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ESYS 103 MAE 124 Environmental Challenges 2012: Syllabus

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Lectures (short description)
Lectures (long description)
Sections


Lectures - Short Description (Tue/Thurs)

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Preliminaries

1-A (4/3) Step Back: The Coupled Human-Environmental System

1-B (4/5) Intro to the State of Earth's & San Diego's Coupled Human-Environmental Systems 2012

Frameworks and Tools

2-A (4/10) Environmental Ethics, Framing and The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons

2-B (4/12) Capitalism, Free Markets, Science, Technology and Greenwashing

3-A (4/17) Environmental Management and Traditional Environmental Knowledge

3-B (4/19) Resistance and Environmental Direct Action

note - one lecture behind
4-A (4/26) People: Population, Exploitation and Environmental Racism

Challenges, Solutions and Critiques

4-B (5/1) Global Warming

5-A (5/3) Energy Resources: Oil, Coal, Natural Gas

5-B (5/8) Energy Resources: Nuclear, Solar, Wind, Hydropower and Geothermal

6-A (5/10) Water Resources and Pollution

6-B (5/15) Soil and Agriculture

7-A (5/17) Food

7-B (5/22) Ecosystems

8-A (5/24) Microbial Life and Disease // Disasters, Risk and Insurance

8-B (5/29) Cities

Alternatives, Action and Visions of the Future

9-A (5/31) Indigenous Traditions, DIY, Peer Production, and Other Alternative Cultures

9-B (5/31) Four Visions of the Future: Resource Wars; Top-Down, Managed Sustainability; Local Co-ops; and Primitivism

10-A (6/5) Direct Action Videos

10-B (6/7) Direct Action Videos + Visions of Sustainability


Lectures - Long Description (Tue/Thurs)

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Preliminaries

1-A (4/3) Step Back: The Coupled Human-Environmental System
The components of the coupled human-environmental system of the geological epoch that has been called the Anthropocene, the major ways that social and environmental systems are linked, and some tools for analyzing this complex system.

1-B (4/5) Intro to the State of Earth's & San Diego's Coupled Human-Environmental Systems 2012
Discussion of some of Earth's major systems and subsystems – where they are and where they seem to be going... What are some of the most prominent local environmental challenges?

Frameworks and Tools

2-A (4/10) Environmental Ethics, Framing and The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons
Anthropocentrism, Ecocentrism and other philosophical approaches provide the context in which environmental challenges are conceptualized and solutions are developed. Framing and other techniques are used to limit and steer the discussion. Critiques of proposed solutions can uncover the underlying assumptions and broaden the discussion. The tragedy of the commons, an argument that commonly held resources must necessarily be overexploited, is a classic example of how philosophical assumptions and framing can limit discussions of environmental challenges and also how critiques can reveal a broader range of choices.

2-B (4/12) Capitalism, Free Markets, Science, Technology and Greenwashing
Capitalism, the economic system that commodifies (assigns an exchangeable value), facilitates transactions and rigorously defines and defends property rights, has dominated global culture for hundreds of years. A large fraction of the proposed solutions to environmental challenges are based on the utilization of existing technologies or the development of new ones. Governments and corporations that have participated in creation of environmental challenges have developed and marketed programs to ameliorate some of the impacts, but critics suggest that The connections between capitalism and: the creation of environmental challenges, the solution of environmental problems, and the development of science, engineering and advanced technologies will be explored.

3-A (4/17) Environmental Management and Traditional Environmental Knowledge
Techniques for management of environmental resources are as old as humans, but the modern methods of environmental management in western culture developed largely in response to negative impacts of rapid development of resources and pollution of the Industrial Revolution. These systems, which include a range of government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have acted to slow, dampen and dissipate some of the destructive spikiness driven by markets, and sometimes push resource exploitation towards more sustainable methods using a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques, including cost-benefit analyses, life cycle assessments, community stakeholder decision making, environmental advocacy and lobbying, and adaptive management. Some management systems have used Traditional Environmental (or Ecological) Knowledge of indigenous peoples, but indigenous culture also offers alternative ways of relating to and sustaining environmental systems.

