earth at night: composite from 2 April 2009: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/earthday/gall_earth_night.html
Here are other versions and an interactive one.
CHANGE: Earth Systems in the Anthropocene (BIO 2235)
Security in an Uncertain World
do simply one thing."
Garrett Hardin's "First
Law of Ecology"
Garrett Hardin's first question of ecology.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself,
it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
Muir, "My First Summer in the Sierra" 1911
Kerry Woods, Dickinson
143, 440-4465, firstname.lastname@example.org,
office hours Tues, Wed and
times: Monday, Thursday 8:00-9:50, Dickinson 148
READINGS WRITING ASSIGNMENTS
The world is changing. It always
has changed, always will. We will never stop change. So what? Should
that matter to us?
growing consensus among earth scientists is that human actions are,
increasingly, the dominant driver of changes in earth systems -- thus
the term being adopted for our current time in earth history: the
Anthropocene. But, even if this is true, the same questions
apply, plus a few. What aspects of global function are we
affecting? How and how much? And, again, so what?
Does it really matter?
The last question is easy; it does
matter to us
because our lives, our well-being are intricately intertwined in earth
systems functions and any changes in those systems may well have direct
and indirect consequences for human well-being. But deciding
whether particular effects are good, bad, or neither is difficult --
and determining what to do about it harder still.
the 'earth systems' we're talking about? They are the ones that shape
the properties of the outer few km of the planet -- where we live; also
known as the 'biosphere'. But there are many lenses through which
we can examine the biosphere's workings. We'll explore the
Anthropocene from the perspectives of climatology/atmospheric science;
biogeochemistry and nutrient cycling; ecosystem dynamics, including
productivity and diversity of human-managed and 'natural' systems; and
human population processes.
way of thinking about all of this -- there are three kinds of questions
that have to be addressed, three different intellectual arenas that must
- How have human societies responded to 'natural' environmental changes?
- When did human influences on global function become significant (when did the Anthropocene begin)?
- How do we study and predict global system dynamics?
changes might we anticipate moving forward? How confident are our predictions (how precise is global science)?
we do anything about current or predicted changes? What would that
we can 'do something about it', should we? Would we gain enough to
warrant the effort?
- Does it/should it matter whether anticipated changes are human-caused or 'natural' (and what does that mean
- How do we deal with inherent uncertainties about all of these questions?
it's desirable to influence these changes, how can we go about
planning and implementing management of change at a global scale?
same classes of questions must be considered in addressing any question
about human actions, policies, decisions. In this class, we will be
considering the special case (and maybe the most challenging one);
decisions and actions whose consequences are are inherently global,
where our choices affect not just our own lives, and where we can have
(potentially) desired affects only through actions
transcending local or even national scales.
scientific arena: How can we understand the nature, causes, and
consequences of observed and predicted changes?
arena: Are these consequences good or bad; should we be attempting
to do anything about them?
arena: Assuming we should do something, how can and should effective
action be taken?
This still leaves us with a huge potential
scope, so we'll be selective about issues. Our direction
of inquiry will evolve according to interests and questions that
arise over the term, but here are three tightly interlaced themes that I
propose as pivots for our discussion. Each has to do with situations
where global changes are bringing us, willy-nilly, into terrain
that is new to human experience:
Course Structure and Expectations:
population and sustenance in a global ecosystem context: Global
population is increasing almost as rapidly as it ever has; every
moment, a new, all-time record is set for the number of humans in
existence. At the same time, birth rates are falling almost everywhere.
Food production has increased dramatically, but may be levelling
off. Most habitable parts of the world are already populated,
most good farmland is already farmed. We live in a global
economy, so population growth and its consequences are global
issues. Can global food production be adequate for a growing
population AND sustained? What are the effects/costs for global
change: Climate has changed dramatically over earth's history.
