Spring 2018: Introduction to Mitigation and Adaptation Studies

Course description

In this course, students will be introduced to studies focusing on mitigation of human-induced changes in the Earth system, including but not limited to climate change and sea level rise, and adaptation to the impacts of these changes. A particular focus will be on the challenges climate change and sea level rise pose to conservation efforts. The course will cover the hazards resulting from the on-going planetary reengineering that is pushing the planet out of the Holocene; the vulnerability of the coupled socio-ecological and economic system to these hazards, the foresight we have in terms of future trajectories of the planet and the probability density functions of the hazards; the opportunities and limitations for mitigation and adaptation that result from societal decision making processes and the general basis of human decision making; and, finally, the options we have for mitigation and adaptation and a framework for the assessment of the viability of proposed options. Most of the examples used in the course to illustrate the issues are taken from practical work in conservation.

Course expectations

At the end of this course, students will:

  • comprehend the scale of the current transition out of the Holocene into a new geological epoch;
  • understand the challenges sustainability science and conservation management are facing today;
  • have the skills to analyze the ethical dimension of the sustainability challenge and to formulate a personal ethical position and active value system;
  • appreciate the importance of system thinking and have the skills to approach complexity;
  • be able to recognize the nexus between system characteristics (including the food-water-energy-population nexus) and how conservation is integrated into such a nexus approach;
  • apply a probabilistic approach to hazards, vulnerability and risk analyses;
  • participate in societal decision making processes;
  • poses the skills to develop metrics for adaptation options and their relevance for conservation.


Prerequistes are BIOL 291 or agreement of instructor. Students are expected to have reached the Commonwealth of Virginia standards-of-learning in high school math, science, and writing. Regular class attendance is required as some of the information will only be provided during class.

In addition to weekly reading requirements, required course material include:

  • Rockström, J., Klum, M, 2015. Small Planet, Big World. Yale University Press. ISBN-10: 0300218362, ISBN-13: 978-0300218367. Available on Amazon.com as hardcover or Kindle editions (~$20)
  • Sodhi, N.S., P.R. Ehrlich. 2010. Conservation Biology for All. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0-19-955423-2. Available on BlackBoard in a free PDF format. Or at https://conbio.org/publications/free-textbook/.

Reading assignments: See Schedule and Class Pages.


The course will combine lectures with discussions and project work. There will be weekly homeworks in written form. Each week, a set of questions will be made available and written answers will have to be provided based on that material presented in the class and additional readings. These answers should be concise. The answers have to include the name of the student as well as the questions themselves. The answers have to cite the sources consulted in writing the answer and a list of references. For the 500-level class, there will be additional questions. In total, there will be twelve sets of questions of which the ten best will be counted for the overall grade.

The research assignment will consist of a research paper and a presentation of the research paper. The research paper and presentation will be prepared during the “Student Project” hours and in homework.

Note that the form of this course will differ from many other more traditional courses in that is starts with the description of a complex societal challenge and not with basic theory. The challenge of adapting to the current and future changes inflicted by humanity on the planet and the Earth's life-support system is a “wicked problem for which no comprehensive theory exists. It requires environmental, social, and economic considerations in a complex system environment. Therefore, we will approach this problem by first describing the problem in its many facets and then pulling in theory where needed to better understand the problem and to illustrate possible approaches to address the challenges.

Work Skills and Collaboration

You must be able to access Blackboard and the class web page at http://www.mari-odu.org/academics/2018s_adaptation on a daily basis. Assignment details including deadlines, course materials, schedule changes, and other important information will be posted at the class web page regularly. Please visit the course website for detailed weekly course information.

Grades will be available on the class page on Blackboard.

From time to time you will be asked to research and bring specific content (e.g., published facts, evidence, sources) to the class. Do not assume that this content will be provided for you if you fail to complete the assignment.

Collaboration is expressly permitted, encouraged, and may even be required for team projects, but must follow these guidelines:

  • You must actively participate in the collaborative project;
  • You must write your own individual report on any team project work;
  • All team members’ names must be included in any written project work;
  • You must understand the material and be able to answer questions on it.


