Course Cover Image Environmental Studies 243 / Global Studies 243: Environmental Change in a Global Context

Welcome to Environmental Studies 243/Global Studies 243: Environmental Change in a Global Context.

The biosphere has evolved over billions of years. Its ecosystems fill every possible niche, from the deepest cracks in the Earth’s crust to the upper layers of the atmosphere. Generally, the biosphere is highly resilient, and usually changes very slowly. Important elements cycle through the air, water, and soil in a dance that has held the Earth’s atmosphere and temperature relatively constant. Within this context, over millennia, the biosphere has grown more diverse and elaborate as individual species living in the biosphere both compete for resources and collaborate in symbiotic relationships.

Human societies are part of this system. Though we are relative newcomers to the planet, our societies have evolved at a much faster pace than the biosphere has, and we have developed the ability to—intentionally or accidentally—change the biosphere.

This course is devoted to the study of the interactions between human society and the rest of the ecological world. The course introduces the methodology needed for that study and examines such topics as atmospheric change, biodiversity loss, resource use, and agriculture. The course also explores how societies can move toward sustainable development and moderate their effects on the biosphere.

Though human populations have grown very quickly, and although our societies have become very complex, we remain totally reliant on the biosphere for survival, as do all life forms. Without the biosphere to grow food, clean the air, and provide fresh water, life would perish. The central questions of this course—how human societies affect the biosphere, and how societies’ harmful influences can be moderated—are the questions humanity must ask in order to ensure long-term survival.