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Society, Economy, and the Environment

Purpose of Course  showclose

Human societies have always been dependent upon local and regional environments for critical natural resources, and loss of these resources (either due to environmental changes or human overuse) has often reduced a society’s resilience to future challenges.  When resilience decreases, the risk of societal collapse increases.  Today, our globalized, highly connected societies have increased access to environmental resources, yet they leave us more vulnerable to disruptions and disasters that begin in other regions or systems.  By understanding how our societies are connected to each other and to the environment, we can better manage our interactions so that they do not increase the potential for societal collapse.  This course will use a complex systems theory perspective to investigate how coupled human-environment systems interact to either increase or decrease their risk of collapse.  This complex systems approach works across many disciplines, so that human-environment linkages can be understood from sociological, environmental science, and economic viewpoints.

The course will begin with a primer of complex systems theory and then will discuss the theory’s influence on the science of societal collapse.  Then, the course will review trends and issues in a variety of systems and society-environment interactions that are critical to most communities, including strained energy and food resources, loss of biodiversity and cultural resources, risks posed by invasive species and international trade, impacts of overpopulation and excess consumption, and alteration of flows of key resources.  The final “Solutions and Syntheses” unit will allow you to apply your knowledge to several discussions of current societies and their vulnerabilities.  You will be able to identify the human and environmental connections that are at risk of failing (and therefore at risk for societal collapse).  The goal of the course is to help you become literate in the terms and concepts relating to societal collapse and resilience, environmental issues, and societal responses to them.

This course is cross-listed as an elective in two curriculums: a) Environmental Sciences and b) Science, Technology, & Society curricula.  For Environmental Sciences majors, this course will demonstrate how human activities can rearrange ecosystems, alter flows of nutrients and species, and bring about what some geologists are now calling the Anthropocene Epoch, a period of time dominated by human activities.  For Science, Technology, & Society majors, the course will help strengthen the application of a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving and risk assessment that includes social and economic perspectives.  The basic goal of this course is to provide you with the necessary theoretical foundation (complex systems and societal collapse theories) to allow you to identify critical interactions between social and environmental systems that govern systemic risk of collapse.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to ENVS504.  General information on this course and its requirements can be found below.

Course Designer: Audrey L. Mayer, Ph.D.
 
Primary Resources: The materials for this course are a collection of free, online materials from a wide variety of sources.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:
Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of the materials associated with it.  While it is not absolutely necessary to work through the units in order, it is highly advised that you begin with Units 1 and 2 and leave Unit 9 for last, as this unit assumes the mastery of the subjects from the previous 8 units.  You will also need to complete:
  • The Final Exam
Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the materials in each unit.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 134.75hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 8.5 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3.75 hours) on Monday night; subunits 1.2 and 1.3 (a total of 4.75 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: Take comprehensive notes as you study each resource.  These notes will be useful as a review when you study for your Final Exam.

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  • Connect the impacts of some environmental systems on other environmental systems, e.g., energy resources and climate change on biodiversity loss, pollution, and altered flows of resources.
  • Identify multiple society-environment connections as drivers of potential societal collapse.
  • Identify the environmental pressures that a particular society faces and potential solutions to ease these pressures and increase the society’s resilience.
  • Analyze and debate proposed solutions to environmental issues or sustainable development plans.
  • Integrate multiple society-environment issues into a complex narrative, explaining whether the society is expected to have great or little resilience to these issues and how the society might increase its resilience to changes in climate, resource availability, and globalization trends. 

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Be competent in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed the following courses: “ENVS101: Principles of Environmental Science” and “ENVS102: Environmental Principles (Case Studies)”. 

Unit Outline show close


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  • Unit 1: Introduction to Complex Systems Theory  

    Many of the crises and catastrophes that human societies have faced have seemed catastrophic, because humans typically assume that systems are simple and change in gradual, linear ways.  Instead, most systems are actually complex, and nonlinear relationships and changes are far more common.  Many scientific disciplines now use complex systems theory to better understand dynamic systems (those that undergo change constantly).  Complex systems theory, or the study of systems that are characterized by nonlinear changes over time, has been especially important to the study of coupled society-environment systems.  This theory has provided a foundation for the resilience concept for ecosystems and the development, maturity, collapse, and reorganization of coupled society-environment systems.

    This unit will provide you with a basic background in complex systems theory, including definitions for common terminology, descriptions of the underlying system behaviors, and how this approach allows for system prediction and measurement, including the measurement of risk of catastrophe or collapse.

    Unit 1 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 1 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 1.1 Complex Systems Theory  
  • 1.1.1 Complex Systems  
  • 1.1.2 Self-Organization, Feedbacks, and Attractors  
  • 1.1.3 Catastrophe Theory and Thresholds  
  • 1.2 Resilience  
  • 1.2.1 Definition and Models  
  • 1.2.2 Measures and Indicators  
  • 1.2.3 Example: Case Study  
  • 1.3 Panarchy Theory  
  • Unit 2: Societal Collapse  

