The Earth system is comprised of interdependent components—land, water, energy, biota, and non-renewable resources, all of which have physical limits. Societies transform these resources into useable goods, and the production and consumption cycles connect people and places across space and across time. This team-taught course provides an overview of these linkages and explores their implications for applying and measuring the concept of sustainability. It examines the constraints to sustainability imposed by those linkages (e.g., the energy required to supply water), opportunities for transformation, and the challenges of implementing sustainability across complex social and cultural systems.
There are many facets to the study of these issues. A foundational topic is that of land use – how does the idea of a global land ethic mesh with the needs of nature and of humans? Are limits to the availability of resources basically economic ones, or are they absolute? How do we understand systems and their linkages across space? (This question immediately calls out for discussion the issue of global connections and the “virtual resources” that are embodied in international trade.) How do we understand systems and their linkages across time? And, engaging each of these questions, How do social and cultural attributes and actions influence the dynamism of the linkages and the implementation of decisions? The class lectures and discussion sections are designed to engage students and faculty in wrestling with these issues, so important in determining sustainability over the next several decades.
Urbanization and associated changes in human activities on the land (land use) and in the physical attributes of Earth’s surface (land cover) have profound environmental consequences, including modification of surface energy balance, conversion of land cover, changes in local and regional temperature and precipitation, and loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Aggregated globally, these effects constitute some of the most significant human impacts on the functioning of Earth as a system. This class examines the interactions and relationships between urbanization and global change at local, regional, and global scales with an emphasis on the biophysical aspects of urbanization. Topics include urbanization in the context of global land use change, conservation and biodiversity, the urban heat island, climate change and impacts on urban areas, urban biogeochemistry, and urbanization as a component of sustainability. This is a combined lecture-seminar course.