Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week One – Pessimism vs. Optimism & Neo-Malthusians

I started Coursera’s 10-week “Intro to Sustainability” course on Monday…and already I feel like I’m SERIOUSLY back in school! The work is intense, but informative. I appreciate how the assignments for the week are a mix of video lectures and readings, that the module estimates how much time each activity will take, and especially that only this week’s work is available to do. I know myself – if further readings were available, I would overload myself with the intention of getting ahead.

My favorite part of “Intro to Sustainability” by far is the 26,000+ students from around the world also taking the course with me! The wide variety of ideas and expertise on the discussion forums astounds me. I even started a thread titled “What Would Malthus Have Thought of Birth Control and the Welfare System?” that has created a great discussion among a handful of us (I’ll blog about that at some point). Another aspect to the course that I haven’t explored yet is the option to create a final project (solo or group) that is rated by your peers. Since I’m taking this class not only to better my understanding of sustainability, but to use that knowledge to possibly turn TILT’s Zenda Farm Preserve into an education center, it may be the perfect forum to gain ideas and gather response!

Week 1: Introduction & PopulationPessimism vs. optimism, neo-malthusians

Goals and Objectives
After you actively engage in the learning experiences in this module, you should be able to:

  • Define the meaning of sustainability, understanding the role of both the natural and human parts of the system.
  • Critically assess the “impact formula” or IPAT theory of environmental impact.
  • Explain what each of I, P, A and T stand for.
  • Explain the “SI = P x C/P x I/C” formulation, and explain what each of the terms stand for. Be able to use it to answer questions about predictions of impact. Know that this is essentially equivalent to the IPAT formulation.
  • Know that it has not been successful at predicting future outcomes.
  • Define and critique the “Malthusian catastrophe”.
    • Sketch a linear food growth vs exponential population curve and mark the “point of crisis.”
    • Know that starvation occurs at the point of crisis.
    • Know that the Malthusian catastrophe hasn’t happened, and be able to say why.
    • Know that the current trends in both developed and undeveloped countries is increased food production and lower mortality.
  • Define “Malthusianism” (the idea that population growth is limited by agricultural productivity, and so results in inevitable mass poverty) and “neo-Malthusianism” (which is concerned with environmental degradation as well).
  • Sketch, compare and discuss in an ecological context “J-curves” and “S-curves”, and how they relate to the “carrying capacity” of the environment.

Key Phrases/Concepts
Keep your eyes open for the following key terms or phrases as you complete the readings and interact with the lecture. These topics will help you better understand the content in this module.

  • impact formula
  • Malthusian catastrophe
  • Point of Crisis
  • Neo-Malthusianism
  • J-curves
  • S-curves
  • carrying capacity

Guiding Questions
Develop your answers to the following guiding questions while completing the readings and working through the module.

  • Why do people worry about population so much when we talk about sustainability?
  • Why do people worry about consumption so much when we talk about sustainability?
  • What makes an unsustainable systems fail catastrophically?
  • What are the limits to growth?

Half full/empty posters by Because Studio

2 thoughts on “Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week One – Pessimism vs. Optimism & Neo-Malthusians

  1. I do need to check the forum more. I feel like back to school, my mum’s birthday, and our trip really eclipsed my work on this course!

    I did not like the quizzes, though. Having spent time with the readings, watching the lectures, and taking notes, I felt the quizzes were very poorly written. As an educator, I definitely see room for improvement in the course so far.

  2. I agree about the quizzes seeming poorly written in comparison to the rest of the material. I also didn’t understand why both quizzes seemed to take an equal amount of time, but the estimated time for one was an hour longer – did I miss something? Also, I swear that one of the multiple choice questions featured 2 answers that were exactly the same, but just written backwards! Perhaps the T.A.’s are in charge of the quizzes while the teacher writes his video lectures and the overall lesson plan?

    Please continue to share your views as an educator!

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