The Earth is changing around us, on many different temporal and spatial scales. To we humans, however, our planet often seems more static than varying, because of our relatively short life spans. Nevertheless we have come to realize, through the disciplines of history, geology and anthropology, that the Earth is quite different now than it was in the past. The more recent science of climatology tells us that some global changes are accelerating, bringing the potential for large-scale and perhaps disastrous consequences.
The goal of Global Change is to explore the ways in which the Earth has changed in the past, as well as ways it seems to be changing currently. We will examine both anthropogenic (human-caused) and non-anthropogenic changes, in order to provide a context in which to understand the transformations occurring today. The course begins with a few case histories describing specific examples of how humans have changed their environment, and how non-anthropogenic changes have affected human cultures. The rest of the course is divided into four segments: the first section deals with the Early Earth, and the changes that occurred to create a world we would recognize as our own from what was originally an inhospitable lump of rock. Next, Global Change students examine the Environmental Impacts of Early Humans, to determine the extent to which they (we) lived (or didn’t live) in a balanced and sustainable fashion within their habitats. In this segment students study perhaps the greatest anthropogenic change wrought upon the Earth – agriculture. The third portion of NTW134 deals with the many Effects of Industrialization upon the Earth, including changes in human population, agricultural practices, resource usage, and of course anthropogenic climate change. Finally, the debate on the Future Directions of Global Change is explored, as well as some of the difficult problems that must be overcome in order to ensure that inevitable change will occur in a gradual and minimally destructive manner to both human society and the environment.
Class time is divided between lectures and student-led activities. These activities include group presentations of interesting examples of how humans have caused or been affected by global changes (“case histories”), in-class writing assignments and discussions, and, at the end of the semester, a series of debates on issues regarding how we as a society should deal with predicted global changes and their underlying causes. The purpose of these activities is to allow students the chance to pursue in-depth research on a topic that interests them, and to give them practice in forming well-reasoned opinions based on factual evidence.