    In 1988, the anthropologist Dr. Joseph Tainter published his book, The Collapse of Complex Societies, which described de-evolution of ancient societies, such as the Maya, Chaco, and Roman empires, in the presence of climate change and resource depletion.  Dr. Tainter realized that the response of these societies to these environmental challenges was to increase societal complexity, establishing a positive feedback between complexity and resource consumption that ultimately led to the society’s demise.  In 2004, Dr. Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, furthered this line of inquiry, identifying historical and modern-day cases in which societal responses to environmental pressures either increased their resilience by adapting the society to operate within new environmental limits, or decreased their resilience by further degrading the environment and resource base.  These two works spawned a large field of research into societal resilience and collapse, for which complex systems theory has been a very helpful framework.  State failure (the collapse of governments in modern nation-states) is the current-day counterpart to the societal collapse literature.  While studies of past societal collapses can give us insight into the large-scale drivers of collapse, case studies of currently failed states provide much richer detail as to how central governments lose control over their territory, and how difficult it can be to pull a society out of a failed state.  From this small-scale perspective, state collapse is often the consequence of a collection of poorly made decisions by leaders; this observation was also made by both Tainter and Diamond working at a larger scale as a society’s response to stresses.  For some scholars, a failed state is the last step before a society completely collapses.

    This unit will familiarize you with the terminology and concepts in the societal collapse research area.  This unit will demonstrate how this work helps to inform current decision-makers at local, regional, and global scales about ways to increase the resilience of their societies.

    Unit 2 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 2 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 2.1 Societal Collapse and State Failure  
  • 2.1.1 Past Societal Collapses  
    • Lecture: TED Talks: Professor Jared Diamond’s “Why Societies Collapse”

      Link: TED Talks: Professor Jared Diamond’s “Why Societies Collapse” (Flash)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch Jared Diamond’s TED Talk.  In this lecture, he describes the five main factors of collapse of human societies and provides examples from past societies and how these societies were unable to avoid collapse.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.1.2 Modern-Day Collapsed States  
    • Reading: The Wilson Center: Robert Rotberg’s “Failed States, Collapsed States, and Weak States: Causes and Indicators”

      Link: The Wilson Center: Robert Rotberg’s “Failed States, Collapsed States, and Weak States: Causes and Indicators” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and then click on the link under the “Attachment” heading; this will open a PDF of the first chapter of this book.  The chapter defines the main terms used in state failure research and outlines criteria for differentiating the different stages in a collapsed state.  Please note that this was published in July 2011, so it does not discuss the Arab revolutions in countries in northern Africa and the Middle East.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

      The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

      Submit Materials

    • Reading: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich: International Relations and Security Network Staff: “Moving towards Weak and Failed States”

      Link: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich: International Relations and Security Network Staff: “Moving towards Weak and Failed States” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this short news article about causes of state failure in countries in Africa.  In particular, the “resource curse” is a risk factor for state failure that is cited in many studies.  You should note that the types of resources that increase risk are those that cannot be easily used by local communities (such as water or forests), but rather those that can fetch a high price from rich countries (e.g., diamonds and other minerals) and provide cash to purchase weapons.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.1.3 Controversy with Identifying Failed States and Collapsed Societies  
    • Web Media: Al Jazeera: Interview with JJ Messner, Elliot Ross, and Syed Mohammad Ali: “Grading State Failure”

      Link: Al Jazeera: Interview with JJ Messner, Elliot Ross, and Syed Mohammad Ali: “Grading State Failure” (HTML and YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the material below the video box before watching the interviews.  The charts describe the results of the yearly Failed States Index study conducted by the Fund for Peace.  The methodology that the organization uses has been accused of having a Western bias, as Western and developed countries are consistently ranked more highly than other nations.  Then, click on the play button for the video, and watch the interviews with JJ Messner, Elliot Ross, and Syed Mohammad Ali.  The interviewees provide different opinions on the utility of failed states discussions in general and the Fund for Peace’s index in particular.

      Reading this material and watching the interview should take approximately 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2 Case Studies  
  • 2.2.1 Collapse: Roman Empire  
    • Lecture: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Paul Freedman’s “Transformation of the Roman Empire”

      Link: YouTube: Yale University: Professor Paul Freedman’s “Transformation of the Roman Empire” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this lecture.  Professor Freedman uses the more neutral term of “transformation” than collapse or failure to describe the end of the Roman Empire.  He pursues different explanations for the transformation and whether it was sudden enough to put the Roman Empire in the same category of other catastrophic societal failures.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2.2 Collapse: Mayan Empire  
    • Reading: Pennsylvania State University: David Webster’s “The Uses and Abuses of the Ancient Maya”

      Link: Pennsylvania State University: David Webster’s “The Uses and Abuses of the Ancient Maya” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and scroll down to “Recent Publications.”  Then click on the link for the “The Uses and Abuses of Ancient Maya” article to download the PDF.  Please read the entire article, which describes what is known about the history of the Mayan Empire, including its populations, governance, resource base and technology.  The article also examines several different explanations for why the Mayan Empire collapsed, including external stresses such as regional drought and internal factors such as a lack of adaptive capacity.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2.3 Collapse: Easter Island  
    • Reading: American Scientist: Terry Hunt’s “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island”

