EDS306 Sustainability Science: Ecological, Social, and Economic Dimensions
Showing course contents for the educational year 2022 - 2023 .
Course responsible: Espen Olav Sjaastad
Teachers: Arild Vatn, Jens Bernt Aune, Aida Cuni Sanchez, Lukas Jack Reiner Gode
ECTS credits: 10
Faculty: Faculty of Landscape and Society
Teaching language: EN
Limits of class size:
Teaching exam periods:
Course frequency: Annually
First time: Study year 2016-2017
Sustainability science is an interdisciplinary field of knowledge that has its origins in the concept of sustainable development, proposed by the World Commissions on Environment and Development (WCED). Sustainable development has been guiding international environmental and sustainability policies over the last three decades and projects to the future through the Sustainable Development Goals. The course critically scrutinizes dominant paradigms of development and growth and explores alternative pathways to sustainability to secure basic needs for all within the safe operating space of planetary boundaries.
The course covers both theoretical and practical aspects. The theoretical part consists of lectures and includes an introduction to the course followed by four main blocks (A, B, C, D). The first class presents the course structure and methodology and the key concepts and themes. Block A, ‘Global environmental challenges of the Anthropocene’ advances notions of global change and Earth system science, the distinct nature of the Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, drivers of planetary change, planetary boundaries, the condition of ecological life support systems and challenges at the food-water-energy nexus. Environmental problems analyzed in depth include climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and over-exploitation of natural resources.
Block B, ‘Integrated assessment of ecosystems and biodiversity’, covers concepts, theories and methods in integrated environmental assessment and resilience theory. Topics will include the links between ecosystems and human well-being, evaluation of ecosystem functions and services, and notions in resilience assessment, including regime shifts and thresholds, cycles of change, cross-scale interactions, and vulnerability and adaptive capacity in the face of disturbance and change. Block C, ‘Institutional analysis of sustainability problems’ introduces theories, methods and approaches in environmental governance, including models of human behavior, formal and non-formal institutions, theories of access, resource regimes, and management of common pool resources. Finally, Block D, ‘Pathways to sustainability’, examines economic roots of environmental problems, different perspectives in the debate on growth and the environment, conflicting environmental values and valuation languages, environmental justice, and controversies around the commodification of nature.
The practical part will focus on the application of solutions to environmental problems. It will include case studies and a group assignment. Case studies will show practical applications of the theoretical contents taught in class. The assignment is organized as group work where the focus is on developing skills for formulating environmental problems and formulate policies applied to concrete cases.
The aim of the course is providing attendants with interdisciplinary frameworks, concepts, methods and tools for analyzing, understanding and informing sustainability problems and solutions. Particular emphasis is made on the understanding of the interactions between society, the economy and the environment across scales.
By completion of the course we expect attendants to have reached understanding of concepts, methods and frameworks in environmental and sustainability analysis, be familiarized with integrated approaches to the analysis of coupled, social, ecological and economic systems and recognize the social, technological and economic roots of environmental degradation.
The students shall acquire theoretical insights and practical tools for understanding and assessing the links between ecosystems and human well-being, environmental values and valuation approaches, and models of rationality, choice and human behavior. Students shall further acquire knowledge on the design of economic incentives and policy tools for environmental protection, basic notions in environmental management and governance, and understanding of the relations between growth and the environment. Students should also have read key literature in environmental and sustainability sciences. Students shall develop the ability to critically evaluate the assumptions underlying the various theories and perspectives in environmental and sustainability science covered in the course.
Further, the course aims to encourage reflection on own and other people’s values, attitudes and behavior, and on their potential implications for sustainability and justice.
Tuition in the course is campus-based, with not streaming.
The course consists of a combination of lectures, seminars and a group assignment.
Lectures include an introduction to the course and are organized in four main blocks (A, B, C, D). The first class presents the course structure and methodology and the key concepts and themes. Block A, ‘GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES OF THE ANTHROPOCENE’ advances notions of global change and the Earth system, the distinct nature of the Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, drivers of planetary change, planetary boundaries, the condition of ecological life support systems and global food security challenges. Examples of various environmental problems that will be discussed concern climate change; biodiversity loss; over-exploitation of natural resources like fish, water and land; chemical pollution. Block B, ‘INTEGRATED ASSESSMENT OF ECOSYSTEMS AND BIODIVERSITY’, covers concepts, theories and methods in integrated environmental assessment and resilience theory. Topics will include the links between ecosystems and human well-being, evaluation of ecosystem functions and services, and notions in resilience assessment, including regime shifts and thresholds, cycles of change, cross-scale interactions, and vulnerability and adaptive capacity in the face of disturbance and change. Block C, ‘INSTITUTIONAL ANALYSIS OF SUSTAINABILITY PROBLEMS’ introduces theories and methods in environmental governance, including models of human behavior, institutions, theories of access, resource regimes and management of common pool resources. Finally, Block D, ‘PATHWAYS TO SUSTAINABILITY’, examines economic roots of environmental problems, different approaches to the conflict between growth and the environment, and pathways towards a just and safe operating space for humanity.
Seminars include supervised group discussions around controversial aspects in the sustainability sciences, including the relation between growth and the environment, environmental valuation, and the framings of nature. The course also includes seminars in support of developing term papers.
The group assignment consists of a term paper where the course’s theory will be applied to a case study within sustainability sciences. The assignment will count for 40% of the final mark. Groups will decide topic themselves within the scope of the course. The students chose who they will work with, in groups of around 4 members.
There is supervision in connection with the group assignment. Attendance at seminars organized in connection with the group assignment is compuslory. Supervision will also be offered outside of these seminars.
A selection of journal papers and book chapters will be provided by the start of the course
The course is adapted to the background of the students enrolled in the M-IES program.
The course is interdisciplinary. Basic knowledge in political science, economics, ecology and environmental sciences would provide a good foundation for following of the course.
Attendance at all seminars is compulsory. Participation in the group assignment, and related seminars and supervision sessions, is obligatory. Absence from mandatory activities without legitimate and documented reason will result in the loss of the student’s right to take the exam.
Combined assessment, with a group assignment and a written exam. Both of these, as well as final grade, will receive a letter grade (A-E).
The written exam will be in English only.
The group assignment counts for 40% towards the final grade, the written exam counts for 60%.
Bachelor degree in relevant field, social and/or natural sciences.
Type of course:
Lectures: around 20 double hour lectures. Seminars: 2 double hours. Group work with supervision: 5 hours.
The written exam and the group assignment will be articulated and assessed by the course responsible and teachers. An external examiner will quality check the design of the course assessment.
Allowed examination aids: A1 No calculator, no other aids
Examination details: Combined assessment: Letter grades