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Global Challenges 4: Environmental Change



[BSc], GE

Admission Requirements



The current global population is 7 billion and counting. At the start of the 20th century there were

Course Objectives

The goal of this course is to introduce students to the challenges we are facing due to human induced changes in the environment, and to train important academic skills. More specifically, at the end of the course students are able to:

  • Briefly describe major environmental processes related to ecosystems and biodiversity, and discuss how these processes can be affected by human activity (nutrient cycling, water cycling, ecosystem functioning, the importance of biodiversity; impacts of agriculture or prospecting);

  • List and discuss important human induced changes in the environment, such as impacts on water and air quality, organisms living within these environments, overexploitation of fisheries/wildlife, use of fossil fuels and global warming;

  • Describe and discuss the role of different stakeholders in decision making processes related to environmental change;

  • Understand how their own behavior links to environmental change, and which steps can be taken to reduce their impact;

  • Conduct a literature review, give a presentation and write a report on a topic in environmental sciences, thereby gaining experience in important scientific skills.

Mode of Instruction

The main mode of instruction will center around lectures and discussions on current topics on environmental sciences. There will be a weekly plenary session (Monday) followed by a seminar session in smaller groups, which is focusses on in-class discussions and further exploration of the material covered in the plenary sessions. Students are expected to actively contribute during these discussions.

In addition, students are required to complete individual and group assignments. To facilitate completion of these assignments, there will be some time set aside during lectures to discuss and work on assignments (the remainder of the work is conducted outside class hours).

Finally, one or two additional sessions on a Wednesday afternoon will be scheduled related to the course (e.g. field trip or documentary) will be scheduled.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

Assessment will occur through bi-weekly quizzes, an individual assignments, a group assignment and a group presentation. In addition, participation in class will determine part of the final grade (see details below).

Every day late for handing in assignments will result in a deduction of a full letter grade of your mark (e.g. A+ (on time) to B+ (1 day late) to C+ (2 days late) to D+ (3 days late) etc. Students must complete all assignments/quizzes. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, not finishing an assessment component described below will automatically results in an F in the course.

Bi weekly quiz (Week 3, 5 and 7) [during the seminar: 10% each]: 30%): These quizzes will be based on the designated readings and the topics covered in the seminar and plenary session in the previous two weeks. The quiz will consist of both short-answer and/or multiple choice questions and long-answer questions. The quiz will assess whether the students have a solid understanding on the topics covered in class, and are able to integrate and critically discuss their newly gained knowledge.

Individual assignments (Weeks 4: 30% each): students will hand in an individual assignment. The goal of this assignments is to study selected topics covered in lectures in more detail.

Group assignment (Week 8: 30% total): this group project consists of a written report, and a group presentation in class. During the group project, students will conduct a literature review on an issue related to environmental change (topic will be approved by instructor), followed by a presentation in class. *Final report: Student will write a report to demonstrate knowledge on a specific topic. A literature review is conducted, and students will develop critical thinking skills by highlighting short-comings in current research, and identify important areas for future research. *Group presentation: Students will give a group presentation in class on the outcomes of their group project.

Course participation (Week 1-7: 10%): You will be assessed throughout the term on your class participation. Participation will be based on provision of thoughtful and critical questions and comments during classes, based on your readings and experiences.


Miller, G.T. and S. Spoolman, 2012. Environmental Science. Cengage Learning (ISBN-10: 1111988935, ISBN-13: 978-1111988937, Edition: 14), 576 pp.

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

Week 1: General introduction on topic and ecological footprint
Week 2: Are there plenty of fish in the sea? Overexploitation of our natural resources
Week 3: Food production for a growing population
Week 4: Current and emerging contaminants: what are the risks?
Week 5: (Bio)fuel, rainforests and biodiversity
Week 6: Implications of fracking and tar sands for the environment
Week 7: Environmental Change and Human Health consequences
Week 8: Reading week

Preparation for first session

  • Students will need to partake in an online survey (to be emailed prior to the class).

  • In addition, before the seminar (i.e. the Wed or Fri following the first plenary) you need to think of an environmental issue which is a topic of debate in your country/region (e.g. pesticide residuals in water, air pollution; health risks associated with contaminants), and be prepared to briefly (1-2 min) discuss this in class. Instructions to follow in the plenary session.