Biogeochemistry and Global Change: Material from 2011

Welcome to the Biol 510 webpage for Fall 2011

This ecology course will examine the underlying causes of global change issues at levels ranging from biogeochemical processes through to human behaviour. The aim of the course is to develop students' perspectives on the relationship between ecology 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. Initial sessions will provide an overview of the history of human impacts on the structure and functioning of the Earth's ecosystems. Subsequently, we will consider the role of ecological understanding in influencing and predicting the future of our civilisation. This course is for final year undergraduates and is specifically aimed at enhancing their capacities for critical thinking, group discussion, and independent learning. By the end of the course, students should be able to apply fundamental ecological perspectives toward understanding the Earth’s ecosystems and how they are being affected by human activities.

Learning outcomes:

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

  • Describe the history of human influences on Earth’s ecosystems
  • Explain the biogeochemical context and processes that underly several global change issues
  • Search and critically assess primary and secondary scientific literature
  • Develop, present and write cohesive original syntheses on a chosen global change issue
  • Challenge current perspectives on global change issues
  • Discuss and debate the role of ecology in predicting our future

Professor: Paul Grogan

Seminar times: Mondays 1.00; Wednesdays 11.30
Location: Room 3112, Biosciences building

Calendar: Sessions are 1.5 hours


15% Active participation in discussions (questions, comments, suggestions)
10% Seminar written questions
35% Seminar presentation (on book chapter, or a paper from reference list or one selected by the student if agreed with me)
40% Debate paper

Week beginning Day and time Convenor Topic Reading
12th September Monday 1.00
Paul Grogan
14th Wednesday 11.30
Paul Grogan
  Paul's 2011 Biology Banquet address
19th September Monday 1.00 Field trip - Wolfe Island wind energy project    
21st Wednesday 11.30 David Chubb How have our perceptions of anthropenic effects on the Earth's ecosystems changed over the past 20 years? Beyond Global Warming: Ecology and Global Change, Vitousek, 1994; Human domination of the Earth's ecosystems, Vitousek et al, 1997
26th September Monday 1.00 Carley Davidson What can we learn from our evolutionary past that will help us understand our current state, and chart a sustainable future? Short History of Progress - Chapter 1, Wright, 2007
28th Wednesday 11.30 Brittany Shelly How has human behaviour shaped civilization and what social constructs are necessary for human civilization to function sustainably?    Short History of Progress - Chapter 2, Wright, 2007
3rd October Monday 1.00 Brittany McGovern How can evolution, a theory based on survival and adaptation, be reconciled with the self-destructive habits of the human species? Short History of Progress - Chapter 3, Wright, 2007
5th Wednesday 11.30 Evette Yassa Have our efforts to develop stable social systems using lessons from history been paralleled by efforts toward environmental sustainability? If not, then why? Short History of Progress - Chapter 4, Wright, 2007
10th October Monday 1.00 Thanksgiving - No class    
12th Wednesday 11.30 Jennifer Hutchinson What economic and political changes are needed to make our current civilisation more conducive to long-term thinking? Short History of Progress - Chapter 5, Wright, 2007
17th October Monday 1.00 Baye Drury

What incentives can our civilization develop to achieve protection of ‘the commons’?

The Tragedy of the Commons - Hardin, 1968
19th Wednesday 11.30 Erin Murphy-Mills Having gone beyond carrying capacity, in what ways can civilization be a part of the solution and not the problem? Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy. - Wackernagel et al, 2002
24th October Monday 1.00 Hailie Auld How can the inhabitants of a city be moved from interest to action towards sustainability? Designing cities for people - Chapter 6 in the book Plan 4.0B, Brown, 2009.
26th Wednesday 11.30 Cathleen Brennan In what ways does cultural evolution shape the development of ethics? Human natures, nature conservation, and environmental ethics. Ehrlich, 2002.
31st October Monday 1.00 Salma Hassouna Considering all aspects of globalization, can it be tailored for a sustainable and fair future to the whole world or is it a concept which is inherently destructive in nature? Globalisation and Sustainability: Conflict or Convergence? Rees, 2002.
2nd Wednesday 11.30 Julianne Kwan Are current human population control strategies effective in dealing with the issue of overpopulation? Knowing this, where can we go from here? Can China afford to continue with its one-child policy? Feng, 2005
7th November Monday 1.00 Jerome Velasco

Could Wright be wrong? Can we move beyond competition to cooperation?

Green jobs in the city. Chapter 8 in the book More Good News by Suzuki and Dressel, 2010.
9th Wednesday 11.30 Khrystyna Ioanidis
The ethical implications of food technology: should we or should we not feed the world?
Constraints on the Expansion of the Global Food Supply. Kendell and Pimentel, 1994
14th November Monday 1.00   David Suzuki's documentary Force of Nature - Part 1  
16th Wednesday 11.30   David Suzuki's documentary Force of Nature - Part 2  
21st November Monday 1.00   Debate: The Queen's sustainability initiatives are something we should be proud of

For: Hailie Auld; Salma Hassouna

Against: Evette Yassa; Julianne Kwan

23rd Wednesday 11.30   Debate: Economic recessions are good for the environment

For: Brittany McGovern; Carley Davidson

Against: David Chubb; Khrystyna Ioanidis

28th November Monday 1.00   Debate: The Alberta oil sands development is a necessary ecological evi

For: Cathleen Brennan; Brittany Shelly; Jennifer Hutchinson

Against: Baye Drury; Erin Murphy-Mills; Jerome Velasco

30th Wednesday 11.30
Paul Grogan
Summary discussion  

Class photo in front of a windmill

2011 field trip to the Wolfe Island energy farm

Last Updated: 28 Nov. 2011