3-B (4/19) Resistance and Environmental Direct Action
Much of Earth's population does not experience the direct benefits of capitalism's exploitation of environmental resources and lacks the power to directly influence decisions about resource use. For those lacking such influence, Direct Action is a way to bring about a version of the desired change without appealing to authority, and has been used successfully by indigenous peoples of the Amazon, protesters against dams in India, animal rights activists in defense of whales and African primates, and forest defenders in the Pacific Northwest. The history and tactics of direct action will be discussed and the affinity groups for the direct action assignment will self-organize.
[attendance is required at this lecture]

note - one lecture behind
4-A (4/26) People: Population, Exploitation and Environmental Racism
Although increasing population does suggest a need for additional resources, the relationship between environmental degradation and population growth is far less clear. Theories for the connection of population and environment, the correlation between exploitation of the environment and exploitation of people, and the mechanics and prevalence of environmental racism will be discussed.

Challenges, Solutions and Critiques

4-B (5/1) Global Warming
Emission of greenhouse gases through burning of fossil fuels and other societal processes has begun, according to the consensus view of climate scientists, to warm atmospheric and oceanic temperatures, leading to melting of glaciers , ice sheets and permafrost, sea level rise, changes to weather and its impact on agriculture, acidification of the oceans and numerous other projected effects. The connections between societal behavior and warming, future projections of climate, past attempts to intervene, future prospects for management and climate change direct action will be discussed.

5-A (5/3) Energy Resources: Oil, Coal, Natural Gas
Hydrocarbons form the basis for energy-intensive modern society based on their high energy density and (up until now) relatively inexpensive although environmentally destructive methods for extraction. Cheap oil, gas and coal have peaked (or are about to) and more expensive/destructive forms of extraction, such as mountain top removal of coal, fracking to extract methane and open pit mining or underground steam injection/burning of tar sands, have become common. The cost-benefit calculation yields wildly different results depending on perspective, and resistance to these newer forms of extraction, as well as some traditional ones, is fierce and amplified by concerns about carbon emissions. The intersection between the scientific, technological and social aspects of hydrocarbon resources will be examined using case studies. Because this lecture occurs on International Workers Day, the relationship of workers to environmental challenges and the science, technology and health aspects of energy resources will also be discussed.
[Weather permitting, this lecture will be held outdoors at a location TBA]

5-B (5/8) Energy Resources: Nuclear, Solar, Wind, Hydropower and Geothermal
How about the alternatives to hydrocarbons? Nuclear fission has long been a leading contender, but in a post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world, resistance has substantially increased, despite the enthusiastic arguments of prominent environmental advocates such as James Lovelock (Gaia) and George Monbiot. Solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal all have their own advantages, but also problems that have engendered considerable resistance as well. Additionally, these alternative sources lack the energy density, portability and convenience of hydrocarbons. What are the possible pathways for the coupled human-environmental system wrt energy resources, which pathways seem most likely and in what ways can individuals and groups influence the trajectory?

6-A (5/10) Water Resources and Pollution
Humans have significantly modified Earth's major hydrological processes, which produce, process and preserve freshwater supplies; for example, about two thirds of Earth's rivers, and almost all large rivers, are regulated by dams and other structures. Protests against privatization of the water supply in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1999-2000 brought global attention to the large fraction of humans who do not have reliable access to clean drinking water and ultimately put a spotlight on destructive effects of bottled water and scarcity of freshwater resources. Widespread and continuing pollution and overexploitation of these scarce resources through agriculture, mining and industrial activities exacerbates a growing gap between current and projected needs and available supplies, and increasing reliance on bottled water highlights differential access. What are the prospects for better protecting and allocating scarce water resources?

6-B (5/15) Soil and Agriculture
Soils are rich physical, chemical and biological systems that host most of land-based life on Earth. Agriculture utilizes soil systems and alters and degrades them. Close to a third of Earth's surface is human-managed, producing more than 40% of global biological productivity. Two thirds of that managed land is in the form of highly economically efficient but biologically nondiverse monoculture annual crops, which require significant inputs of polluting petrochemical-based fertilizer and pesticides. Overall, agricultural soils are degrading and eroding, prompting searches for alternative, more sustainable farming approaches, including recovering traditional indigenous agriculture and foods and developing new technologies.

