Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week 2 – Population Changes

Week 2 of Coursera’s Intro to Sustainability ended up being a whole lot less exhausting than week 1. That was due partly to the cumulative nature of the learning process, partly to me avoiding the forums like the plague and mostly to me not worrying so much about actually “passing” the class.

This week we dealt with Population: The disappearance of the third world. Key phrases included:

  • Demographics
  • Population pyramids
  • Population projections
  • Transition in world population

I’ve figured out that I greatly prefer the Professor’s video lectures to any of the dry readings assigned. In fact, the most informative assignment was this TED talk by Hans Rosling on global population growth, box by box:

Obviously, I’m a visual learner! After watching this clip, it makes perfect sense to me why giving inhabitants of other countries the same opportunities as us (including Coursera’s free education?) will actually help us, and the whole world in the end. We are one.

On another note, I still feel like the quizzes are a joke. Based on my results so far, I’ve already “failed” the class, but based on discussion in the forums, there seem to be different answer keys floating around and discrepancies between answers being marked right on one person’s quiz, but wrong on another. So I’m taking the results with a grain of salt. My mom also helped perk me up by asking me what I personally hoped to get out of the class: 100% on the quizzes was not the answer.

An accidental lesson to the course so far has been how to respond to self-righteous academic types on the forums who are more interested in proving you wrong than actually helping you understand their point of view (or taking the time to understand yours).

I started a thread last week called “What Would Malthus Have Thought of Birth Control & the (US) Welfare System.” I knew that it was going to be a hot-button issue, so I treaded lightly, sharing my thoughts but openly asked for others’ opinions and clarification on parts I had questions on. Unfortunately the first person who chimed in was this awful British guy (I’m only pointing this out to show how little he could know about either the US welfare system or a woman’s reproductive systems) who, instead of simply disagreeing with me, launched into a personal name-calling attack. Instead of engaging in a flame-war with him, I very calmly re-explained my points, answered his one valid question and asked that he please not insult me. Other, more sane, people started commenting on my thread, and he ended up slinking away in defeat. I wasn’t an easy target, so he went off to find someone who was.

So for a couple of days I was engaged in some really interesting discussions (and respectful debates) with the other commentors, when this high-and-mighty chick joined in. She obsessively latched on to a single phrase I had used in my original post and twisted it around until she got herself really worked up about it. I kept trying to explain myself and steer the conversation to the other (very valid) points she was making, but she just would not drop it. Finally, I thanked her for the expertise and opinions she brought to the discussion, but pointed out that it was highly irrelevant what her opinion of me was, and that it shouldn’t distract her from continuing to add to the conversation. Needless to say, she never responded again.

And this sort of bullying wasn’t restricted to my thread. It seemed like every other thread I looked at was peppered with petty little arguments, mostly caused by “the smartest person in the room” getting huffy because everyone wasn’t bowing down to them. Very tiring to read this sort of ad hominem response when most people were trying to have an actual conversation. The exercise in self-restraint that I experienced would have been useful during the confrontation I experienced a month ago with a very similar type of person. As someone who also has a lot of dealings with this person suggested, the best thing to say is simply “That’s an interesting opinion, but I don’t agree with it.” Genius! Not only does it prohibit the instigator from getting the rise out of you they were hoping for, it infuriates them with its rationality.

So in short, I don’t think I’ll be spending too much time on the forums anymore – they have unfortunately proven to be a waste of time in relation to the course. I will continue to get what I want out of the course and see it through to the end. And there’s more where that came from – it looks like I’m not the only one super excited about the Modern Poetry class starting this week!

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One thought on “Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week 2 – Population Changes

  1. Hi there, I thought I was the only one who thought the reading material was very dry and too much. I also prefer the lectures. I also thought that the quiz was a little confusing. I had to figure out what the question was first, before I could even think about what the answer was. I was panicking last week too. If I pass I pass, if I don’t ., then oh well, then it will be just a learning experience. Also I posted the cost of consuming meat and the trolls came out for that one too. 😦 I’m also taking a Disaster Preparedness class on Courcera and that is not as intense as this class, but the combination of the two is killing me. Best of luck in the class.

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