The course combines lectures with exercises and project work. There are weekly reading assignments and written homework. The student project assignment will consist of a research paper and a presentation at the end of the class. At the end of each class, each student will submit a 2/2 form stating briefly two things learned in the class and two things not understood in the class. This form is documentation of having participated in the class.

You will be graded on a standard scale:
100-90% =A
89.9-80% =B
79.9-70% =C
69.9-60% =D
59.9% and below=F.

The overall grade for the class will be composed of individual grades using:
Class participation 5%
Weekly homework: 40%
Research draft paper: 20%
Research final paper: 15%
Presentation: 20%.

University regulations prohibit communicating test results via email or by phone. If you wish to talk about your grade, please make an appointment. All scores will be placed on BlackBoard as soon as possible after they are graded.

Grade forgiveness policy:

Missed question sets or exams may only be made up for valid reasons such as: participation in ODU sports team events (a coach's note is needed), evidence of illness (doctor's or Student Health Services' note needed), bereavement of an immediate family member (death notice needed), or documented court appearance (copy of notice to appear needed). Advance notice in writing must be given whenever possible.

Late assignments or reports will be graded on a reduced point scale as follows:
up to 24 hrs late = 90%
up to 48 hrs late = 80%

A further 10% per day reduction in possible points earned will be applied, up to a maximum total of 5 days late, after which the assignment will not be accepted without evidence that the student was sick or there was a family emergency.

Course Disclaimer

Every attempt is made to provide a syllabus that is complete and that provides an accurate overview of the course. However, circumstances and events may make it necessary for the instructor to modify the syllabus during the semester. This may depend, in part, on the progress, needs, and experiences of the students.

Teaching Philosophy

The material covered in this course is exciting and can also be challenging. I encourage you to ask questions in class if you are uncertain about concepts, ideas or formulas. I recommend that you read the reading material weekly, prior to the lecture and study your own lecture notes frequently. The material that I cover in this class will build upon itself, and reading through course notes regularly will allow you to catch problems early, if you find that you are having them.

Honor Code

By taking this course, you agree to adhere to Old Dominion University’s honor code. Cheating on exams, quizzes, plagiarism in written work, and failing to participate fully in group work will not be tolerated; infractions will be dealt with according to University policy. General honor code guidelines for various course assignments are posted in the on Blackboard (Policies > General Policies); all students are responsible for reading, understanding, and following those guidelines.

All students should follow the principles of the ODU Honor Code: https://www.odu.edu/about/monarchcitizenship

Honor Code: We, the students of Old Dominion University, aspire to be honest and forthright in our academic endeavors. Therefore, we will practice honesty and integrity and be guided by the tenets of the Monarch Creed. We will meet the challenges to be beyond reproach in our actions and our words. We will conduct ourselves in a manner that commands the dignity and respect that we also give to others. 

Academic Integrity

Old Dominion University is committed to students' personal and academic success. In order to achieve this vision, students, faculty, and staff work together to create an environment that provides the best opportunity for academic inquiry and learning. All students must be honest and forthright in their academic studies. Your work in this course and classroom behavior must align with the expectations outlined in the Code of Student Conduct, which can be found at http://www.odu.edu/oscai. The following behaviors along with classroom disruptions violate this policy, corrupt the educational process, and will not be tolerated:

  • Cheating: Using unauthorized assistance, materials, study aids, or other information in any academic exercise.
  • Plagiarism: Using someone else's language, ideas, or other original material without acknowledging its source in any academic exercise.
  • Fabrication: Inventing, altering or falsifying any data, citation or information in any academic exercise.
  • Facilitation: Helping another student commit, or attempt to commit, any Academic Integrity violation, or failure to report suspected Academic Integrity violations to a faculty member.

Requirements of the ODU Departments of Biological Sciences and Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Science

By taking this course, you agree to adhere to the requirements and policies of the ODU Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Ocean Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; these may be found on Blackboard (Policies > General Policies).

Missing Classes

If you miss a class no make-up will be provided. If you missed a class and homework was due, you have to email the homework on the same day, unless it is impossible due to documented medical conditions.