7-A (5/17) Food
More than 850 million people worldwide are undernourished, concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and parts of South and Central America. Meanwhile, the US is experiencing an obesity epidemic, although half a million people in San Diego County are estimated to face food insecurity. Studies indicate that the healthiest group of people in the US are recent immigrants, and fast, often unhealthy foods are difficult to avoid, especially in low income communities. The global food distribution system produces some amazing results, but also some spectacular injustices. Prospects for future will be explored by examining three current controversies/debates involving food: Genetically engineered food; factory farming//veganism; and globalization vs. localization.

7-B (5/22) Ecosystems
Anthropogenic habitat loss, harvesting and pollution are having a significant impact on species and ecosystems across the globe, and those impacts are generally projected to skyrocket. Estimates of species loss rates are difficult and problematic, but estimates suggest an increase above background rates by a factor varying between tens and thousands. Species loss can impact the mutual nonlinear interactions that form stable ecosystems, characterized using concepts such as biodiversity, and destabilized ecosystems can in turn impact ecosystem services and resources vital for human societies. Human-ecosystem interactions and their connection to free markets, environmental management and direct action will be illustrated with discussions of fisheries, forests and ecotourism.

8-A (5/24) Microbial Life and Disease // Disasters, Risk and Insurance
Human societies, through cities, agriculture, pollution and much else, have profoundly altered microbial ecology and in turn have been influenced by these changes via disease and impacts on animals, plants and soil. What are some possibilities for the future of the coupled microbial-human system? PLUS! As humanity's relationship to the environment becomes increasingly precarious, large-scale disasters with significant impacts on human life and property are becoming more common. With increasing numbers of people coping with disasters from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Stan in Central America to earthquakes in Haiti and China to flooding in Pakistan and the midwest of the US, how will risk be apportioned amongst different populations, how might disasters impact political institutions/economies and how might disasters fuel resistance?

8-B (5/29) Cities
More than half of humans live in cities, which intensely mine resources, including food, minerals and energy, from surrounding regions and far-flung locations. Urban areas are externalizing machines, but they enable the numerous advances made possible by their concentrations of people, knowledge and wealth. Cities are perhaps the ultimate expression of a philosophy of distinction and separation of humans from the nonhuman natural environment. Jane Jacobs described the mechanics of a well-functioning (but unsustainable) city, but for the billion+residents of the megaslums of Kinshasa, Lagos, Bangkok, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Karachi and elsewhere, urbanization separates them from their traditional life support systems and forces a dependence on the waste of the affluent. Are cities transients in Earth history, or are they, perhaps with a little tweaking, the only hope for a sustainable future for human life on Earth?

Alternatives, Action and Visions of the Future

9-A (5/31) Indigenous Traditions, DIY, Peer Production, and Other Alternative Cultures
Culture provides the context in which human-environmental interactions develop. The search for solutions to environmental challenges therefore often involves exploring minor or major changes to the globally dominant culture or regional variants. Some example alternative cultures will be considered, including indigenous traditions and approaches to interacting with nature, Do-It-Yourself culture that developed in reaction to consumerism, and Commons-based Peer Production, which is a knowledge and resource sharing culture that developed out of the culture of open source software – economies of scope rather than economies of scale. The differing ways that human societies relate to the environment and that science and technology operate in these alternative cultures will be explored.

9-B (5/31) Four Visions of the Future: Resource Wars; Top-Down, Managed Sustainability; Local Co-ops; and Primitivism
In considering possible sustainable futures, it is necessary to consider what kinds of situations are stable, and whether there is a dynamically permissible pathway from the present to the envisioned future. As representative of the many visions that have been proposed, the social and environmental mechanics of four are considered. 1) As resources become more scarce and anthropomorphic impacts on the environment become more pronounced, battles and wars over resources will intensify, a vision that the US Department of Defense is predicting and preparing for. 2) Governments and other power centers will impose regional or global solutions on populations (for example, geoengineering). 3) Global connections in the social realm will weaken, and resources, interactions and decision making will be focused at a local scale, resulting in a diverse range of locally appropriate approaches to long term sustainability. 4) Civilization is not sustainable and is destroying life-sustaining ecosystems, so humanity should and will return to something like a pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer existence. Primitivism is a well-developed and diverse critique of modern technological society.

10-A (6/5) Direct Action Videos
View and comment on the affinity group environmental direct action short videos.

10-B (6/7) Direct Action Videos + Visions of Sustainability
Continue viewing and commenting on the affinity group environmental direct action short videos, plus course summary and wrap-up.