      Link: American Scientist: Terry Hunt’s “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the entire article.  On Easter Island (“Rapa Nui,” as it is known by its inhabitants), the causes of the disappearance of the people responsible for the striking stone statues (or “moai”) scattered around the island has always been shrouded in mystery.  Hunt (an anthropologist) argues that most of the popular beliefs surrounding what happened to the society are likely mostly or totally incorrect.  Instead, he suggests that an explosion of invasive rats may have led to the rapid devegetation of the island and loss of this critical resource for the human population.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2.4 Modern Failed States  
  • Unit 3: Anthropogenic Climate Change and Energy Resources  

    Although in the past, climate change has been linked to volcanic activity, meteor collisions, and other natural phenomena, the changes occurring now are for the first time closely linked to human activities, in particular the use of fossil fuels as an energy source and land use change.  The transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels (such as solar, wind, and biomass) will not only help human societies shift their reliance from exhaustible to renewable sources (an important task in the face of peak oil, or reaching the maximum production of oil after which production declines), but these renewable sources are also either carbon neutral or have zero carbon emissions.  Transitions from fossil fuels to renewable fuels have a cost, however, as land previously dedicated to natural habitats and agriculture will need to be converted to biomass production (or flooded) for energy generation.  These land use changes also impact carbon sequestration and albedo, two key factors in climate change.  For these reasons, current climate change and energy use are linked by the same human activities.

    In this unit, you will briefly review the science behind climate change as well as renewable and nonrenewable energy resources.  You will then learn about the interconnection between climate change and energy resources.  This interconnection makes solutions for both problems difficult, particularly in the long term.

    Unit 3 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 3 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 3.1 Climate Change  
  • 3.1.1 Processes and Controls  
    • Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 3: Climate and Global Change”

      Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 3: Climate and Global Change” (HTML)

      Also available in:
      PDF
      ePub

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read Section 3.1 (page 49 of the PDF) and Section 3.2 (pages 50–63) for an explanation of the natural processes that drive climate to remain stable, or to change from warm periods to cold periods.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: William Schlesinger and Ryan Eick’s “The Global Carbon Cycle and Climate Change”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: William Schlesinger and Ryan Eick’s “The Global Carbon Cycle and Climate Change” (DOC and PPT)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and select the five links to download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to access them.  The downloadable files include a synthesis report, a Power Point presentation, and three Exercises.  The synthesis report describes the carbon cycle and how human activities have altered the cycle to increase carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere (increasing climate change).  The presentation provides an overview of the report with additional images and illustrations.  Exercises 1 and 2 provide activities related to case studies of how climate change affects single species and ecosystems.  Although answers are not provided for the discussion questions, these questions would be excellent topics for the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forum.  Exercise 3 provides an opportunity to learn and write about the standards use to estimate climate change impacts on communities and ecosystems; this exercise will not be covered in the final exam, but it may be of interest to you.

      Reading these materials, taking notes, and completing the exercises should take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use on the webpages displayed above.

  • 3.1.2 Historical Climate Change  
  • 3.1.3 Climate Influenced by Human Activities  
  • 3.1.4 Predictions for Future Climate Change  
  • 3.2 Energy  
  • 3.2.1 Fossil Fuels and Peak Oil  
  • 3.2.2 Renewable Sources  
  • 3.2.3 Nuclear Energy  
  • 3.2.4 Energy Sources for Electricity Generation  
  • 3.2.5 Liquid Fuels  
  • 3.2.6 Heat Generation  
  • Unit 4: Food Systems  

    Aside from water, food is one of the most basic and important resources for all species, humans included.  As human societies have transitioned from hunter-gatherers or nomadic livestock herders to sedentary agriculturalists, the impacts on their societal and environmental systems have changed as well.  Intense debates currently surround the sustainability of any of these systems in general and the different approaches to agriculture in particular.  While the Green Revolution used fossil fuels, chemicals, and genetically modified organisms to greatly boost yields of foodstuffs in industrial fields, the social and environmental consequences of this revolution are beginning to become apparent.

    This unit will cover the impacts of these food production transitions on social and environmental systems as well as their implications for societal resilience versus collapse.  Materials will compare resilience in both historical case studies and contemporary ones and will briefly examine the Slow Food, organic, and locavore movements as potential solutions to the negative impacts of industrial agriculture.

    Unit 4 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 4 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 4.1 Hunter-Gatherer Systems  
  • 4.2 Nomadic Livestock-Based Systems  
    • Reading: National Geographic Society: “Herding”

      Link: National Geographic Society: “Herding” (HTML)

      Instructions: Click on the link above, view the photos, and read the encyclopedia entry.  You can also click on the “Vocabulary” tab at the top of the article to see all of the words defined.  The article describes nomadic and semi-nomadic herding systems and provides many modern examples of cultures that engage in these practices.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Solutions: Ronnie Vernooy’s “How Mongolian Herders Are Transforming Nomadic Pastoralism”

      Link: Solutions: Ronnie Vernooy’s “How Mongolian Herders Are Transforming Nomadic Pastoralism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this article, which discusses the case of livestock herding in Mongolia and its recent negative impacts on the environment (particularly the grasslands).  Much of this degradation occurred after the collapse of Soviet rule, when the traditional communal management practices were replaced with a privatized structure which led to overgrazing.  These governance changes occurred in tandem with negative impacts from climate change.  Now, local leaders are diversifying local economies and reinstating a communal management structure to try to preserve the productivity of the grasslands and the sustainability of the herding culture.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.3 Agricultural Movements  
  • 4.3.1 Overview of Modern Agriculture  
  • 4.3.2 The Green Revolution  
  • 4.3.3 Organic  
    • Lecture: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Robert Rodale”

      Link: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Robert Rodale” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch the interview with Robert Rodale.  You may view each part of the video separately by clicking on the links provided on the webpage, or you may view all 7 parts in succession.  Robert’s father, J.I. Rodale, was a pioneer in organic farming in the United States, and his son (and now grandchildren) has continued to advance organic practices at their Rodale farms in Pennsylvania.

