Since the beginning of the 20th century, Earth’s population has rapidly expanded from less than two billion to greater than seven billion people, and is projected to reach eight billion by 2027. This dramatic increase in population has significantly impacted Earth’s natural systems, resulting in pro­found environmental change. What are the important consequences to Earth’s environmental sys­tems and what are the key sustainability challenges that society faces? How might society mitigate such extensive impacts to Earth’s environment so that they are preserved for future generations?

This course focuses on environmental change topics, such as:

  • eco­system functioning and energy usage;
  • deforestation and land use change;
  • loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, contaminants;
  • food production.
In addition to reviewing concepts of sustainability, the course examines how sustainability is defined and assessed. The course provides important insights into the magnitude and scope of human impacts on Earth’s natural systems, as well as their impacts on society’s life-support system.

Learning objectives

  • Characterise major environmental processes related to ecosystems and biodiversity and discuss how these processes can be impacted by humans (nutrient cycling, water cycling, ecosystem functioning, the importance of biodiversity, impacts of agriculture or prospecting)

  • Identify and discuss important human induced changes to the environment, including air quality, water, and associated organisms, over-exploitation of fisheries/wildlife, use of fossil fuels and global warming

  • Describe and discuss the role of different stakeholders in decision-making processes related to envi­ronmental change

  • Understand how your own behaviour links to environmental change, and which steps can be taken to reduce your impact

  • Develop professional scientific skills related to environmental science: literature review, presentation skills, summarizing data and information, and report writing

Weekly themes

  1. Introduction to sustainability and ecological footprint

  2. Enough fish in the sea? Over-exploitation of natural resources

  3. Food production for a growing population

  4. Risks associated with environmental contaminants

  5. (Bio)fuel, rainforests and biodiversity

  6. Environmental impacts of fracking and tar sands

  7. Health consequences of environmental change

  8. Reading week


Last Modified: 08-09-2015