If you miss a week or more of classes because of an illness, personal crisis of some kind, or illness of immediate family member, you should notify the Office of Student Affairs and submit required documentation (http://studentaffairs.odu.edu/sos/). Once your request has been validated by the Office of Student Ombudsperson Services (S.O.S.), the course instructor will be issued an official absence notice. Nevertheless, these notices do not “excuse” the absence, nor do they guarantee that the student will be permitted to make up tests. The absence notice simply documents that the student’s illness or other circumstances indicate that the student was unable to participate in class for designated period of time. The authority to excuse absence rests with the instructor, whose decision is final.

If you are Experiencing Difficulty

If you are having any difficulty – with specific course content or anything else we can help with – please do not hesitate to ask for help. Please come and talk to me in person as soon as the problem arises. Remember also that you have access to a variety of student services on campus.

If you have any Special Needs

Please inform me as soon as possible of any special needs you might have, including medical conditions that may require special accommodation.


A syllabus constitutes a contract between the student and the course instructor. Participation in this course indicates your acceptance of its schedule, requirements, and policies. Please review the syllabus and the course requirements as soon as possible. If you believe that the nature of this course does not meet your interests, needs or expectations, if you are not prepared for the amount of work involved or if you anticipate that the class meetings, assignment deadlines or abiding by the course policies will constitute an unacceptable hardship for you, you should drop the class by the drop/add deadline, which is located in the ODU Schedule of Classes.

Managing Conflicts

If you are having a conflict with another student in your class, please let us know right away. Any issues we cannot resolve among ourselves will be taken to either the Biology Department Chair, Dr. Wayne Hynes, or the OEAS Department Chair, Dr. Fred Dobbs, for mediation.

Class Schedule

Note that all homeworks and research project documents (draft bibliography, draft paper, final paper, presentation) have to be submitted by e-mail to the two instructors.

January 2018

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Jan 8
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 1
Class slides
Jan 9
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 1 are due
Jan 10
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 2
Class slides
Jan 11
Jan 12
Jan 15
No Class
Jan 16
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 2 are due
(Drop deadline)
Jan 17
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class canceled because of snow day.
No slides available.
Jan 18
Jan 19
Jan 22
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 4
Class slides
Jan 23
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 3 are due
(Withdrawal deadline)
Jan 24
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 5
Class slides
Jan 25
Jan 26
Jan 29
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 6
Class slides
Jan 30
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 4 are due
Jan 31
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 7
Class slides
Feb 1
Feb 2
6:00 PM: Final date for selection of research topic, see Topics.

February 2018

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Feb 5
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 8
Class slides
Feb 6
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 5 are due
Feb 7
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 9
Class slides
Feb 8
Feb 9
Feb 12
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 10
CDS slides
Feb 13
No answers for questions are due this week
Feb 14
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 11
Class slides
Feb 15
Feb 16
Feb 19
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 12
Research Project Hour
Class slides
Feb 20
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 6 are due
Feb 21
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 13
Class slides
Feb 22
Feb 23
6:00 PM: Draft outline and bibliography for Research paper is due (details).
Feb 26
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 14
Class slides
Feb 27
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 7 are due
Feb 28
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 15
Class slides
Mar 1
Mar 2

March 2018

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Mar 5
No class
Mar 6 Mar 7
No class
Mar 8
Mar 9
Mar 12
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 16
Class slides
Mar 13
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 8 are due
Mar 14
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 17
Class slides
Mar 15
Mar 16
Mar 19
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 18
Research Project Hour
Mar 20
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 9 are due
Mar 21
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 19
Class slides
Mar 22
Mar 23
6:00 PM: Draft Research paper is due (details).
Mar 26
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 20
Class slides
Mar 27
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 10 are due
Mar 28
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 21
Research Project Hour
Mar 29
Mar 31

April 2018

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Apr 2
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 22
Class slides
Apr 3
6:00 PM: Answers for Questions 11 are due
Apr 4
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 23
Class slides
Apr 5
Apr 6
6:00 PM: Final Research paper is due (details).
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 24 are due.
Apr 9
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 24
Presentations of research papers
Presentation template
Apr 10
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 25 are due.
Apr 11
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 25
Presentations of research papers
Apr 12
Apr 13
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 26 are due.
Apr 16
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 26
Presentations of research papers
Apr 17
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 27 are due.
Apr 18
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 27
Presentations of research papers
Apr 19
Apr 20
Apr 23
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 28
Class slides
Apr 24
Apr 25
Apr 26
Apr 27

Class Pages

NOTE: All students are asked to read the book by Rockström and Klum (2015) prior to the class. The book by Sodhi and Ehrlich (2010) will be used throughout the course to provide a theoretical background. It is available for free down-load at https://conbio.org/publications/free-textbook/ and also locally available as pdf.


