ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment

Course Syllabus for "ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment"

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Human societies have always been dependent upon local and regional environments for critical natural resources, and loss of these resources (either due to environmental changes or human overuse) has often reduced a society’s resilience to future challenges.  When resilience decreases, the risk of societal collapse increases.  Today, our globalized, highly connected societies have increased access to environmental resources, yet they leave us more vulnerable to disruptions and disasters that begin in other regions or systems.  By understanding how our societies are connected to each other and to the environment, we can better manage our interactions so that they do not increase the potential for societal collapse.  This course will use a complex systems theory perspective to investigate how coupled human-environment systems interact to either increase or decrease their risk of collapse.  This complex systems approach works across many disciplines, so that human-environment linkages can be understood from sociological, environmental science, and economic viewpoints. The course will begin with a primer of complex systems theory and then will discuss the theory’s influence on the science of societal collapse.  Then, the course will review trends and issues in a variety of systems and society-environment interactions that are critical to most communities, including strained energy and food resources, loss of biodiversity and cultural resources, risks posed by invasive species and international trade, impacts of overpopulation and excess consumption, and alteration of flows of key resources.  The final “Solutions and Syntheses” unit will allow you to apply your knowledge to several discussions of current societies and their vulnerabilities.  You will be able to identify the human and environmental connections that are at risk of failing (and therefore at risk for societal collapse).  The goal of the course is to help you become literate in the terms and concepts relating to societal collapse and resilience, environmental issues, and societal responses to them. This course is cross-listed as an elective in two curriculums: a) Environmental Sciences and b) Science, Technology, & Society curricula.  For Environmental Sciences majors, this course will demonstrate how human activities can rearrange ecosystems, alter flows of nutrients and species, and bring about what some geologists are now calling the Anthropocene Epoch, a period of time dominated by human activities.  For Science, Technology, & Society majors, the course will help strengthen the application of a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving and risk assessment that includes social and economic perspectives.  The basic goal of this course is to provide you with the necessary theoretical foundation (complex systems and societal collapse theories) to allow you to identify critical interactions between social and environmental systems that govern systemic risk of collapse.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Connect the impacts of some environmental systems on other environmental systems, e.g., energy resources and climate change on biodiversity loss, pollution, and altered flows of resources.
  • Identify multiple society-environment connections as drivers of potential societal collapse.
  • Identify the environmental pressures that a particular society faces and potential solutions to ease these pressures and increase the society’s resilience.
  • Analyze and debate proposed solutions to environmental issues or sustainable development plans.
  • Integrate multiple society-environment issues into a complex narrative, explaining whether the society is expected to have great or little resilience to these issues and how the society might increase its resilience to changes in climate, resource availability, and globalization trends. 

Course Requirements

In order to take this course you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Be competent in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed the following courses: “ENVS101: Principles of Environmental Science” and “ENVS102: Environmental Principles (Case Studies)”. 

Course Information

Welcome to ENVS504.  General information on this course and its requirements can be found below.

Course Designer: Audrey L. Mayer, Ph.D.
Primary Resources: The materials for this course are a collection of free, online materials from a wide variety of sources.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of the materials associated with it.  While it is not absolutely necessary to work through the units in order, it is highly advised that you begin with Units 1 and 2 and leave Unit 9 for last, as this unit assumes the mastery of the subjects from the previous 8 units.  You will also need to complete:

  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the materials in each unit.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 134.75hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 8.5 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3.75 hours) on Monday night; subunits 1.2 and 1.3 (a total of 4.75 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.