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Course Overview

In this course you will study the conceptual foundations of sustainable development, and discuss the issues around sustainability as a complex problem.

We’ll look at the flow of energy and materials worldwide; social and political issues; wealth inequality; the impact of geography, history and culture on sustainability today; and the problems of collective action. Finally, we’ll conduct a SWOT analysis, looking at our resilience and prospects in the face of climate change and other global issues in sustainability. We’ll ask: are we doomed?

  • Week 1: Sustainable development and complexity
  • Week 2: The economy and ecology as a metabolic system
  • Week 3: Economic growth and inequality
  • Week 4: The importance of geography, history and culture and the impact of human activity on the environment
  • Week 5: The problem of collective action
  • Week 6: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

This course is open to anyone interested in exploring the general technical and social issues around the concept of sustainability and sustainable development. The course explores the theoretical basis of sustainability from the natural sciences, political and economic perspective. This course is aimed at learners who wish to engage with the challenges and potential solutions to sustainability at a conceptual level.

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to…
  • Explain what is meant by a complex system and its relevance to sustainability
  • Evaluate the Brundtland definition of sustainable development
  • Explain how economy and ecology work together as one system
  • Summarise the prospects for a circular economy
  • Identify the effects of the agricultural and industrial revolutions
  • Identify and discuss the practical and moral issues around inequality
  • Evaluate the difficulty in assigning causation in complex systems
  • Discuss the implications of past actions for current generations
  • Describe what is meant by the term ‘tragedy of the commons’
  • Explain what is meant by globalisation, and its implication for sustainability
  • Discuss the major problems of sustainability and the prospects for solutions
  • Discuss the range of views on approaches to development

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