      Watching this interview and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.3.4 Polyculture  
    • Lecture: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Dr. Wes Jackson”

      Link: United States Department of Agriculture, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Jane Gates’ “Interview with Dr. Wes Jackson” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch the interview with Dr. Wes Jackson.  You may watch each part of the video separately by clicking on the links provided on the webpage, or you may watch all 5 parts in succession.  Dr. Jackson is the founder of The Land Institute, a research center in Salina, Kansas that has developed a method of crop production that mimics the native tallgrass prairies through intercropping many species of grains, herbs, forbs, and other vegetables (or polyculture).  The first 10 minutes of the first part (“Introduction, family, academic life and the founding of the Land Institute”) can be skipped if necessary.

      Watching this interview and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.3.5 Local and Slow Food  
    • Lecture: Tufts University: Carlo Petrini’s “Slow Food Tufts”

      Link: Tufts University: Carlo Petrini’s “Slow Food Tufts” (Flash)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this guest lecture.  Carlo Petrini is the founder of the Slow Food International group and movement.  The lecture begins with a brief film covering the 2008 Slow Food meeting in Turin, Italy and then turns to Mr. Petrini’s talk at Tufts University.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

      The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

      Submit Materials

  • 4.4 Impacts of Agriculture on the Environment  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Professor Kelly Brownell’s “Sustainability I: The Impact of Modern Agriculture on the Environment and Energy Use”

      Link: Yale University: Professor Kelly Brownell’s “Sustainability I: The Impact of Modern Agriculture on the Environment and Energy Use” (JWPlayer)

      Also available in:
      Transcript (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this lecture.  Professor Brownell discusses the impacts that the modern industrial agricultural system has on the environment (e.g., supplies of water, land and energy supplies, etc.) and how this system contributes to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: L. Horrigan et al.’s “Agriculture and Biodiversity”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: L. Horrigan et al.’s “Agriculture and Biodiversity” (DOC and PPT)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all of the materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  Materials in the folder include two Word files (a Synthesis report, and Exercises) and a Power Point presentation that provides a review of the main points of the report.  The report reviews the resources and services that agricultural systems require from diverse ecosystems, and then describes the many negative impacts that traditional and modern agriculture can have on ecosystems.  The report also briefly describes modifications that can be made to agricultural techniques and crops that can make the practice more sustainable.  The “Exercises” document provides a sample scenario for you to apply changes to techniques and crops to achieve sustainable agriculture.  Discussion questions will guide your learning, and although answers are not provided, these would be good questions to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading these materials, taking notes, and completing the exercises should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 5: Loss of Biodiversity, Cultural Diversity, and Ecosystem Functions  

    Biodiversity (the number and abundance of different species of organisms) is known to be positively related to ecosystem productivity and perhaps to stability and resilience to disturbances and invasive species.  Recent research has found that cultural and linguistic diversity closely follows spatial patterns of biodiversity, suggesting that human diversity is dependent upon diverse ecosystems.  The extinction rates of both biodiversity and cultural diversity are substantially above background rates, and it is likely that our planet will become substantially simplified before these rates return to normal.  Globally, we are likely to lose many goods and services provided by ecosystems (such as food, fiber, energy production, water purification, and other goods and services that can be thought of as the natural capital of societies).  We will also lose the knowledge of how to use these goods and services effectively and sustainably as local cultures disappear.

    This unit will provide a basic overview of the causes of extinction of biological and cultural diversity.  This unit will explain the linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and natural resources required by human societies.

    Unit 5 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 5 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 5.1 Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  
  • 5.1.1 Biodiversity Distribution and Ecosystem Services  
    • Reading: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: “Biodiversity Synthesis”

      Link: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: “Biodiversity Synthesis” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link select the “Biodiversity” link under the “Synthesis Reports” section to download the PDF.  Read pages 17–41, which provide an explanation of how biodiversity is defined by ecologists and how it is distributed across the planet.  The reading also discusses the link between biodiversity and ecosystem functions and provisions (services).

      Reading this report and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.1.2 Extinction Rates and Patterns  
    • Reading: Convention on Biological Diversity: “Global Biodiversity Outlook 3”

      Link: Convention on Biological Diversity: “Global Biodiversity Outlook 3” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download the PDF in the language that you prefer.  This report describes the rate of species’ extinctions globally and by biome or ecosystem (e.g., terrestrial, inland waters, marine, etc.).  Future rates and patterns of biodiversity loss are estimated based on projections, which assume the continuation of the processes and forces that are currently responsible for loss in our current time.

