Course Objective1. To stimulate the students in developing critical ways to evaluate and
interpret scientific information, and particularly information on issues
related to society, ecosystem services and the environment.
2. To teach students to filter through a large body of information that
broaches both science and society.
The final attainment levels of this course include that students
1. understand the natural (ecological) economy and the many ways in
which it sustains the material (human) economy through the provisioning
of conditions and processes that underpin civilization.
2. have the ability to evaluate the ways in which humans impact nature
and how this is intimately linked with population and consumption
patterns that differ between nation states.
3. know how to determine how sustainable (or not) different nations of
the world are.
4. have the skills to critically evaluate the efficacy of information
presented by various sources (the media, internet etc.) on scientific
and environmental processes and problems.
5. can assess the role of scientists in studying and disseminating the
results of their research to society, and whether their views should
cross the threshold into the policy arena.
Course ContentFour main topics with varying overlap and several themes.
1. Ecosystem services (ES); initial
discussion of important ecosystem services (focusing on provisioning and
supporting e.g. fisheries, crops, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, pest
control etc. Five to six lectures envisaged by J. Harvey and several
guest speakers. Assignment for students: provide an example of an ES
that has been valuated (quantifiably) by economists. Try and find one
that falls in to the category of ‘supporting’ because these are the most
problematic in terms of valuation and prepare a short presentation.
Following this, discussion groups are assembled to debate and argue over
the over- or under-valuation of the services studied. Votes are taken
amongst the student body before and after the debate to see whose
arguments are most convincing.
2. Indices measuring human impact on the biosphere and on important ES.
Focuses on ecological footprint analyses (EFA) and how they relate to
nation states and the biosphere as a whole. Five to six lectures
envisaged by J. Harvey and several guest speakers. Assignment: select a
country and evaluate/calculate its ecological footprint in an essay. Is
the country sustainable? How much must it reduce its footprint to
3.Critical evaluation of information on ecology and environmental
issues. How accurate is the media in covering issues such as climate
change and biodiversity loss? What other sources of information compete
for public attention? How accurate are blogs and web sites on the
internet? Are there hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas that are at work?
How does one deal with the huge amount of information at our disposal?
Five to six lectures envisaged by J. Harvey and several guest speakers.
Assignment: presentation of an analysis of a newspaper or internet
article on a recent environmental issue. Evaluate its accuracy of
information and possible alternate agenda.
4. The role of scientists: how far should we step outside of the
university and research labs in disseminating information? The costs
(professional risks) and benefits (pro-active) of becoming involved in
societal debates. Lectures by prominent scientists. Assignment: write a
critical review or evaluation of an important environmental issue, and
design a plan for accurately conveying information on the subject to the
public through the media or internet.
Teaching MethodsLectures and Workshops
Attendance at guest lectures is mandatory
Method of AssessmentBased on essays (50%) and presentations and contributions to workshops
Entry RequirementsBSc in Biology, Earth and Economy, Future Planet Studies or Bèta-gamma
with a minor in environmental science or ecology. Students with other
previous education should contact the course coordinator.
LiteratureSelected papers and book chapters, and hand outs of lectures
Target AudienceMSc students with a focus on the interface of ecology and society. The
maximum number of participants is 50. Priority is granted to students in
the MSc Ecology and Evolution programme of the VU and UvA.
|Language of Tuition||English|
|Faculty||Faculty of Science|
|Course Coordinator||prof. dr. J. Ellers|
|Examiner||prof. dr. J. Ellers|
prof. dr. J. Ellers
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Last-minute registration is available for this course.