environmental change over the last 300 years is unprecedented. Many scholars now refer to the industrial age as the anthropocene; akin to a geologic force, society now has the capacity to alter the very structure and function of the biosphere. Drawing on environmental history, multidisciplinary nature-society research, and case studies from around the world, this course investigates a broad range of environmental issues – including tropical deforestation, natural resource consumption, and the global food system. Students are pressed to question their assumptions about resource use and environmental change dynamics, and consider how society should shape future environments. Is sustainable development possible?


GEOG 105: Climate & Society
Human-induced climate change ― global warming ― is the defining issue of our time. This course explores both the biophysical and social aspects of historical climate-society relationships. Particular emphasis is placed on patterns of vulnerability now and in the distant past, sea level rise, potential geoengineering responses, the debate about market-based mitigation strategies, and ways to enhance societal discourse about climate change. Students grapple with the science and scientific uncertainty of climate change, but also the social, political, ethical, and economic implications of society’s responses. Normally co-taught by a human and physical geographer, the course draws on the multi-disciplinary tradition of geography and exposes students to a range of research methodologies and analytical approaches.

In the news: “Are We Cool With the Warmth?” (ENST Newsletter)



GEOG/SOC 251: Media Frame and Content Analysis

Social scientists generate qualitative data in myriad ways – via interviews, participant observation, archival research, and focus groups, for example. Qualitative analysis is particularly well suited to exposing context-specific dynamics. In this course students apply qualitative content analysis ─ an approach that facilitates the analysis of words, concepts, and relationships in texts, such as newspaper articles ─ to the theme of environmental risk communication. Given the many ways that individuals learn about environmental hazards, the study of information flow and risk communication is a critical area of research with important policy implications. The course helps prepare students for upper-level undergraduate research. Assignments build to a final project that utilizes the qualitative data analysis software, MAXqda.



GEOG 326: Environmental Hazards
Environmental hazards are threats to people and the things they value. Hazards are a complex mix of natural processes and human actions; thus, they do not just happen, but are caused. This course emphasizes the role of institutions, technology, and human behavior in hazard creation: case studies center on earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfire (natural hazards); toxic pollution and high volume hydraulic fracturing of shale gas (technological hazards); and malaria and invasive species (biological hazards). In each case, the goal is to identify policy response options to mitigate the risk of environmental hazards and manage them more effectively.



Taught Periodically


  • GEOG 306: The Geography of Happiness 
  • GEOG 322: Ecologies of the City (Manchester study group)
  • GEOG 325: Water & Society
  • GEOG 328: Sustainability and Natural Resources (South Africa study group)
  • GEOG 401: Senior Seminar in Geography
  • ENST 309: Australian Environmental Issues (Australia study group)
  • ENST 390: Community-based Study of Environmental Issues

Discussing the geography of happiness on a warm September day

I directed Colgate’s Wollongong (Australia) study group in 2003 and 2008 (current Australia study group information), and the Manchester (UK) study group in 2014 (current Manchester study group information). In addition, I co-directed the Uganda extended study with Frank Frey (Biology) in May 2013. I will direct the second iteration of Colgate's new South Africa study group (located in Cape Town) in fall 2019.

* = undergraduate author

  • 2019   Klepeis, P. "Be Happy, for the Planet". Colgate Magazine (Spring). See
  • 2018   Orlowska, I. and P. Klepeis. "Ethiopian church forests: a socio-religious conservation model under change." Journal of Eastern African Studies Published online: 19 September. See
  • 2017   Scull, P., Cardelús , C., Klepeis, P., Woods, C., Frankl, A. and J. Nyssen. "The resilience of Ethiopian church forests: interpreting aerial photographs, 1938-2015." Land Degradation & Development 28(2): 450-458. 
  • 2016   Klepeis, P., Orlowska, I., Kent, E., Cardelús, C., Scull, P., Wassie Eshete, A. and C. Woods. "Ethiopian Church Forests: A Hybrid Model of Protection." Human Ecology 44(6): 715-730. See
  • 2016   Klepeis, P. and N. Gill.  “The paradox of engagement: land stewardship and invasive weeds in amenity landscapes.” In L.E. Taylor and P.T. Hurley (eds), A Comparative Political Ecology of Exurbia: Planning, Environmental Management, and Landscape Change, Springer, p. 221-243.