      Reading this report and taking notes should take approximately 3 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: “Biodiversity Synthesis”

      Link: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: “Biodiversity Synthesis” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link select the “Biodiversity” link under the “Synthesis Reports” section to download the PDF.  Read pages 42–59, which describe the currently observed declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as the causes of these declines.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.1.3 Future Trends and Opportunities for Conservation  
    • Reading: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: “Biodiversity Synthesis”

      Link: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: “Biodiversity Synthesis” (PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link select the “Biodiversity” link under the “Synthesis Reports” section to download the PDF.  Read pages 60–76, which use projections to illustrate the future losses we might experience given current trends, and the reading discusses conservation actions that can be taken to reduce the likelihood that we will see these losses.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Madhu Rao’s “Biodiversity Conservation and Integrated Conservation and Development Projects”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Madhu Rao’s “Biodiversity Conservation and Integrated Conservation and Development Projects” (DOC and PPT)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files.  The downloadable files include a synthesis report, a Power Point presentation, and an Exercises file.  The report explains what ICDPs are and how they are meant to mitigate some of the negative impacts that can affect local communities when protected areas are established near them.  This biodiversity strategy is meant to contribute to sustainable development of an area, where social and economic concerns are addressed in conjunction with environmental ones.  The presentation highlights the main points of the report.  The exercise provides descriptions of two cases where ICDPs are slated to be used, and you can answer questions from the perspective of a conservation consultant.  Although answers are not provided for the discussion questions, these questions would be excellent topics for the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading these materials taking notes, and completing the exercises should take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.2 Ecosystems  
  • 5.2.1 Marine Systems: Cycles, Functions and Ecosystem Services  
  • 5.3 Relationships between Biodiversity and Cultural Diversity  
  • 5.3.1 Linkages between Cultures and Ecosystems  
  • 5.3.2 Language Diversity and Correlation with Biodiversity  
  • 5.3.3 Cultural Vulnerability to Ecological Changes  
  • 5.3.4 Traditional Environmental Knowledge  
  • Unit 6: Invasive Species, Globalization, and Trade  

    With the era of industrialization and fossil fuel use, humans have been able to move themselves, their cargo, and some unwanted stowaways much farther and faster than was possible historically.  Organisms such as zebra mussels, cane toads, and mountain pine beetles may be too small to do much damage individually, but as their populations explode in new areas, they have taken over ecosystems with dire consequences for the societies that depend upon them.  Migration of humans from one society to another has had both positive and negative social and environmental effects, as has the trade in the goods and services they produce.  The movement of cargo ships, trucks, and airplanes has created a wave of new organisms to new areas, increasing the risk of invasive species and the disruptions they can cause.

    This unit will review the flows of humans, species, and resources across the planet.  This unit will explain how these flows are creating threats, stresses, and consequences that substantially decrease the resilience of many societies.

    Unit 6 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 6 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 6.1 Invasive Species: Definitions and Trends  
  • 6.1.1 What Makes a Species Invasive?  
  • 6.1.2 Routes of Invasion  
    • Reading: Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International, Invasive Species Compendium: Nick Pasiecznik’s “Pathways for Plant Introduction”

      Link: Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International, Invasive Species Compendium: Nick Pasiecznik’s “Pathways for Plant Introduction” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and then select the “Invasiveness” hypertext link.  On the new webpage, locate the article titled “Pathways for Plan Introduction” and click on “View the Full Text” to download the PDF.  Please read the report for brief descriptions of the many ways that plants can be moved (intentionally or unintentionally) from their native ranges to new areas, where they may become invasive.  Many of these routes are the same ones that introduce animal species to new areas.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: C Finlayson and A Alyokhin’s “Invasive Species and Mechanisms of Invasions”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: C Finlayson and A Alyokhin’s “Invasive Species and Mechanisms of Invasions” (DOC)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  The files include a synthesis report, a Power Point presentation, and an Exercise file.  The report provides a great deal of information on the life history characteristics that successful invasive species possess and the types of ecological communities that are the most vulnerable to invasion.  The report also provides a description of the specific kinds of disturbances that invasive species create in ecosystems, along with their economic costs to local communities.  The presentation describes the main points of the report.  The exercise instructs you to examine your local habitats and ecosystems for invasive species, prompting you to collect data and conduct a basic analysis.  Of course, there are no “correct” answers, because each student will be conducting the survey in a different place, so you may find the exercise interesting but of limited use.  However, this exercise might be a good starting point for a discussion of invasive species in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading these materials and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

  • 6.1.3 Consequences of Invasive Species  
  • 6.1.4 Case Studies  
  • 6.2 Globalization: Definitions and Trends  
  • 6.3 International Trade  
  • 6.3.1 Biological Impacts  
  • 6.3.2 Economic Impacts  
  • 6.3.3 Social Impacts  
  • 6.4 Resilience Implications of Invasive Species, Globalization, and Trade  
  • Unit 7: Carrying Capacity: Overpopulation and Consumption  

    In late 2011, the global human population exceeded 7 billion people; this was just 12 years after the population had reached 6 billion people.  The current rate of population increase is exponential, which means that it takes less time to add each additional billion.  While there is some debate as to whether growth in population is ultimately a problem, it is undeniable that more people will require more food, water, space, and other resources, leaving fewer resources for other species and ecosystems.  At the same time, economic development in many countries has rapidly increased the per person consumption of resources, leading to additional strains on the environment and passionate discussions regarding fairness across nations and cultures.  Indeed, the argument that dissuaded the United States from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol was over whether total carbon emissions (which would have favored the United States) versus per capita carbon emissions (which would have favored China and India) should have been the metric of compliance.  The debate over “total” versus “per capita” underlies many of the resource struggles at global and regional scales.