  1. Class (01/08/2018): The Challenge we are Facing
  2. Class (01/10/2018): The Challenge we are Facing (continued)
  3. Class (01/17/2018): Snowday
  4. Class (01/22/2018): Degradation of the Earth's Life-Support System
  5. Class (01/24/2018): System Thinking
  6. Class (01/29/2018): Introduction to National Wildlife Refuges: The Example of Great Dismal Swamp
  7. Class (01/31/2018): Baseline
  8. Class (02/05/2018): Baseline (cont.) and Syndrome
  9. Class (02/07/2018): Syndrome (cont.) and Diagnosis
  10. Class (02/12/2018): Career development and ePortfolio
  11. Class (02/14/2018): Diagnosis (cont.) and Prognosis
  12. Class (02/19/2018): Research Project Hour
  13. Class (02/21/2018): Knowing the Hazards: Extinction
  14. Class (02/26/2018): Knowing the Hazards: Loss of ecosystem services
  15. Class (02/28/2018): Knowing the Hazards: Climate Hazards, Public Health, Food-Water-Energy Nexus
  16. Class (03/12/2018): Vulnerabilities (natural and human built environment; Economy, Inequality and Injustice)
  17. Class (03/14/2018): Developing Foresight
  18. Class (03/19/2018): Research Project Hour
  19. Class (03/21/2018): Decision-Making: Socio-Economic and Political Contexts
  20. Class (03/26/2018): Decision-Making: Human Nature and Facing Threats
  21. Class (03/28/2018): Research Project Hour
  22. Class (04/02/2018): Developing Options: Avoiding Adaptation or Changing Paradigms, Resilience and Anti-Fragility
  23. Class (04/04/2018): Developing Options: Global Therapy (Safe-guarding the Earth's Life-Support System: Economy and Governance and Mitigating the Degradation of the Life-Support System)
  24. Class (04/09/2018): Student Presentations
  25. Class (04/11/2018): Student Presentations
  26. Class (04/16/2018): Student Presentations
  27. Class (04/18/2018): Student Presentations

Class 1 (01/08/2018): The Challenge we are Facing

Class slides.


Humanity has pushed the planet outside of the Holocene, the last geological epoch, which started 11,700 years ago. The Holocene was a period of exceptionally stable climate, and with this, it provide a “safe operating space for humanity,” in which to make a transition from being hunterers and gatherers to agriculture and an initially slow development of civilization. The recent two centuries have seen rapid changes, mainly due to more energy available to humans, and in the last 70 years, humanity has developed into the most dominant species on the planet reengineering the surface and changing the major mass cycles. At the end of the Holocene, the rapid transition to a new epoch poses a challenge to humanity that might threaten the modern global society at its core. Timely adaptation to an uncertain future is at the core of a sustainable development for humanity through this transition. However, without a deep understanding of the ethical, social, and economical issues that have put Earth's life-support system on the recent and current trajectory, it is difficult to diagnose the causes and develop a theraphy that could improve planetary health.

The class will summarize the challenge and then introduce a number of terms used in the class. At the end, adapation science will be introduced and its relation to ethical considerations will be discussed.

Reading List

Leopold (1949).

Rittel and Webber, 1973

Kates et al., 2001

Moss et al., 2013

Rockström, J., Klum, M, 2015

Steffen et al., 2015.


Back to Contents

Class 2 (01/10/2018): The Challenge we are Facing (continued from class 1)

Class slides


See Class 1.