Sections --- [back to top]

note that these are suggested topics/activities for sections - your section TA might do something different...

Week 1: Break into three groups, each group receives (from your section TA) a short description of an example of a human-environmental interaction. Answer the following four questions about the example in 25 minutes and then report back to the whole class on your systems and answers (5 minutes max).

1) How is the interaction nonlinear – how do humans affect the environment and vice versa? 2) How can the behavior of the system be described on different scales, at different levels of description (identify a number of levels)? 3) Feedbacks are relationships between larger/longer scale patterns and their smaller/shorter scale constituents – positive feedbacks reinforce the growth of the pattern and negative feedbacks oppose growth. Give an example of a positive and negative feedback in your interacting system. 4) Using the results of your first three answers, speculate how you could intervene in the system from the outside to bring about a different result.

Week 2 Section
Debate on the Keystone XL Pipeline Proposal (or another current environmental issue your TA chooses)
Divide into two groups, the Anthopocentrists and the Ecocentrists (you dont have to be a proponent of that philosophy to be in the group).
Your TA will give each group some info/articles about the Keystone XL Pipeline Proposal. In 20 minutes your group should come up with a < 5 min presentation (try to include as many folks in the presentation as possible) that summarizes and advocates/argues for your group's position on the XL Pipeline that is compatible with the underlying philosophy of your group. Pay attention to the way you frame the issue and your version of its resolution and try to involve the tragedy of the commons or the tragedy of the tragedy of the commons if you can.
In the next 20 minutes, each group gives its < 5 min presentation and the other group responds with a < 5 min critique that identifies the underlying philosophy and framing that are implicitly embedded in the arguments.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a project within the US that would complete a series of pipelines from the tar sands of Alberta, a huge set of deposits of difficult to extract dense oil/bitumen in west central Canada to sites in the US, including Montana, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. Proponents say it will provide jobs and oil for the US, lowering gas prices, and opponents say it could result in polluting spills, exacerbate global warming and send oil to Asia, resulting in higher gas prices in the US.

Refs:
Keystone Pipeline/Widipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Pipeline

Tar Sand Action Keystone XL Facts:
http://www.tarsandsaction.org/spread-the-word/key-facts-keystone-xl/

Transcanada's Keystone XL web site:
http://www.transcanada.com/keystone.html

Week 3 Section
Gray Wolf Introduction to Southern California Mountains
Gray wolves currently do not have permanent residence anywhere in California, although a single wolf was seen wandering over the northern border of California in December. Before section, read the reading for Lecture 3-A about gray wolves in Yellowstone - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_wolves_in_Yellowstone . Divide yourselves into three teams, the Environmental Management Team, The Free Market Environmentalist Team and the Direct Action Team (note that we haven't talked about Direct Action yet, so folks on this team should have watched the assigned video for this week Pickaxe).

Each team should spend 20 minutes outlining a plan to bring about the introduction of gray wolves to the mountains of SoCal. The teams should then present their plan (~5 min) to the class (involving as many team members as possible) and differences amongst the plans discussed. You will see plenty of problems with each of plans and the whole concept, so be sure to bring these up in the discussion!

Week 4 Section
Critique of the SANDAG 2030 Regional Transportation Plan: Pathways for the Future (2007)
Following introduction to the plan, the class will practice the steps of critiquing by carrying out a critique of the SANDAG management plan.
If you want to check it out, here's the link to download the pdf:
http://www.sandag.org/programs/transportation/comprehensive_transportati...
Here also is its environmental impact report:
http://www.sandag.org/programs/transportation/comprehensive_transportati...
Workshop Presentation:
http://www.sandag.org/uploads/projectid/projectid_292_7197.pdf
I-15 Animation:
http://www.sandag.org/images/home/featured_projects/i15animation.wmv

Week 6 Section
Split into three groups, who will practice conducting decision-making analyses:
Group 1: Cost-Benefit Analysis
Evaluation of repairing the levees of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina to withstand a future category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane.
See info located here (CBA). More info here.

Group 2: Life Cycle Assessment
Evaluation of a Prius vs a Corolla using ~2000 data
See info located here (LCA). More info here.

Group 3: Environmental Impact Assessment
Conduct an Environmental Assessment of replenishing the beaches in San Diego County using sand dredged from offshore sources.
See info located here (EIA). More info here.

For Info about sections after week 6, go here.