Every day, human and natural activities are altering the planet on which we live. Through our increasing resource consumption, population growth, disturbance of natural systems, and technological advancement, we have been changing the global climate and environment in a manner that is unique over Earth’s history. Whether these changes to Earth’s life-support systems are sustainable is perhaps the greatest question for society in this century.
This course, Global Change – the Science of Sustainability investigates the causes and potential impacts of these changes using a combination of traditional lecture-based and modern web-based teaching methodologies. The course surveys the evolution and interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes; how past changes on Earth help us predict the future; and how fundamental principles of science establish the sustainability of human activities on Earth. Students apply learned knowledge by using systems modeling and spreadsheet software to investigate the dynamics of natural systems and examine case studies of relevant environmental problems.
The course curriculum provides excellent opportunities to conduct research on topics of interest to the students, culminating in a course project presented at the end of the semester. The interactive laboratory exercises provide students the opportunity to use software tools to examine how natural systems function as well as develop projections of the future consequences of changes in the environment. And, perhaps most important of all, students will have ample time for discussion of critical issues in natural resources and sustainability, environmental policy and society as a whole. All topics are developed in a manner that students will find both accessible and interesting. After the course, students should be able to discern sound science from biased claims and will have a foundation for making informed decisions about sustainable practices in their own lives.
You will discuss...
Current and Projected Global Change (e.g., Climate Change and Biodiversity)
The Role of the Individual as a Citizen of the Planet
Case Studies of Regional and Global Change and Sustainability Issues
You will create...
Topics that are covered include...
- Evolution of our Universe and Planet:
- Big Bang Theory
- Radiation Laws
- Planetary Energy Budget
- The Age of the Earth
- Plate Tectonics
- Chemical & Biological Evolution
- The Building Blocks for Life
- Earth's Climate and its Controls:
- Life Processes and Earth Systems
- The Great Ice Ages
- Atmospheric Circulation and Weather
- Climate and Paleoclimate
- Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming
- Sea Level Change
- El Niño
- Biodiversity and the Tree of Life:
- Emergence of Complex Life
- Extinction and Species Radiation
- The Biodiversity Crisis
- Natural Selection
- Respiration and Photosynthesis
- Sustainability and Projected Ecological Consequences:
- Shifting Climate and Water Resources, and their Impacts on Life
- The Looming Energy Crisis
- Environmental Pollution
- Land-use Change and the Sustainability of Agriculture
- The Demise of Tropical Forests and the Dwindling of Biodiversity
The course grade is based on two midterm exams, a final exam, completion of laboratory modules, and a course project based on some aspect of global change and sustainability.
There are no prerequisites for the course and no science background is assumed. The course is appropriate for all undergraduate students, irrespective of intended concentration.
Three one-hour lecture periods plus one two-hour lab period per week.