Reading List

Sustainable development:

Griggs et al., 2013


Syvitski, 2012

Steffen et al., 2016

Williams et al., 2016

Global boundaries:

Rockström et al., 2009

Steffen et al., 2015

Back to Contents

Class 3 (01/17/2018): Canceled because of snow day

Back to Contents

Class 4 (01/22/2018): Degradation of the Earth's Life-Support System

p>Class slides


Modified from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Over the past decades, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any previous period in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the biodiversity. The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems. The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystem while meeting increasing demands for services will involve significant changes in policies, institutions and practices that are not currently under way. Many options exist to conserve or enhance specific ecosystem services in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services. Human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. In order to reduce the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next decades, substantial changes in policy and practice are required but are currently not underway.

Reading List

Barnosky et al., 2012

Hassan et al., 2005

Rockström et al., 2009a

Rockström et al., 2009b

Back to Contents

Class 5 (01/24/2018): System Thinking

Class slides


The system is in a transition to a high-energy state, with potential severe changes in meteorological and hydrological hazards. The relationships found in the long-term baseline also indicate that the recent and projected rapid climate change has committed humanity to a large sea level rise during the next centuries unparalleled by all changes experienced by civilization. Over time, this change in sea level will lead to major shifts in the present-day coastline, with little options to protect large areas of the current coastal zone against inundation. Considering that in general coastal zones are highly productive and urban areas are growing much faster in coastal zones than in other regions, a rapid sea level rise would cause many local and regional disasters with globally devastating consequences.

How can we explore possible futures? A system of systems view on the Earth system and the embedded anthroposphere provides a theoretical framework to research the nature of feedback loops and their role for future developments in the earth system. Scenario-based simulations can be used to explore possible the future and provide guidance for the development of interventions that bring the system closer to desirable futures.

Reading List

Barnosky et al., 2012

Carpenter et al., 2005

Hansen et al., 2016

Back to Contents

Class 6 (01/29/2018): Introduction to National Wildlife Refuges: The Example of Great Dismal Swamp

Guest lecturer: Chris Lowie, Refuge Manager, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge


The Minor in Conservation Leadership concludes with an Internship preferably at a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service Learning Course on Sustainability Leadership includes research projects related to challenges faced by NWRs. The guest lecture will introduce the students to the work environment at the NRWs and discuss the challenges the NWRs are facing, particularly those that relate to climate change and its impacts.

Reading List


Back to Contents

Class 7 (01/31/2018): Baseline

Class slides


Baseline: Based on the paleo-record over the last 800,000 years and more, we can construct a baseline “normal range” for long-term climate variability. Compared to this baseline, climate was exceptionally stable during the Holocene, the most recent geological epoch that began 11,700 years ago. With this stability, the Holocene provided a “safe operating space for humanity” (SOSH) and the development of civilization, as we know it. Sea level has been exceptionally stable during the last 6,000 years allowing humanity to build large permanent settlements in the coastal zone and to benefit from the many ecosystem services and logistical advantages the coastal zone has to offer. The experience of the past has created the paradigms that climate is relatively stable, that sea level does not change very much, and that the coastline is rather stable over time. The way we built infrastructure and coastal protections and how we utilize the coastal zone is based on these paradigms.

Reading List

See also the reading lists of Class 1 and Class 2.

World Watch Institute, 2013.

Ruddiman, 2005.

Back to Contents

Class 8 (02/05/2018): Baseline (continued) and Syndrome

Class slides


Syndrome: Changes in the earth system are accelerating over the last 200 years and particularly since the 1950ties. Propelled by the availability of easily accessible and seemingly infinite energy particularly in form of oil, humanity has reengineered the surface of the planet and modified major mass cycles by several orders of magnitude. Based on technological innovations, new constituents are introduced in the earth system with unforeseen consequences. The increased cycling of mass is leading to high levels of polution. As a result, biodiversity is rapidly reduced, extinction rates are accelerating, the dynamics of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-solid Earth system are transitioning to a high energy state, and climate is changing. Many positive feedback mechanisms are triggered and these are further accelearting the changes.

Reading List

Carpenter et al., 2005.

IPCC, 2013.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a extremely valuable source of information on climate change and adaptation. The "Synthesis Report" and the "Summaries for Policy Makers" are a good starting point to decide which chapters to look at. See the IPCC AR5 web page at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/.

