The science behind the quest for a sustainable future
The Brundtland Commission in 1987 defined "sustainability" as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Science of Sustainability course explores some of the major scientific issues behind our understanding of sustainability. Through lectures, readings, and discussions, the class will explore such issues as biodiversity, population, food and water resources, climate change, energy, public health, and the overall forecast for the environment and the human condition for the next several decades. Students will gain a greater appreciation of how science can inform the policies and practices that will shape a more sustainable future.
By taking this course, students will...
- become familiar with some of the major scientific issues behind our understanding of "sustainability" ;
- develop an understanding of how scientific methods are used to construct ecological / environmental knowledge;
- become familiar with some of the major ecological / environmental challenges facing the Earth today, and the important research which needs to be done to address these concerns;
- develop a deeper understanding of how human development impacts natural systems;
- recognize some of the limits of our knowledge when predicting how modern industrial methods and technology will affect the human condition and the sustainability of the natural environment;
- become familiar with the ecological justifications for sustainable practices in building and design;
- gain a greater appreciation of how science can inform policies that will shape a sustainable future.
By the end of this course, students will be able to...
- demonstrate scientific understanding of the fundamentals of climate change, population and community ecology, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, resource management, energy systems, public health, and environmental health as they relate to sustainability;
- demonstrate understanding of the methods of scientific inquiry which are employed in sustainability science;
- assess, propose, and debate possible science-informed societal responses to a changing climate;
- employ qualitative and quantitative arguments to address issues of resource conservation and the pursuit of alternative energy technologies;
- identify and describe specific ways in which natural or anthropogenic activity might influence natural systems;
- conduct informed debate on the possible concerns and possible benefits of genetic modification of agricultural food crops;
- describe how human health may be impacted by toxic materials, and describe what factors contribute to a material's toxicity;
- describe the risks posed by emerging infectious disease, chronic disease, drug-resistant disease, and climate-mediated disease, and provide informed argument for how scientific research should be incorporated into a societal response;
- describe the ecological basis of "green" movements in design and architecture;
- describe and debate the strategies by which a more sustainable future can actually be achieved.
The calendar below is an example of how the course has been structured in the past. Like most non-studio three-credit classes at Pratt, the course meets for a total of 45 in-class hours— one weekly session of 3 hours for each of 15 weeks.
Course Intro / Dimensions of Sustainability; Climate Change I: Detection
What information would you need to see if climate is indeed changing?
Climate Change II: Attribution
What factors are responsible for recent climate change? And how could we know?
Climate Change III: Prediction; Introduction to the term paper assignment
How can we attempt to predict the future of climate change? What must we assume?
Resources I: Energy (Part 1)
An overview of trends in energy consumption and power generation, with a focus on the potential of coal, biofuel ethanol, solar and wind technologies, and hydrogen to meet the energy needs of the 21st century.
Energy II; Science Information Resources
TERM PAPER TOPIC STATEMENT DUE
Continuing from the previous week. Exploring non-coal fossil fuels, resource extraction technologies, and nuclear energy.
Natural Systems I: Ecosystems and Ecosystem Complexity
Natural Systems II: Biodiversity and Conservation; Ecosystem Services
The Human Condition I: Public Health
TERM PAPER ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE
Focus will include 21st century infectious and chronic disease, drug resistance, and the relationships between disease and climate change.
Resources II: Food and Water
What are the main food and water resource challenges for the future, and how might science work to assure their availability for all? Includes an exploration of the techniques, perceived risks, and potential benefits of genetically modified agriculture.
The Human Condition II: Population; Food and Water in Context
The Human Condition III: The Built Environment
Chemical Pollution and Cradle-to-Cradle Design
Chemicals in the environment, chemicals inside us. E-waste. Cradle-to-cradle design.
COMPREHENSIVE FINAL EXAM
COMPLETE TERM PAPER/PROJECT DUE
Students do not have to purchase any reading material for this course. All required readings will be posted as PDFs or made otherwise accessible through the course website on Pratt's Learning Management System.
Course readings will include book chapters, government reports, articles from peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Nature), mass-market science periodicals (e.g. Scientific American), and recent articles in the popular press. To comply with "Fair Use" copyright guidelines, students will need to authenticate with a Pratt userid and password to gain access to readings.
- Readings (available on the course LMS) are to be read BEFORE coming to class.