    This unit will explain carrying capacity as well as several of its measurements, such as the Ecological Footprint index and the I=PAT equation.  The index measures the sustainability of a specific level of resource consumption and illustrates the consequences of population versus consumption on natural resources.  The unit will conclude with a discussion of policies aimed at slowing population growth (which have largely succeeded) and reducing consumption (which have mostly failed).

    Unit 7 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 7 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 7.1 Human Population Trends  
  • 7.1.1 Historical Population Growth and Carrying Capacity  
  • 7.1.2 Demographic Transitions  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Professor Robert Wyman’s “Lecture 14 – Demographic Transition in Developing Countries”

      Link: Yale University: Professor Robert Wyman’s “Lecture 14 – Demographic Transition in Developing Countries” (JWPlayer)

      Also available in:
      Transcript (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this lecture.  You may also click on the link above to download and follow along with the transcript.  This lecture describes what demographers call a “demographic transition,” where a population shifts from rapidly growing with a large proportion of youth (under 30 years old) to a stable (or declining) population with equal numbers of people in the middle-aged and elderly age brackets.  Professor Wyman describes how these transitions occurred in European countries, and then he contrasts them to how populations are or might transition in developing countries.  He attributes these differences primarily to cultural views on birth control and women’s empowerment.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “Who’s Afraid of Population Decline?”

      Link: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “Who’s Afraid of Population Decline?” (iTunes and PDF)

      Instructions: Please click on the link, scroll down to the lecture files (a podcast 15 and PDF slides).  Download the slides, and scroll through them as you listen to the podcast.  The lecture describes the benefits to the population decline after a demographic transition and argues that if managed correctly with supportive policies, the decline can solve or mitigate many problems (particularly environmental ones).

      Listening to the podcast, studying the slides, and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.1.3 Immigration Trends and Consequences  
  • 7.2 Consumption Trends  
  • 7.2.1 Overconsumption  
    • Web Media: YouTube: Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff”

      Link: YouTube: Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  In this video, Leonard discusses the current linear system of extraction of materials through consumption and then disposal of products into landfills (or otherwise not recycled).  The video points out the social, economic, and environmental impacts of this system.

      Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.2.2 Waste  
    • Web Media: Science Podcast: Edward Hurme and Jeffrey Mervis’ “Garbology 101: Getting a Grip on Waste”

      Link: Science Podcast: Edward Hurme and Jeffrey Mervis’ “Garbology 101: Getting a Grip on Waste” (MP3)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and listen to the podcast.  Note that you can download the podcast, or you can simply press the play button and listen to it online.  In this podcast, Mervis discusses the types of wastes produced by different societies as well as solutions to managing and reducing these types of wastes.

      Listening to this podcast and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “E-Waste”

      Link: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “E-Waste” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this brief video.  Greg Möller addresses the growing problem of the disposal and recycling of electronic waste (or “e-waste”).  If not managed carefully, this waste can be quite toxic to the environment and the humans who come in contact with it.

      Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 8: Alteration of Flows of Resources  

    Prior to the Industrial Revolution and fossil fuel-based transportation, the flow of key nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, metals, and other resources was slow and fairly local.  Oceanic trade routes transported precious metals such as silver and gold, but most other material flows were primarily governed by climatic and abiotic processes.  In the past 200 years, human activities (e.g., trade, transportation, and industrialization) have greatly increased the speed and area over which many resources are transported and used, often ending up in areas of very high concentration that damage environmental systems.  For example, the massive excess of nitrogen and phosphorus used as fertilizers in agricultural systems in the Midwestern United States wash off of these fields and into local waterways, eventually ending up in the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River.  These nutrients cause massive algal blooms, which sink to the bottom of the body of water and decompose when they die off.  The decaying biological matter creates a massive area of hypoxia (lack of oxygen), also called a “dead zone,” because the hypoxia prevents most other organisms from surviving in these waters.  Dead zones negatively impact fisheries and are a growing problem around the world, especially with negative impacts on local communities which depend upon ocean ecosystems for protein resources (e.g., fish, shellfish, etc.) but do not have the financial ability to ship in these foods from less damaged areas.  Many of these altered resource flows terminate in growing piles of discarded materials that are difficult to recycle or reuse.  For many resources, societies have converted cyclic flows to linear flows from the extraction of fossil fuels or virgin source to landfills or ocean pollution.

    This unit will cover how these altered flows result from and affect activities discussed in previous units.  This unit will also address how these altered flows affect the resilience of societies.

