EDS306 Sustainability Science: Ecological, Social, and Economic Dimensions
Showing course contents for the educational year 2020 - 2021 .
Course responsible: Erik Nicolas Gomez Baggethun
Teachers: Marianne Aasen, Ola Tveitereid Westengen, Jens Bernt Aune, Pål Olav Vedeld
ECTS credits: 10
Faculty: Faculty of Landscape and Society
Teaching language: EN
Limits of class size:
Teaching exam periods:
Course starts in Autumn parallel. Course has teaching and examination in Autumn parallel.
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, ‘Economics and politics of 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.
The course consists of a combination of lectures, seminars and an assignment.
The 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.
The course include field visits and seminars including a visit to a local agroecological system and facilitated group discussions around controversial aspects in the sustainability sciences, including the curse of natural resources, the relation between growth and the environment, environmental valuation, and the framings of nature.
The assignment consists of a term paper where the course’s theory will be applied to a case study and count for 40% of the final mark. Groups will decide topic themselves within the scope of the course or choose topics within a menu offered by the lecturers. The assignment will be organized as a group work where the focus is on formulating, analyzing and addressing a sustainability problem. The students chose who they will work with, in groups of around 4 members.
There is supervision in connection with group assignment. There will be two group paper seminars to support the group work on the term paper and attendance is obligatory:
There will one supervision hour per group. Groups will be supervised by Erik Gomez-Baggethun, Marianne Aasen, or Pål Vedeld. Students present assignments at a seminar the two weeks ahead of delivery. Each group comments on other groups assignments. Presentation and commenting are obligatory.
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 will allow optimal following of the course contents
Attendance to some classes and all seminars is compulsory. Participation in the group assignment and related seminars and supervisions is obligatory. All students must also attend the final wrap up session where the course is evaluated by the students. Absence from mandatory activities without previous notice and justified/documented reason (e.g. health related) will result in the loss of the student’s right to take the exam and be evaluated.
Exam in ENGLISH ONLY. Group assignment counts 40 %. Written exam counts 60 %. One final grade (A-E) is provided at the end of the term.
Bachelordegree in relevant field, social and/or natural sciences.
Type of course:
Lectures: 20 double hour lectures. Seminars: 2 double hours. Group work with supervision.
The written exam and the assignment will be designed and marked by the course teachers. An external examiner will quality check the exam and the evaluation system for the assignment.
Examination details: :