BIOL 510 Biogeochemistry and Global Change

biogeochemistry and global change banner

Welcome to the BIOL 510 webpage for Fall 2018 version of this course which was subtitled: Buddhism, Biology and Sustainability

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. 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 write and speak effectively, and to develop their understanding of global change issues and sustainability.

The principal question that this course will address is:
What conceptual linkages between contemporary Buddhism and Biology 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. The course will 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. The 2018 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.

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 Biology
  3. Search, critically assess, and synthesize primary and secondary literature in the natural and social sciences
  4. Develop and present a cohesive, original, synthesis essay on the potential of contemporary Buddhist philosophical perspectives to promote more sustainable living

Professor: Paul Grogan

Seminar times: Mondays 13.00; Wednesdays 11.30
Location: Room 3110, (Labs 3312) 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)


Date Title Seminar convenor Reading

September 10th
(Monday 13.00)

Course introduction



September 12th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Newspaper draft Opinion piece and Video (Surviving Progress) discussion


Grogan, Newspaper draft opinion piece on Sustainability;  Surviving Progress (Documentary film)

September 17th
(Monday 13.00)

Sustainability: What can Biology tell us about our future, and how ought we to live? (I)


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

September 19th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Sustainability: What can Biology tell us about our future, and how ought we to live? (II)



September 24th
(Monday 13.00)

How can contemporary Buddhist teachings be used to override our innate biological drives and promote more sustainable living?

Will Sardo

 Chapter 1.

September 26th
(Wednesday 11.30)

What aspects of consciousness allow us to move towards sustainable living?

Sadie Read

 Chapter 2a (-midway p44).

October 1st
(Monday 13.00)

Why is the ‘self’ concept more of a problem than a solution to sustainable living?

Michelle Lyons

 Chapter 2b.

October 3rd
(Wednesday 11.30)

What impact does the notion that everything is impermanent have on decisions we make with regards to sustainable living?

Yona Traubici

 Chapter 3a (- last para p70).

October 8th
(Monday 13.00)

Thanksgiving holiday – No class



October 10th
(Wednesday 11.30)

How can we find a permanent solution for sustainability, if everything is impermanent?

Jordyn Fregonese

 Chapter 3b.

October 15th
(Monday 13.00)

How can we promote the concept of connectedness as a means of changing behaviour in our anthropocentric Western world?

Hannah Sachs

Chapter 4a (-midway p. 96).

October 17th
(Wednesday 11.30)

What should we mean by sustainability?

Katie Bertone

Chapter 4b.

October 22nd
(Monday 13.00)

Can our selfish nature be constrained so as to achieve sustainability?   

Danielle Sawula

Chapter 5a (-midway p123).

October 24th
(Wednesday 11.30)

If compassion is a core foundation of sustainability, how can we cultivate it in such a divided world?

Katie Walker

Chapter 5b.

October 29th
(Monday 13.00)

In what ways could a biologically-based interpretation of the karma concept promote or hinder sustainable behaviour?

Michelle Cohen

Chapter 6a (-top of p145).

October 31st
(Wednesday 11.30)

How could the Buddhist sustainability concept of compassion realistically be implemented in the Western world?

Emma Douglas

Chapter 6b.

November 5th
(Monday 13.00)

How does hope influence emotional and behavioural responses to global change issues?

Maleeka Thaker

Chapter 7a (-top of p171).

November 7th
(Wednesday 11.30)

How does the tradition of tending to conceptualize using dichotomies inhibit our ability to address issues of sustainability?

Mae Rannells-Warren

Chapter 7b.

November 12th
(Monday 13.00)

What should we mean by 'mindfulness' as a practice to promote sustainable living?

Max Agius

 Wildcard #1 (Student chooses the reading for the whole class)
Ericson T., et al. 2014. Mindfulness and Sustainability. Ecological Economics 104:73-79.

November 14th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Respect or fear: which is a better motivator to tackle global change issues?

Jory Griffith

 Wildcard #2 (Student chooses the reading for the whole class)
Richard Dawkins interviews Satish Kumar 
Ripple et al., 2017. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. Bioscience 67(12): 1026-1028.

November 19th
(Monday 13.00)

Essay preparation – No class

Paul available for one-on-one consultation


November 21st
(Wednesday 11.30)

Essay preparation – No class

Paul available for one-on-one consultation


November 26th
(Monday 13.00)

Synthesis I



November 28th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Synthesis II 




Class photo 2018 revised
Class of 2018!
Back row: Sadie Read, William Sardo, Michelle Lyons, Katie Bertone, Danielle Sawula, Hannah Sachs, Jory Griffith, Yona Traubici, Max Agius, Michelle Cohen, Katie Walker
Front row: Maleeka Thaker, Jordyn Fregonese, Emma Douglas, Mae Rannells-Warren


Whiteboard final image
Student feedback during final synthesis in response to the following question: What were the most fundamentally interesting ideas we learned in this course?

Last Updated: 20 December, 2018