Ecology and systems science of the climate-and-ecological crisis, and how to cultivate solutions.

Faculty: Science
Subject: Environmental Science
Year / Level: 4
Theme(s): Climate Science; Climate Justice and Social Science; Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation



When students have completed this course, they will be able to consider and critique the interacting roles of numerous sustainability initiatives in relation to their scientific basis. Relevant concepts and/or methods include spatial planning, ecosystem services, ecosystem-based management, complex systems analysis, corporate social/environmental responsibility, footprint analysis, product certification systems, environmental impact assessment and life-cycle assessment.

In this course, students will learn to adeptly navigate and integrate concepts and methods from environmental sciences with insights from social sciences to identify sustainability solutions, pinpoint critical obstacles to their success, and design appropriate strategies. Students will apply this scientific understanding in order to plan and critique integrative initiatives intended to foster sustainability.

The course is designed in part for students in the Ecology and Conservation Area of Concentration of the Environmental Sciences specialization and the proposed sustainability pathway of Biology.

Prerequisites will include a required course from either discipline (ENVR 300 or BIOL 230) or fourth-year standing in the BSCN program. Students from outside these specializations will be welcome, pending available space.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Synthesize understanding of the linked ecological and social dimensions of environmental problems into key concepts that can be applied to other problems;
  2. Evaluate conservation / sustainability strategies for their contribution to sustainability;
  3. Identify appropriate kinds of management actions and approaches to account for the science regarding ecosystem services and environmental impacts;
  4. Synthesize characteristics of complex systems, complex adaptive systems, and multi-scalar interactions in order to identify—with examples—the implications for prediction, uncertainty, and cause-effect relationships;
  5. Analyze and express what purposeful ecological change might entail, and understand how such changes might be fostered or stymied through policy, management, or other interventions;
  6. Offer structured constructive feedback through provocative questions/suggestions and a peer review (including based on criteria and indicators provided);
  7. Identify the elements of human cognition, behavior, and social and organizational dynamics that may enhance or impede an effort to embed ecological science in policy or practice;
  8. Communicate the strategies inherent in sustainability initiatives (e.g., foot printing schemes), and create a compelling strategy for a novel initiative;
  9. Analyze the ramifications of this social-ecological complexity for pinpointing causes, predicting future outcomes, and managing systems (including feedbacks and unintended consequences);
  10. Communicate effectively about how ecological dynamics influence diverse societal issues (including about health, resources, and the environment), and how policies and programs could be improved to account for these influences; do this for a diversity of audiences, and in verbal and written forms;
  11. Apply this understanding to analyses of case studies;


Check SSC to see if the course is currently offered and if you meet pre-requisites etc.

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Read a copy of the course syllabus to see reading lists, assignments, grading, and more.



Kai Chan

"Within every one of us lurks a hero who is nearly ready to spring into action to avert the climate-and-ecological crisis."