Free on Coursera: Introduction to Sustainability

Next session begins Mar 11th 2013 (8 weeks long).
Register at

About the Course

This course introduces the academic approach of Sustainability and explores how today’s human societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation and resource limitations. The course focuses on key knowledge areas of sustainability theory and practice, including population, ecosystems, global change, energy, agriculture, water, environmental economics and policy, ethics, and cultural history.

This subject is of vital importance, seeking as it does to uncover the principles of the long-term welfare of all the peoples of the planet. As sustainability is a cross-disciplinary field of study, this foundation requires intellectual breadth: as I describe it in the class text, understanding our motivations requires the humanities, measuring the challenges of sustainability requires knowledge of the sciences (both natural and social), and building solutions requires technical insight into systems (such as provided by engineering, planning, and management).

About the Instructor(s)

Dr. Jonathan Tomkin is the Associate Director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment and a research Associate Professor in the department of Geology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Tomkin directs the undergraduate program in environmental sustainability at the University.

His research aims to uncover the processes of how changing climates, glaciers, and landscapes interact. This study has involved fieldwork all over the world – including the Olympic Mountains, the Swiss Alps, Patagonia and Antarctica. He is the co-editor and contributing author of the college textbook Sustainability: a comprehensive introduction.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction. Pessimism vs. optimism.

  • Neo-malthusians, J-curves, S-curves and the IPAT equation

Week 2: Population. Demographics and the disappearance of the third world

  • Demographics, population trends.

Week 3: Tragedy of the Commons.

  • Fisheries, pastures, public vs private solutions

Week 4: Climate Change. The climate of the near future: hot, hotter, or hottest?

  • Weather vs. Climate, Proxy and data climate evidence, Climate projections

Week 5 : Energy. What happens when we reach “Peak Oil” Renewable energy: is there enough to make the switch?

  • Peak Oil/Fossil Fuel, Energy survey, availability, and density, EROI

Week 6: Agriculture and Water. Is there enough water and food for the 21st Century?

  • GMOs and the Green Revolution, water stocks and flows – physical and social constraints

Week 7: Environmental Economics and Policy. Can economists lead the way to sustainability?

  • Environmental Evaluation, project and policy evaluation, Incentive policies

Week 8: Ethics and Culture and Measurement. The long view.

  • NeCarbon Footprints, Energy and water efficiency metrics, Sustainability Ethics, Environmental ideology and conservation movements

Suggested Readings

The course will use a free, online textbook “Sustainability: a Comprehensive Foundation (Theis and Tomkin, Eds.)”. Participants can download the book as a pdf or html file (for laptops and computers) or as an epub file (for tablet readers)

Course Format

Each week of class consists of multiple 8-15 minute long lecture videos, integrated weekly quizzes, readings, an optional assignment and a discussion. Most weeks will also have a peer reviewed assignment, and there will be the opportunity to participate in a community wiki-project. There will be a comprehensive exam at the end of the course.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s