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Sustainability beyond frustration: saving the planet as an academic skill


UPDATE January 25: see changes in the course schedule

Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Topics: Sustainable development, life skills, ecological development, professional development, attitude change, autonomous learning.
Disciplines: Psychology, Engineering, Biology, Ecology, Political Science, Engineering, Cultural Anthropology.
Skills: Skills (VSNU categories): Vision, Conceptual capacity, Analytical capacity, Inventiveness, Capacity to learn, Environment orientation; presenting, initiative, decisiveness, self reflection.

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade. Ability to be present at all meetings is expected and needs to be confirmed.

Further selection criteria. Selection for the course will be based on your motivation letter which should include at least:
1) your personal burning question within the subject;
2) your hunch about what practical steps are desirable and feasible to save the planet;
3) the contribution you can bring to the class, exemplifying your particular knowledge based on your own BA discipline. Assignment to a particular study group within the class will be based on this.

Once selected, each participant will receive a preparatory portfolio assignment (through Umail) that will precede the first face-to-face meeting. This needs to be completed by February 1st in order to be able to participate.


Sustainability is hot: many of us regard it their mission to contribute to preserving our planet as a habitat. Unfortunately, this often inspires a sense of gloom and doom in today’s most motivated students. How, if ever, are we going to reverse the loss of biomass and biodiversity, uncontrolled climate change, habitat loss and global ecological decay? Can we assume responsibility for change, or is the required effort just too immense? Could it be that it is more like a systemic, or paradigm change that would enable today’s leaders and scientists to do this? Can we be stewards of earth?

According to current scientific technical insights, the situation may be more hopeful than you think. However: finding a solution requires a combination of hard science (natural sciences and engineering) with soft science (insights in how to move psychological, social and governmental attitudes and behaviour).

This Honours Class is for those who aspire to contribute to real change. It constitutes a unique cooperation between The Weather Makers: a Dutch international enterprise, built with inspired scientists and engineers that are working worldwide to technically reverse ecological conditions on a large scale, and the Personal Development Centre at FSW, Leiden University. During this course you will learn to combine your particular (disciplinary) knowledge, your personal inspiration, and skills to bring about personal and societal change (internal ecology: psychological and social development). In our experimental Honours Class, we will combine this with state-of-the-art knowledge about the technical potential for desired climate change (external ecology: biology and engineering).

According to today’s insights in biology and engineering, the cascading man-made effects that lead to environmental disaster can also be reversed in a counteracting cascading fashion. However: to realize this, changing the mindset of individuals and governments is crucial. You will actively learn about and contribute to both the biodynamical and psychosocial and cultural mechanisms of change. The knowledge from your own discipline will be actively required to generate realistic technical and social solutions.

During this Honours Class, you will build an (online) personal development portfolio. For FSW Science & Society students, part of the subject matter will be familiar, some parts of the programme will for them constitute an update. The personal LMW online portfolio will help to develop meta-skills to clarify and implement one’s own mission in profession, as well as envision and generate concrete solutions for sustainable change.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • have a clear insight in their personal mission and role in earth-stewardship;

  • master instruments to exert personal leadership in this area;

  • understand several mechanisms of climate change / reversal;

  • understand psychological and societal barriers to change and see potential to deal with these.

Programme and timetable:

The Sessions number 2 - 4, 8, 10 & 11 of this class will take place on Mondays from 18.00 - 21.30. The other Sessions have different times, that are mentioned below or will be announced during the Session 1 or Session 2.

(Provisional programme):

  • Your own ecology & purpose: exploring the taxonomy of your mission (Marc Cleiren)

  • Losing and gaining hope for the earth (introduction & inspiration, Weathermakers, Ties van den Heuvel)

  • Technologies for reversing climate trends (The Weather Makers)

  • The messy business of doing real research (Ir Stefan Tax)

  • Commitment as a skill (Justin Sijtsma / Marc Cleiren)

  • Guest lectures (we will set up online meetings with world renowned real change makers such as film maker John Liu & Prof. Dr. John D Todd).

Compulsory seminars and workgroups:

Session 1: February 1, 2022 (online, on your own time)
LMW Online Personal Portfolio preparation, sent through e-mail

Session 2: February 7, 2022 (18.00 - 21.30)
in Pieter de la Court building, room 1B01
Core Purpose

Session 3: February 14, 2022 (18.00 - 21.30)
in Pieter de la Court building, room 1B01
Introduction & inspiration Weathermakers

Session 4: February 21, 2022 (18.00 - 21.30)
in Pieter de la Court building, room 1B01
Approach & group mission

Session 5: February 28, 2022
in Pieter de la Court building, room 5A29
Establishing research question & collaboration

Session 6: March 7, 2022 (9.00 - 17.00)
Field trip: Weathermakers EcoLab Den Bosch

Session 7: the week of March 21, 2022 (date and location TBA)
Group coaching

Session 8: April 4, 2022 (18.00 - 21.30)
Pieter de la Court building 5A29
Commitment seminar

Session 9: the week of April 18, 2022 (date and location TBA)
Group coaching

Session 10: May 2, 2022 (18.00 - 21.30)
Pieter de la Court building, room 1A15
Final presentation

Session 11: May 9, 2022 (18.00 - 21.30)
Pieter de la Court building, room 0804
Lessons Learned & Future Self

Course venues will be at different locations:
Pieter de la Court building
FSW Living Lab (Hybrid online teaching venue for simultaneous on site- and online international collaboration);
Field visit to The Weather Makers experimental facilities in the south of the Netherlands.

Reading, viewing & listening list:

A selection will be compulsory (to be announced during the first meeting).

To inform yourself on the subject:
Liu, J. (2009) Hope in a changing climate
Liu, J. (2013) Forests of Hope

Chapin III, F. S., Power, M. E., Pickett, S. T. A., Freitag, A., Reynolds, J. A., Jackson, R. B., ... & Bartuska, A. (2011). Earth stewardship: science for action to sustain the human-earth system. Ecosphere 2 (8): art89. (
Flannery, T. (2005). Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change. Text Publishing.
Lent, J. (2021). The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe. New Society Publishers.
Liu, J. (2012) Green Gold
Plummer, R., Baird, J., Farhad, S., & Witkowski, S. (2020). How do biosphere stewards actively shape trajectories of social-ecological change?. Journal of environmental management, 261, 110139.
Todd, John H. (2010) The Final Lecture
Todd, J. (2019). Healing Earth: an ecologist's journey of innovation and environmental stewardship. North Atlantic Books.
Musical tracks from several artists (Xavier Rudd, Mishka)

Additional/alternative literature will be announced in class or via Brightspace.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is 5 ECTS, equalling a course load of 140 hours:

  • Seminars: 9 seminars of 2-3 hours (mandatory participation) = max. 27;

  • Excursion: 1 excursions of 8 hours = 8;

  • Literature reading: 1 hours/week (16 weeks) = 16;

  • Practical group work & reporting: 5 hours/week (16 weeks) = 80;

  • Assignments, online personal LMW portfolio & essay: 24 hours.

Assessment methods:

  • Participation assessed continually through presence in seminars & workgroups;

  • Personal Preparations through online Learning My Way system;

  • Integrative papers combining personal and professional insights;

  • Presentation quality during symposium;

  • Final research product /paper;

  • Reflection report on personal functioning & development during course.

The assessment methods and evaluation will be further explained during the first session of the Honours Class.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 1 November 2021 up to and including Thursday 11 November 2021 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.

For questions regarding the course, please contact