BIOL 510 The Biology of Sustainability

BIOL 510 The Biology of Sustainability

biogeochemistry and global change banner


Welcome to the BIOL 510 webpage for the Fall 2021 version of this course.  Each year's iteration of the course is significantly different, and so this page is currently under development.  The preliminary subtitle/course theme for the Fall 2021 iteration is: Indigenous Ways of Knowing and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.  In the meantime, to give an overview of the course, the content from the winter 2020 iteration is maintained below. To see previous iterations, please use the left-side menu. 


The Winter 2020 version of this course which was subtitled: The Biology of Sustainability: Linkages to buddhist and indigenous philosophical perspectives

This ecology course is aimed at identifying and critiquing potential mechanisms by which our civilization could most effectively move toward more sustainable living.  This topic incorporates biogeochemical, ecological, economic, social, genetic and behavioural features and constraints.   Each iteration of the course will focus on a specific thematic question related to at least some of those components.  

The principal question that the 2020 course will address is:
What conceptual linkages between Biology and the philosophical perspectives of Buddhism and indigenous cultures would be most useful in promoting sustainable living?

This course is for final year undergraduates and is specifically aimed at enhancing their capacities for critical thinking, intelligent open discussion, group work, and independent learning.  Emphasis will be on interactive discussions and student-led seminars in which participants will have ample opportunities to explore, analyze and synthesize scientific information, to learn how the scientific process works, to speak and write effectively, and to develop their understanding of the philosophies underlying human behaviour and how they relate to global change issues, and the sustainability of our current civilisation. Students will lead informal seminar discussions on some component of this theme that is of particular interest to them. The 2020 course will be largely focussed on reading and discussion of biology professor David Barash's 2013 book Buddhist Biology. Ancient Eastern Wisdom meets Modern Western Science, but will also include a substantial North American indigenous component including associated readings and activity exercises/workshops.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this course, the student should be able to:

  1. Critically assess the constraints (ecological, economic, social, behavioural and political) that underlie society’s current responses to global change issues 
  2. Discuss, explain, and critique the similarities and differences in fundamental philosophical concepts between contemporary Buddhism and Indigenous cultures that relate to Biology and Sustainability
  3. Formulate clear, original, challenging, and concise thematic questions from study reading material that are likely to lead to focussed and intellectually probing seminar group discussions, student-led seminar topics or short essay writing pieces
  4. Search, critically assess, and synthesize primary and secondary literature in the natural and social sciences
  5. Develop and present a cohesive, original, synthesis essay on the potential of contemporary Buddhist and Indigenous philosophical perspectives to promote more sustainable living

Professor: Paul Grogan

Seminar times: Mondays 13.00; Wednesdays 11.30
Location: Room 3112 Biosciences building

Calendar: Sessions are 1.5 hours


15% Active participation in discussions (questions, comments, suggestions)
15% Seminar written questions
30% Seminar
40% Synthesis essay (10% outline; 30% final submission)






January 6th
(Monday 13.00)

Course introduction



January 8th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Discussion: Video (Surviving Progress)


Surviving Progress (Documentary film)

January 13th
(Monday 13.00)

Sustainability: What can Biology tell us about our future, and how ought we to live? PART 1



Grogan, P. 2013. Our Anthropocene Future - What can biology tell us? Free Inquiry. February/March issue. Vol. 32(2):16-19.

January 15th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Sustainability: What can Biology tell us about our future, and how ought we to live? PART 2


Robinson D., Hill, J et al. 2019. Rethinking the Practice and Performance of Indigenous Land Acknowledgement. Canadian Theatre Review, Vol. 177: 20-30.

January 20th
(Monday 13.00)

Is the incorporation of values from belief systems other than one’s own necessary to attain a more sustainable future?

Caitlin Neapole

Chapter 1.

January 22nd
(Wednesday 11.30)

How can you be your best self without being yourself?

Quinn Curran

Chapter 2a (-midway p44).

