BIOL 510 The Biology of Sustainability Fall 2024


Humanity's problems depicted as a tree

Welcome to the BIOL 510 webpage for the Fall 2024 iteration of the course which is entitled: 



The Biology of Sustainability: Maybe our greatest need now is not more knowledge but more wisdom

This ecology course is aimed at identifying and critiquing potential mechanisms by which our civilization could most effectively move toward more sustainable living.  Biology can explain current environmental sustainability issues, but is also at the fundamental root of their underlying causes – human behaviour.  Therefore, the biology of sustainability incorporates biogeochemical, ecological, economic, social, genetic, and philosophical features and constraints.   Each iteration of the course will focus on a unique specific thematic question related to at least some of those components.      

The principal question that the 2022 course will address is:  Interconnectedness and impermanence: Is enhanced deep awareness of these fundamental biological principles the ultimate key to significantly advancing our species toward more 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 2022 iteration of this course will be largely focussed on reading and discussion of biology professor Robin Wall Kimmerer's 2013 book Braiding Sweetgrass. Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, but will also include other course theme-associated readings and activity exercises/workshops.


Learning outcomes:

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

  1. Explain and contrast the term ‘ways of knowing’ from Indigenous, Western Science and Arts perspectives, and outline their historical roots and interconnections
  2. Describe the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and their unique significance, and evaluate them in the context of Indigenous values
  3. Discuss and critique the strengths and weaknesses of each of the core sustainability-related arguments proposed in Robin Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass
  4. Formulate clear, original, challenging, and concise thematic questions from course reading materials that are likely to lead to focussed and intellectually-probing seminar group discussions, student-led seminar topics, and short essays
  5. Lead a stimulating, informative and creative seminar interpreting selected material from Robin Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass in the context of this course’s focal question about interconnectedness and impermanence (see above)
  6. Develop and present a cohesive, original, synthesis final essay/media project on the potential value of incorporating the concepts of interconnectedness and impermanence to promote more sustainable living across our society
  7. Use the learning achieved in this course to develop lasting personal solutions for coping with, and constructively responding to, the major environmental and social sustainability issues of the 21st century.


Professor: Paul Grogan

Seminar times: Mondays 12.30; 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% Final synthesis exercise (10% outline; 30% final submission)






September 12th
(Monday 12.30)

Course introduction


September 14th
(Wednesday 11.30)

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

Discussion: Video (Surviving Progress)


Surviving Progress (Documentary film)

September 19th
(Monday 12.30)

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


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

September 21st
(Wednesday 11.30)

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals: What exactly are they, what is their historical development, and why are they considered so fundamentally significant?


Kates, R., et al. 2005. What is Sustainable Development? Environment 47(3): 8-21

2022 United Nations SDG Report:

Intro. to Seminar Guidelines

September 26th
(Monday 12.30)

Personal Land Acknowledgement

Introduction to Indigenous Ways of Knowing


Webinar recordings:

What does the Earth ask of Us? Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (Nov. 12th, 2020)

Rethinking our Science: Blackfoot Metaphysics Waiting in the Wings. Reflections by a Blackfoot.

Dr. Leroy Little Bear (April 20, 2021)

Mazzocchi, F. 2020. A deeper meaning of sustainability: Insights from Indigenous Knowledge. Anthropocene Review 7(1): 77-93

September 28th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Is the concept of sustainability derived from inherently feminine ideologies?

Olivia Villani

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 1-3 (Skywoman Falling – The Gift of Strawberries)

October 3rd
(Monday 12.30)

Can understanding the relationship between Goldenrods and Asters really teach humans how to live a more sustainable life?

Mia Chartrand and Lauren Lebre

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 4-6 (An Offering – Learning the Grammar of Animacy)

October 5th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Promoting a sustainable mindset: Would the incorporation of Indigenous family values into Western communities significantly deepen people’s awareness of interconnectedness and impermanence?

Kira Henders and Rachel Orr

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 7-9 (Maple Sugar Moon – A Mother’s Work)

October 10th
(Monday 12.30)

Thanksgiving holiday – No class

October 14th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Reading week break

October 17th
(Monday 12.30)

Field trip – Nature Walk. Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre


October 19th
(Wednesday 11.30)

How might the concept of motherhood influence one's relationship to the environment, and thus, influence one's personal sustainability?

Sam Lucas

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 10-12 (The Consolation of Water Lilies – Epiphany in the Beans)

October 24th
(Monday 12.30)

How could we raise awareness of reciprocity in a way that increases our personal sustainability and contributes, down the road, to sustainable living?

Anjalie St-Louis-Hodgins

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 13-15 (The Three Sisters – The Teachings of Grass)

October 26th
(Wednesday 11.30)


October 31st
(Monday 12.30)

Teaching and Learning: Could enhancing awareness of Indigenous cultures of gratitude influence consumerist lifestyles?

Grace Lumley and Julianna Larocque

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 16-17 (Maple Nation: A Citizenship Guide – The Honourable Harvest)

November 2nd
(Wednesday 11.30)

Home: What is it, and must we find it to promote ecological and social sustainability?

Agnes Urlocker

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 18-20 (Becoming Indigenous to Place – Sitting in a Circle)

Intro. to Essay Guidelines

November 7th
(Monday 12.30)

Why would raised awareness of humanity’s connectedness to the rest of nature improve environmental sustainability?

Harsukhman Dhillon

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 21-23 (Burning Cascade Head – Umbilicaria – The Belly Button of the World)

November 9th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Coping with impermanence: Has the belief in an afterlife prevented western societies from becoming environmentally sustainable?

Chelsea Howes-MacDonald

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 24-26 (Old-Growth Children – Windigo Footprints)

November 14th
(Monday 12.30)

How does western culture’s obsession with distractions from our mortality mask the authentic self, and therefore restrict our sustainability potential?

Carissa Graham

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 27-28 (The Sacred and the Superfund – People of Corn, People of Light)

November 16th
(Wednesday 11.30)

‘Being’, not ‘Doing’ - How can we in this class be the spark for the eighth fire? 

Noelle Rendine and Emma Keen

Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapters 29-32 (Collateral Damage – Epilogue: Returning the Gift)

November 21st
(Monday 12.30)

No class – essay preparation

November 23rd
(Wednesday 11.30)

Field trip to the Agnes Etherington art museum exhibition entitled ‘Land Protectors’

November 28th
(Monday 12.30)

Synthesis I


November 30th
(Wednesday 11.30)

Synthesis II 


December 5th

(Monday 12.30)












Last Updated: 13 June, 2024

To see materials from previous iterations of this course, use the drop-down menu under the 'Teaching' tab at the top of this page