Back to Contents

Class 9 (02/07/2018): Syndrome (continued) and Diagnosis

Class slides


Syndrome: Changes in the earth system are accelerating over the last 200 years and particularly since the 1950ties. Propelled by the availability of easily accessible and seemingly infinite energy particularly in form of oil, humanity has reengineered the surface of the planet and modified major mass cycles by several orders of magnitude. Based on technological innovations, new constituents are introduced in the earth system with unforeseen consequences. The increased cycling of mass is leading to high levels of polution. As a result, biodiversity is rapidly reduced, extinction rates are accelerating, the dynamics of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-solid Earth system are transitioning to a high energy state, and climate is changing. Many positive feedback mechanisms are triggered and these are further accelearting the changes.

Diagnosis: Attempting a diagnosis of what is currently taking place, it becomes clear that climate change and sea level rise are symptoms of the underlying global change. The crossing of global boundaries of the safe operating space for humanity is putting the system on a rapid transition to a new state unknow to humanity. At the core of the changes is the economic model introduced in the 18th century, which has the sole purpose of creating human wealth without regard for the non-human wealth degraded or eliminate on the way to more human wealth.

Reading List

Griggs et al., 2013.

World Watch Institute, 2013.

Look at the Sustainable Development Goals: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs.

UNRISD, 2016.

Back to Contents

Class 10 (02/12/2018): Career Development and ePortfolio

CDS Presentation; ePortfolio Assignment


For both the 466W class and the Minor/graduate certificate in Conservation Leadership, it is important to develop a personell ePortfolio with the deliverables of the class/classes and the internship. Also important is a well-written resume and letters for applications. Jenna Rowlands from ODU's Career Development Center will introduce the students to writing a convincing resume and application letters. Eddie Hill from the Human Movement Sciences Department will talk about ePortfolio and provide information on available tools for the creation and maintenance of an ePortfolio.

Reading List


Back to Contents

Class 11 (02/14/2018): Diagnosis (continued), Prognosis and Therapy

Class slides


Prognosis: Scenario-based simulations and risk assessments are methodologies to explore possible futures in support of the development of mitigation and adaptation actions that facilitate system trajectories towards desirable futures. Climate simulations for a range of emission scenarios provided a basis for mitigation policy developments that were used in the discussion of global climate change mitigation agreements. Global risk assessments show that environmental risks are increasingly likely with severe impacts on social and economic risks.

Therapy: The flows between a human or non-human community between the Earth's life-support system (ELSS) and this community determine the wellbeing and sustainability of the community. In all communities, basic needs determine the flows, and power and hierarchical structures impact the distribution of benefits associated with the flows. If the flows reach a level that exceeds the capacity of the ELSS to sustain the flows or that have detrimental impacts on the ELSS, then the community is challenged and may suffer scarcity, reduction in size, or extinction.

Unlike other communities, in human communities, basic needs are not the only factor determining the amount of flows. Ethical and moral rules determine the flows and the distribution of benefits associated with the flows. In modern human communities, the economic model introduced by Adam Smith in 1776 has an major impact on the level of the flows as well as the distribution of the benefits. Modern economy requires constant grows and acceleration of the flows to function, which is inhernently unstainable and the main cause of the degradation of the ELSS.

The therapy therefore has to start with revising the economic model fundamentally to allow for prosperity without growth and to enable economy to be the key agent safeguarding the ELSS.

Reading List

Griggs et al., 2013.

">World Watch Institute, 2013.

Look at the Sustainable Development Goals: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs.

UNRISD, 2016.

Back to Contents

Class 12 (02/19/2018): Research Project Hour

Class slides


We will discuss technical details of the student project and methodology.

Back to Contents

Class 13 (02/21/2018): Knowing the Hazards: Extinction

Class slides


There have been at least five times in Earth's history when a large number of species, on the order of 70-96% of all species, were lost over a relatively short period ranging from several ten thousand to several hundred thousand of years. These mass extinction events are attributed to periods of prolonged volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts and changes in the state and chemistry of the planet. The current extinction rate is extremely high and leading to an unparalleled rapid loss of biodiversity.

Reading List

To view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPq9YAg9mfc&feature=youtu.be

Pimm et al., 2014.

Doncaster et al., 2016.

Rothman, 2017. See also https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/160818212811.htm.

