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Understanding Environmental Issues
New College Course - Offered Fall 1997
- as LOVE 201 -
Lovett and Baker Colleges are sponsoring a new College course to be offered in Fall semester 1997. This course will survey important environmental issues and will be taught by an interdisciplinary team of Rice Faculty and associates. Details are provided below.
The idea for this course (and a Spring semester sequel) arose as a result of conversations among members of an environmental discussion group which meets regularly at Baker College. The proposed course is organized around a series of topical modules, each of which is multidisciplinary in nature. Over a dozen Rice faculty or alumni are committed to participate in this course (1) as regular attendees (whereby we can maintain the broadest possible perspective in discussions) and (2) as organizers of the various modules.
Please forward any questions, comments, or suggestions to either Bill Leeman (Lovett College) or Arthur Few (Baker College).
- Overarching question -
How will humanity transition into the next century in the face of growing population and environmental problems? The following aspects will be implemented in the context of group activities:
- Evaluation - what is the nature of the evidence for the perceived changes?
- Assessment - what needs to be changed to alleviate the anticipated problems?
- Action plans - how can we realistically implement those changes to facilitate the transition?
- Environmental awareness - Our objective is to survey selected important environmental issues facing humanity in the next few decades. Their complex nature dictates that these issues be considered in an interdisciplinary manner if there is to be comprehensive understanding and appropriate public reaction. Thus, we have organized a diverse group of faculty - from the humanities, the social sciences, and the science-engineering-technology sector - to develop a series of topical study modules focusing on specific issues, each of which has serious implications concerning the future well-being of mankind and the planet. Topics will be examined from opposing viewpoints to understand the underlying factual and perceptual bases.
- Interdisciplinary communication - Students and faculty will work together, occasionally in teams, to enhance the study of environmental issues from diverse perspectives. Most of the faculty participants will regularly attend class meetings and contribute to discussions, thus providing a role model for interdisciplinary approaches to complex societal problems.
- Educational experimentation - Given ongoing discourse about further development of environmental curricula at Rice (including plans for double majors in combination with existing departmental and divisional programs), our effort may serve as a prototype for a formal interdisciplinary course at the introductory level.
The course will be directed by Bill Leeman and Arthur Few who will coordinate a multi-disciplinary group of faculty (see below) to systematically explore topical environmental issues. It will be structured into one- to two-week modules with specific faculty responsible for organizing each as outlined below.
Faculty participation (email)
- the proposed course modules (and their primary organizers) are listed below. These modules may be subject to some revision as the details are being worked out. We will attempt to bring into focus the interdisciplinary aspects of each module by involving to the greatest extent possible all the faculty participants in the pre-planning and discussion stages.
The first half of the course will emphasize identification and evaluation of major environmental problems and their underlying 'scientific' or factual bases, and the second half will emphasize the ethical, socioeconomic, and political aspects of these problems.)
- Societal aspects of environmental issues - a look into the 21st century (Klineberg)
- Population - population dynamics, carrying capacities (local vs. global), resources, food, relationship between personal wealth (poverty) and population growth (Thornhill, Few, Klineberg, Soligo)
- Biodiversity - evolutionary processes and diversity of species - the basic facts and how they are obtained, the importance of biodiversity to a sustainable environment, ethical issues related to man's interactions with nature (Harcombe, Thornhill, McKenny)
- Earth resources and processes - economic geology, distribution & exploitation of mineral resources, environmental impacts thereof, energy resources (fossil fuels), nuclear power & nuclear waste issues, geological processes vs. hazards (Leeman, Sisson)
- Global warming - the greenhouse model, climate warming, historical perspectives and models of future behavior, discussion of the United Nations IPCC (Intl. Panel on Climate Change) report, human response and economic factors (Few, Blackburn, Soligo)
- Urban environment - urban metabolism, resource requirements, sources of pollution, pollution mitigation technologies, risk assessment (Wiesner)
- Historical perspectives - geographical determinism, how environments in the broadest sense have influenced human activities (AveLallemant)
- Environmental ethics - major ethical approaches to environmental issues, examination of major arguments pro & con each position, specific applications and implications of each for selected environmental issues, non-Western views, etc. (McKenny)
- Environmental literature - introduction to literature and environment with emphasis on the relations between nature, man, & culture, sense of place, and understanding of how human attitudes affect our views of the environment (Isle)
- Environmental economics - role of market forces in influencing man's interaction with the environment, downside cost-benefit economic tradeoffs of environmental policy decisions, the various meanings of sustainability, etc. (Soligo)
- Politics of implementing change - public opinion, perceptions & beliefs, policy issues, factors affecting our ability to effect policy changes at the governmental level, rights of the individual vs. the common good, community resource models and property rights issues on environmental policy, policy process and the influence of interest groups, bureaucrats, and elected officials on public policy (Klineberg, Stein, Ostdiek)
Logistics & resources
- Course characteristics - 3 credit hours, meetings twice a week on MF 3:00-4:30 pm
- Module development - 1 or 2 week modules (topical lectures, exercises, assignments, etc.) will be designed by faculty organizers with inputs from other participating faculty
- Selection of appropriate readings - faculty organizers will identify and prepackage relevant articles for the course modules; these readings may be compiled into a course booklet
- Textbook - a general environmental systems textbook will be adopted to provide basic supplementary reading material (see below)
- Student course requirements - each student will be required to submit a cumulative output for a grade (see next section)
- Formal evaluation (grade) - will be based on individual productivity (assignments, projects) and contributions to in-class discussion and activities
- Each module will involve an exercise, assignment, short paper, or group (team) activity with presentation or report. Faculty organizers of the respective modules will be responsible for designing these activities.
- Students will be expected to maintain a comprehensive notebook with all handouts, complete and neat class notes, exercises and assignments (including 'working notes' as well as the final products of all assignments).
- The notebook should contain a record of all activities related to the course, along with a calendar and diary/log of time spent working on the course. This notebook will be graded on the basis of completeness, organization, and value added by the student (readings, work, commentary, etc. beyond materials distributed in class).
- Because of the experimental nature of this new course, we will also ask participating students for their personal evaluations and suggestions for improvements.
- Course participants will prioritize environmental issues and select topics for the second semester sequel course (see below).
We envisage a more in-depth workshop type course in the Spring semester wherein a few selected environmental issues are studied in greater detail. (e.g., a sustainable city, a sustainable world, environmental systems analysis, man & environment - an evolutionary view, 'first' vs. 'third' world perspectives on environmental issues, etc.). The sequel course will be more research-oriented and will involve interdisciplinary teams of students working to find solutions to a few selected environmental problems. In both courses we want to move away from the "sky is falling" approach to environmental issues and come to grips with "how do we get from where we are to where we want to be."
We suggest the book Environmental Science by G.T. Miller or another similar text.
Let us know if you have other good suggestions!
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Updated: 18 Feb 97