- A reading report is due each week ON THE DAY BEFORE CLASS. You will complete these reports within the LMS in response to the provided questions. Reading reports will cover the main ideas of the assigned reading, and will help to frame the context for the upcoming lecture and in-class activities. Reading reports may also include a question or two as a followup from the previous week's lecture; they may also include questions which will develop the skills necessary for completion of the semester-long term-paper assignment (discussed below).
- Participation is heavily weighted in this course. Assessment of participation is based upon structured in-class activities (such as weekly "Do Now" exercises that will begin each class; occasional group debates and presentations; small group discussions), contribution to classroom discussion, as well as general preparedness and attentiveness.
- You are expected to develop a term paper/project over the course of the semester. Intermediate deadlines for this assignment will help to assure that you are on-schedule toward its completion: A topic statement and annotated research bibliography will be due via the LMS roughly 1/2 and 2/3rds of the way through the semester, respectively, as marked on the course schedule; both of these assignments will receive feedback which will help guide you as you complete the term assignment. The term paper/project must demonstrate appropriate use of information resources, and a facility with the technical and stylistic expectations of college-level writing for all written materials. The paper/project must demonstrate conceptual understanding beyond what was covered in the class lecture and the required reading, and must also demonstrate "higher-level thinking"-- e.g. synthesis, analysis and critique of appropriate information resources. Expectations and assessment guidelines will be posted on the course LMS site in advance of the due date. Portions of in-class time in Weeks 3 and 5 will be devoted to the development of the skills necessary to complete the assignment. Reading report assignments throughout the semester may also be utilized to highlight crucial skills necessary for the development of the term paper/project.
- A comprehensive final exam will be given in class during the last week of the semester.
Final course letter grades are based on 100%–90% for A-range, 89%–80% for B-range, etc.
- 10% Participation (including written "Do Now" exercises and other in-class activities)
- 25% Reading reports; each week's report is weighted equally
- 30% Term paper/project assignment (5 points - Topic statement draft; 5 points - Annotated research bibliography draft; 20 points - Final version of the paper/project)
- 10% Final presentation and critique
- 25% Final exam
There are NO opportunities for extra credit.
- Students must adhere to all Institute-wide policies listed in the Student Handbook under "Community Standards," which include policies on attendance, academic integrity, plagiarism, computer, and network use. Please see the Office of Student Affairs for policies and procedures for handling academic conduct issues.
- Pratt Institute is committed to full inclusion of all students. Those who require special accommodations for disabilities must obtain clearance from the Office of Disability Services at the beginning of the semester. Please make an appointment with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to discuss these accommodations. The DRC is located in Room 117, Willoughby Hall.
- Students must check the course website on Pratt's Learning Management System to download readings, check guidelines for assignments, and check course announcements.
- Students must obtain a Pratt e-mail address and check this mailbox for official course communication.
- Late assignments will be reduced by one full grade (i.e., 10%) per each day late. No assignments will be accepted for credit more than 10 days late. Late assignments will only be accepted at the discretion of the instructor (i.e., in very unusual circumstances and/or arranged well in advance).
It is absolutely in your best interest to attend all class sessions. Absences and late arrivals/early departures will count against your participation grade. On the comprehensive Final Exam, you are held responsible for all material covered in the course, regardless of whether you were present.
There are no out-of-class assignment opportunites for presentation/critique days. If you are absent, you will receive zero participation credit for the session you miss.
For all absences other than missed presentation/critique days, if you are absent AND if you contact me within a day of your absence, I will provide you with an out-of-class assignment which will be due at the next class meeting. This assignment will require well-researched answers to a series of questions that parallel the lecture and class discussion. Answers will require explicit citation to required articles and supplementary reading, and may require additional research to demonstrate graduate-level understanding. Timely and satisfactory completion of the out-of-class assignment will give you a chance to earn participation credit up to the full amount for the missed session. If you elect not to complete the out-of-class assignment, you will receive zero participation credit for the session you have missed.
As per Pratt Institute policy: I will only consider granting an incomplete if a student in otherwise good standing within the course can provide a compelling and exceptional reason for the request (e.g., documented unexpected illness, death in the immediate family, etc.) — in writing — before the final exam, and agrees to a contract for completion of all missing material. In no circumstance will incompletes stay on a transcript for more than one semester. An incomplete will automatically change to a grade of "F" if the deadlines and expectations in the contract are not followed. (Note that for graduate students, a failing grade may result in expulsion.)