Back to Contents

Class 14 (02/26/2018): Loss of Ecosystem Services

Class slides


It is hard to describe all the complexity and value of ecosystem services. We will discuss current state of some major ecosystem services, such as those provided by soil, biodiversity (including health benefits), and mobile links.

Reading List

Barnosky et al., 2012.

Williams et al., 2015.

Plag and Jules-Plag, 2013.

Back to Contents

Class 15 (02/28/2018): Knowing the Hazards: Climate Hazards, Public Health, Food-Water-Energy Nexus

Class slides


Climate change is expected to increase extreme weather events including droughts, floods, heat waves, and in some regions cold spells. This will have severe impacts on both the natural and built environment. Sea level is expected to rise significantly with severe impacts on coastal ecosystems, resources, settlements, and the urban and working coast. Ocean warming and acidification will add hazards to the coastal zone. The disaster risk associated with extreme storms and storm surges is also expected to increase. Thus, land use planning has to consider a much larger range of possible environmental conditions than those experienced in the past.

Climate change, pollution, and global change present new and serious threats to human health. Food, water and energy needs are competing creating a complex nexus that is further complicated by population growth. Global and climate change have a significant impact on the distribution functions of many environmental variables including climate variables, ecosystem variables. We will talk about global systems connections and how anthropogenic changes in one part of the world have unexpected impact on biodiversity and human health in the other part. Particular aspects of hazards under climate change are related to changes in the hazard spectrum that are hard to predict with low uncertainty. Therefore, developing foresight is of increasing importance if the system is in rapid transition.

Reading List

Hansen et al., 2016.

IPCC, 2014.

Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and Its Impacts, 2013.

Lenton and Schellenhuber, 2007.

Back to Contents

Class 16 (03/12/2018): Vulnerabilities of natural and human built environment; Economy, Inequality and Injustice

Class slides


Risk, Vulnerability, Thresholds, Resilience, Panarchy are terms that are used in the discussion of adaptation challenges. These terms are introduced. The anthropogenic changes in the environment are slowly pushing the planetary life-support system to a state shift with potentially severe consequences for both human and non-human mammals and the rest of the biosphere. Understanding thresholds and detecting them prior to crossing them is of paramount importance. The built environment and public services such as power, water, food, health, transportation, communication, sewage systems are based on a design basis in terms of environmental conditions (particularly the weather extremes in terms of heat and cold extremes, flood levels, humidity, wind including hurricanes and tornadoes, snow loads) that have been experienced in the past. Increasingly, extremes are shifting, exposing built environment and the public services to conditions exceeding the design basis.

The changes in the natural environment caused by direct and indirect human activities, including extinction, global warming, and increased hazards lead to severe impacts on economy, increased inequality, and injustice due to impacts on populations that contributed least to the causes for the changes.

Reading List

Committee on Climate Change, 2016. In particular, read the Technical Chapters on Infrastructure and the Built Environment.

Hallegatte et al., 2013.

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Class 17 (03/14/2018): Developing Foresight

Class slides


The changes in the physical and chemical state of the climate and biological systems can be expected to lead to unpredicted changes with limited predictablility. Moreover, predictive capability developed throughout the 20th and 21st century may be strongly reduced due to changing patterns. An example is the potential breakdown of well-developed oscillatory patterns such as the quasi-biennial oscillation, the Southern Oscillation, and the North-Atlantic oscillation. Likewise, significant shifts in extremes and means can be expected and based on that foresight can be developed. However, model predictions will lose their value due to unrealistic uncertainties (too low) resulting from not accounting for the systemic changes.

Mitigation and Adaptation are important aspects of the transitions to a stustainable development. Evidence-based policy development for mitigation and adaptation is an important step towards the transition. Modeling and simulation can help to inform society to better understand the causes and potential impacts of global and climate change and help develop policy solutions.

Reading List

Glantz and Kelman, 2013.

Nature Climate Change, 2013.

Epstein, 2008.

Participatory Modeling Video.

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Class 18 (03/19/2018): Research Project Hour


We will provide feedback on the draft outlines and bibliography and work on the draft.