    Unit 8 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 8 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 8.1 What Are Natural Resources?  
  • 8.2 Basic Resources  
  • 8.2.1 Soil  
  • 8.2.2 Water  
    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: C. Kirchhoff and J. Bulkley’s “Transboundary Water Resources Management and the Potential for Integrated Water Resources Management”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: C. Kirchhoff and J. Bulkley’s “Transboundary Water Resources Management and the Potential for Integrated Water Resources Management” (DOC)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download these materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  This report gives a basic background to a new approach to managing freshwater resources that cross international boundaries; these boundaries can complicate the sustainable use of these resources.  The authors provide a case study of the Rhine River watershed that includes territory in nine different European countries, the Mekong River watershed that includes six Asian countries, and the Zambezi River watershed that includes eight African countries.  Provided at the end of each section, discussion questions will guide your learning.  Although answers are not provided, these would be good questions to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading these articles and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “How the West Was Watered: A Case Study of the Colorado River”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “How the West Was Watered: A Case Study of the Colorado River” (DOC)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  The report describes the very complex engineering system that now regulates water flow through the Colorado River Basin, and how the system no longer meets the water needs of all of the residents, industries, and ecosystems that depend upon it.  Provided in the “How Will the West Be Watered?” section, discussion questions will guide your learning.  Although answers are not provided, these would be good questions to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading these materials and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “Thirsty Metropolis: A Case Study of New York City’s Drinking Water”

      Link: American Natural History Museum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Erin Vintinner’s “Thirsty Metropolis: A Case Study of New York City’s Drinking Water” (DOC, PPT, and TXT)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and download all materials.  You may have to register a free account by clicking the “register” link at the top of the page to download these files.  The materials will be downloaded into a zipped folder on your hard drive, so you will need to extract the files to see them (you may be able to right click on the folder icon and follow the extraction instructions).  The files include a scenario exercise and a short PowerPoint presentation that gives a brief overview of the main points of the case study.  The presentation describes the history of the development of the water supply system for New York City, which relies upon watersheds quite far from the city itself (be sure to read not only the text on the slides themselves, but the notes provided below them).  The scenario asks you to take the position of one of the stakeholders in the case, and determine which option should be prioritized over the others.  Although a description in Part II of what really happened is provided, these scenarios and their accompanying discussion questions would be good topics to pursue in the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.  This New York City example of “payment for ecosystem services” is often cited as an early success of the approach.

      Reading these materials and taking notes should take approximately 3 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed above.

  • 8.2.3 Nitrogen  
  • 8.2.4 Phosphorus  
  • 8.3 Industrial Resources  
  • 8.3.1 Precious Metals  
  • 8.3.2 Plastic  
    • Lecture: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “Our Plastic Footprint”

      Link: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “Our Plastic Footprint” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  Greg Möller defines what the general word “plastic” means.  He also discusses why its general properties make them so useful to modern human societies and why they are so difficult to give up even in the face of widespread plastics pollution.

      Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: TED Talks: Captain Charles Moore’s “The Seas of Plastic”

      Link: TED Talks: Captain Charles Moore’s “The Seas of Plastic” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch Captain Charles Moore’s TED Talk.  In this lecture, he describes the fate of plastic products after they are disposed of and the impact of plastic trash on the environment.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: Vimeo: PopTech: Chris Jordan’s “Polluting Plastics”

      Link: Vimeo: PopTech: Chris Jordan’s “Polluting Plastics” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video.  Chris Jordan is a photographer that uses his work to demonstrate the magnitude of our waste stream.  In this lecture, he focuses on plastics and their impacts on the environment.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 9: Systems Thinking: Understanding Sustainability  

    This unit focuses on material from the Open University’s “Systems Thinking: Understanding Sustainability”course.  The short readings and activities in the unit are an excellent primer on sustainability and sustainable development (and the difference between the two).  Both are inherently interdisciplinary topics, where interactions between social, environmental, and economic dimensions can complicate understanding system problems and finding solutions to them.  So far in this course, we have addressed single systems (e.g., energy, food, etc.), but the ways in which these systems interact in multiple dimensions is more clearly addressed here.

    Unit 9 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 9 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 9.1 Sustainability and Equity Concepts and Measures  
  • 9.1.1 I=PAT  
  • 9.1.2 Life Cycle Assessment  
  • 9.1.3 Footprints (Ecological, Carbon, Water)  
  • 9.2 Culture and Sustainability  
  • 9.3 Exploring Your Understanding of Sustainable Development  
    • Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Exploring Your Understanding of Sustainable Development”

      Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Exploring Your Understanding of Sustainable Development” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the introductory paragraph, and then proceed through the two activities below it.  This first activity will get you thinking about what your preconceived notions are regarding sustainability and sustainable development.  After you progress through the entire course, you may want to look back at your writings in these two activities and think about how you might have responded differently.  You can share how your way of thinking has changed about sustainability and sustainable development with other students on the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading, taking notes, and completing the activities should take approximately 45 minutes to complete.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 9.4 Searching for “System” in Sustainable Development Situations  
  • 9.5 Contextualizing Sustainable Development in Terms of Historical Events  
  • 9.5.1 Predictions  
  • 9.5.2 Linking Environment and Development  
  • 9.5.3 The Brundtland Report  
    • Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “The Brundtland Report”

      Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “The Brundtland Report” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this webpage, which discusses the Brundtland report.  This commission’s following definition of sustainable development has become the most commonly-used definition and is often used to gauge the sustainability of policy and management decisions: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

      Reading this webpage and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 9.5.4 The United Nations Summits and Commission for Sustainable Development  
  • 9.5.5 Increasing Globalization  
  • 9.6 Sustainable Development and Sustainability  
  • 9.7 Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances  
  • 9.8 Exploring Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances in Relation to a Sustainable Development Situation  
  • 9.9 Issues of Stakeholding  
    • Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Issues of Stakeholding”

      Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Issues of Stakeholding” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and complete the activity.  The webpage describes the meaning of “stakeholder” and how the approach of categorizing people into stakeholder groups influences sustainable development processes.  The reflection activity would be good to share with other students on the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

      Reading, taking notes, and completing the activity should take approximately 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 9.10 Some Different Beliefs about Sustainable Development  
  • 9.11 Values and Sustainable Development  
  • 9.12 Congruence between Your Sustainable Development Values and Your Behavior?  
  • Unit 10: Synthesis and Solutions  

    Each of the systems discussed in previous units is important in its own right.  The problems that societies must try to solve within those systems are very challenging.  However, these systems interact with each other, and the weakening or collapse of one system (e.g., loss of coastal wetlands and the flood protection they provide) can lead to a catastrophe in another system (e.g., massive flooding of New Orleans and other coastal cities by a category 3 Hurricane Katrina).

    In this unit, you will read articles and watch short videos that discuss many of these issues and their interconnections.  This unit will synthesize concepts from previous units.  This final unit is meant to give you a more holistic understanding of these issues and how they influence each other and human societies.  The resources in this unit will provide examples of how these issues can be woven into a cohesive narrative of the current problems we face and how we might solve them.

    Unit 10 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 10 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 10.1 Energy Solutions  
  • 10.2 Food Solutions  
    • Lecture: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Michael Heller’s “A Vision for Agriculture”

      Link: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Michael Heller’s “A Vision for Agriculture” (MP3 and PPT)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link scroll down to “Lecture 19: A Vision for Agriculture.”  Click on links for the Slides and MP3 for “Part A.”  Listen to the MP3 lecture as you follow along with the Power Point slides.  Then, click on the links for the Slides and MP3 for Parts B and C.  Listen to these podcasts as you read along with the slides.  C. Michael Heller describes the farming techniques that can be used to produce more sustainable crops and livestock products and discusses the systemic measures that can be used to monitor the shift to more sustainable agriculture.  He argues that agricultural production must occur at a far more local scale than the scale at which industrial agriculture operates.

      Listening to this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: Vimeo: PopTech: Will Allen’s “On Urban Farming”

      Link: Vimeo: PopTech: Will Allen’s “On Urban Farming” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch the lecture.  Will Allen is a founder of Growing Power, an organization that is focused on food production in urban areas for urban communities.  In this video, he discusses his approaches for teaching people in urban areas about small-scale farming and healthy foods as well as the impact these efforts have had on the social and economic conditions in these communities.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Solutions: Wes Jackson’s “The 50-Year Farm Bill”

      Link: Solutions: Wes Jackson’s “The 50-Year Farm Bill” (HTML)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this article.  Earlier in the course (sub-subunit 4.3.3), you listened to an interview with Wes Jackson, describing The Land Institute and the agricultural practice of polyculture.  In this article, Jackson describes how to use a policy similar to the U.S. Farm Bill to gradually implement polyculture, perennial agriculture, and other sustainable agricultural methods on a large scale.

      Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 10.3 Biodiversity and Ecosystem Conservation and Management Solutions  
  • 10.3.1 Biodiversity Solutions  
  • 10.3.2 Ecosystem Solutions  
  • 10.4 Solutions Involving Spatial Flows  
  • 10.4.1 Invasive Species  
  • 10.4.2 Air Pollution  
  • 10.4.3 Globalization  
  • 10.4.4 Trade Solutions  
  • 10.5 Resource Recycling Solutions  
  • 10.6 Interacting Problems and Solutions (Synthesis)  
    • Lecture: Vimeo: PopTech: Lester Brown’s “A World in Balance”

      Link: Vimeo: PopTech: Lester Brown’s “A World in Balance” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this lecture.  Lester Brown is one of the foremost speakers on resource depletion and sustainability issues and is the head of the World Resources Institute.  In this lecture, he describes how overpopulation and consumption trends interact with energy and natural resource depletion to suggest possible catastrophic declines in Earth’s ecosystems and national economies.  He suggests a few policy options (like carbon emission taxes) that might help individuals make better consumption decisions that collectively would reduce the pressure on natural resources and the environment.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: Vimeo: PopTech: Michael Pollan’s “Sustainable Food”

      Link: Vimeo: PopTech: Michael Pollan’s “Sustainable Food” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this lecture.  Michael Pollan is a prolific author focused on sustainable food systems and diets.  He discusses not only how the methods of food production, but also how the relationships of cultures to food production and consumption, dictate the sustainability of a food system.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: University of Oxford: Robert Costanza’s “Environmental Governance and Resilience: Solutions for a Sustainable and Desirable Future”

      Link: University of Oxford: Robert Costanza’s “Environmental Governance and Resilience: Solutions for a Sustainable and Desirable Future” (MP4)

      Instructions: Please click on the above link and then either press the play button, or click on “Get Audio File” to open the file using player software on your computer.  Robert Costanza is a noted expert in ecological economics and sustainability.  In this talk, he discusses what sustainability science is and how its interdisciplinary approach can be used to identify solutions to many sustainability and sustainable development problems.  In particular, he discusses ecosystem services and how payment to landowners for these services is one potential solution to solving multiple problems.

      Listening to this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Final Exam  

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