January 27th
(Monday 13.00)

Can we significantly shift our focus from self-centered to sustainable living?

Alicia Litwinczuk


Chapter 2b.

January 29th
(Wednesday 11.30)

How might our reluctance to acknowledge and accept the inevitability of universal decay in all things be holding us back in our pursuit of sustainable living?

Andrew Clifford

Chapter 3a (- last para p70).

February 3rd
(Monday 13.00)

If the existence of Homo sapiens is impermanent, is there a purpose in promoting sustainability? 

Victoria Jay

Chapter 3b.

February 5th
(Wednesday 11.30)

What aspects of connectedness should we emphasize to achieve more sustainable living?

Isabella Honess

Chapter 4a (-midway p. 96).

February 10th
(Monday 13.00)

What aspects of disconnectedness do we need to highlight and change in order to live more sustainably?

Shannon Marshall

Chapter 4b.

February 12th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Promoting ethical living: why is evolution by natural selection a terrible thing to learn from?

Sofia Marcuzzi

Chapter 5a (-midway p123).

February 17th
(Monday 13.00)




February 19th
(Wednesday 11.30)




February 24th
(Monday 13.00)

For sustainability, is there any point in individually being compassionate? 

Maddy Pellman

Chapter 5b.

February 26th
(Wednesday 11.30)

How can the karma concept be emphasized to urge institutions to take more sustainable action?

Alex Rudiak

Chapter 6a (-top of p145).

March 2nd
(Monday 13.00)

How can karma be usefully applied to promote sustainable living?

Yumi Kim

Chapter 6b.

March 4th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Is our most fundamental sustainability problem that we always want more?


Natalie Chaput

Chapter 7a (-top of p171).


Camus, A. 1942. The Myth of Sisyphus

March 9th
(Monday 13.00)

How can understanding the negative impacts of evolution help us to build a more sustainable future?

Tom Savas

Chapter 7b.

March 11th
(Wednesday 11.30)

How can we use Indigenous philosophies to help create more sustainable communities?


Hannah Utom

Charles, M. 2015. Creating a Common Memory for a Deeply Traumatized Nation.

Camilleri, C.  2016. Indigenous Family Structure – It’s Complicated. Insights Magazine.

March 16th
(Monday 13.00)


Note this session will be in Room 3110

KAIROS Blanket Exercise -  an interactive learning experience that teaches the Indigenous rights history we are rarely taught. By engaging on an emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual level, the Blanket Exercise effectively educates and increases empathy and encourages collaboration.

CANCELLED due to COVID outbreak

Laura Maracle

Indigenous Cultural Safety Coordinator, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, Queen’s university

March 18th
(Wednesday 11.30)

 Essay preparation – No class



March 23rd
(Monday 13.00)

Has any of your learning in this course been significantly helpful to you in coping with the COVID global crisis?


Paul - online seminar

Hollenstein, T. 2020. Regulating Emotions in a COVID-19 World. The Medium.

March 25th
(Wednesday 11.30)


Paul available for one-on-one consultation


March 30th

(Monday 13.00)

What teachings from Indigenous cultures can aid in rekindling society’s relationship with nature and ultimately move us towards sustainability?

Angeline Emmott - online seminar

Kimmerer, R. W. 2013. The Honourable Harvest. pp. 175-190 in Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed editions

April 1st

(Wednesday 11.30)

Final Synthesis 

Paul - online seminar


Class of 2020:   Row 1: Angeline Emmett, moi, Caitlin Neapole, Victoria Jay;   Row 2: Sofia Marcuzzi, Isabella Honess, Hannah Utom, Tom Savas;   Row 3: Alex Rudiak, Quinn Curran, Yumi Kim, Maddy Pellman;   Row 4: Alicia Litwinczuk, Natalie Chaput, Shannon Marshall, Andrew Clifford. Unfortunately, the honourable Karoun Kashikjian - our most esteemed student - was unable to join us on photo day.

Last Updated: 17 June, 2021