Human actions are now clearly driving climate change in a novel way, and we are entering climate regimes
new to modern humans (though not new to earth history). Details are
uncertain and consequences are difficult to predict, but the
influence of climate on human well-being and natural ecosystem
function is fundamental. Climate functions at an inherently global
scale; individual or local actions, alone, will not make much
of biodiversity: There have been several (six or so) episodes of
global mass extinction over the history of life. We are well into
another, and it is unique in being primarily human-caused. It's
almost impossible to estimate rates of global loss of biodiversity
because we don't even know how many species exist, nor do we have a
very clear sense of what the consequences will be. So what?.
You are responsible for making
this class work for you; 'passive participation' does not make sense
or make sense. I expect each of you to pursue information
on your own, bring your questions and discoveries to the class
discussion, take positions and make arguments, listen to and critique
those of your classmates. I am happy to let the class discussion
(within some bounds) follow your interests and initiatives IF you take
responsibility for making this happen.
Attendance is essential; I expect
you to be in class unless
emergencies or health prevent it. If you know you will be unable to
attend, make every effort to let me know in advance. HOWEVER, it is YOUR
job to make sure, when you miss class, that you are aware of new
assignments, get assignments to me on time, do readings, etc. Make sure
you talk to another class member about what went on in class, then come
to me with questions as necessary. Excessive absences will affect your
evaluation and can be grounds for failure; absences without prior
notification or excuse are particularly detrimental. Similar comments
pertain to lateness; be
will be based on all aspects of your participation in the class
including written work and participation (including presence) in
classroom. For those choosing graded evaluation, approximately
30% of your grade will be based on the short 'abstracts', 40% on the
longer critical reviews, and the remaining 30% on a combination of
class contribution and other miscellaneous assignments that may come up.
Readings will come from many sources. Assigned readings will be
posted through this website (see "Readings" link above). Some will be relatively technical. However,
do NOT think that assigned readings will be sufficient for good
performance. EXPECT to pursue your own background research and
readings for all assigned materials. More on this later. I
have listed three 'assigned' books:
Mark Maslin. 2014. Global Warming: A Very Short
Introduction. Oxford Univ. Press.
Elizabeth Kolbert. 2014. The Sixth Extinction:
An Unnatural History. Holt.
Paul Hawken. 2017. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Penguin
These (all relatively short) will be only a relatively small part
of what I expect you to read. It's not essential to own them
(although they're not terribly expensive), but you should have ready
access to them.
TO EMPHASIZE: Much of our class time will be devoted to
discussion of readings, so it is absolutely essential that you do them
before the class for which they're assigned. Plan now to devote several
hours each week to readings for this class; neglect of readings amounts
to surrendering your claim to influence the course of class discussion.
There will be a collection of shorter and longer essays. See the
linked page for details. But note that PASSING THE COURSE WILL
REQUIRE COMPLETION OF WRITING ASSIGNMENTS ON TIME. Evaluation will be based on both substance and style of writing.
I emphasize the TENTATIVE: priorities and
sequencing may change. This is just to give you an idea of the way
I'm thinking about the class right now. Time is limited, so there
will be many specific topics and issues neglected or dealt with only in
passing. If you have topics you'd particularly like to address, let me
know. This will all change.
I. Introduction: a quick glance at big picture (WEEK 1-2)
- global change and security/sustainability.
- What is the nature of nature? When did the Anthropocene begin (if it has)?
- What are the appropriate goals
and priorities of environmental policy/action? WHY?
- A quick look at ecosystem principles and function at a global
scale; the history of life, the universe, and everything
II. Human Population (WEEKS 3-4)
- Principles of population biology and
regulation, ecological productivity and carrying capacity
- The globalization of food and population
III. Global Ecosystem Function and Food (WEEKS 5-6)
- Ecosystems and
IV. Climate Systems: Greenhouse effect, global warming and other things (WEEKS 7-8)
IV. Diversity and Extinction (WEEKS 9-10)
- Ecological theory of biodiversity; the nature
and history of extinction.
- and does it
V. Sustainability (WEEKS 11-12)
- return to thinking about goals/objectives and why any of this matters
VI. Making Decisions (and miscellaneous
unaddressed questions) (WEEKS 13-14)
- Planning and policy; where do we need to
get to and how do we get there?
- How does policy deal with uncertainty? How
can global problems be addressed politically?
-- KDW, Feb 2018