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Class 19 (03/21/2018): Decision-Making: Socio-Economic and Political Contexts

Class slides


Our mainstream model of a global economy is based on a number of assumptions about goals of economy, how it works, and how the planetary system is linked to it. These assumptions arose in a time when humanity was small and with much less access to energy, and at a time when wide-spread poverty was the main concern. The resulting economy is in conflict with many of nature's laws. However, there are high economic values connected with the causes of climate change, and those benefiting from these causes have high resistance to societal transitions that would mitigate climate change.

Reading List

Constanza et al., 2013.

Constanza et al., 2014.

Utting, 2016.

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Class 20 (03/26/2018): Decision-Making: Human Nature and Facing Threats

Class slides


Decisions made by humans are normally based on incomplete knowledge and impacted by assumptions, biases, and preferences. Cognitive biases are part of human nature and the degree to which these biases impact decisions from individual to global levels depend on the past experience of an individual, the community and cultural preferences, and the value systems accepted by individuals and communities. Being aware of the impact of biases on decisions is of fundamental importance for the discussion of threats, mitigation, and adaptation. Humans seldom make decisions based on rational considerations. In fact, most decisions are based on what Kahneman (2011) calls "fats thinking."

The way how threats are encountered and risks are managed, understood, ignored in different cultures and how natural laws are integrated in risk assessments depends on the cultural biases, the preception of reality, and the social, economic and ethical rules accepted by the community. It also depends on how these threads and risks are related and competeing with the core values of the community. Environmental risks resulting from the fact that we have crossed global boundaries, have changed land use and eliminated a large part of the wildlife are competing with the goals of material wellbeing that is central to modern civilization.

Reading List

Cognitive biases

Lee and Lebowitz, 2015.

Kahneman et al., 2011.

Rosenzweig, 2016.

Kahneman, 2011.

Stattford, 2016.

Kolbert, 2017.

View: “How Not to Be Ignorant About the World” by Hans and Ola Rosling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm5xF-UYgdg


Kirchhoff et al., 2013.

Berger et al., 2011.

Casti, 2012.

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Class 21 (03/28/2018): Research Project Hour


We will continue to work on the research project.

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Class 22 (04/02/2018): Developing Options: Avoiding Adaptation or Changing Paradigms, Resilience and Anti-Fragility

Class slides


Despite abundant evidence that the Earth's life support system is rapidly degrading and that the degradation is accelerating, there is solid resistance to both mitigation and adaptation. In many cases, communities are not ready to accept the evidence and make evidence-informed decision, which would require significant changes in land use, use of resources, and moral changes. Is it an acceptable approach to wait for events to get more extreme before adaptation measures are being taken? Options for adaptation often imply the changing of existing paradigms. Moreover, exploring different options requires some tools to explore possible futures and to generate the transformation knowledge required to change the system trajectory towards a desirable future. Assessing which options are viable necessitates the involvement of stakeholders in the process of developing options. "Change by design" is an approach to this.

Nassim N Taleb (2012) introduced a concept that aims to be the opposite of fragile, and he calls this "antifragile." While a resilient system can resist a shock and remain basically the same after the shock, an antifragile system has the ability and willingness to learn from the shock and change in response. To prepare for an uncertain future, being antifragile is of benefit. The development of options for climate change adaptation should therefore go beyond increasing resilience and aim to make the systems exposed to cimate change antifragile.

Reading List

Brown and Katz, 2009.

Folk, 2018.


Taleb, 2012. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifragile, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/books/antifragile-by-nassim-nicholas-taleb.html, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/16/antifragile-nassim-nicholas-taleb-review

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Class 23 (04/04/2018): Developing Options: Safe-guarding the Earth's Life-Support System: Economy and Governance and Mitigating the Degradation of the Life-Support System

Class slides


A sustainable community is one that satisfies the needs of the present while safeguarding the Earth's life-support system (ELSS), on which the welfare of current and future generations depends (Griggs et al., 2013). Humanity is embedded in and dependent on the ELSS. For at least 200 years, almost all interactions, including the flow of material, energy, and information between society and the ELSS are economic in nature and controlled by ethical, social, and economic (ESE) rules, which in turn are impacted by the changes in the ELSS (Plag and Jules-Plag, 2017). To reach sustainability, safeguarding the ELSS has to be congenital to the economic rules. Although the vast majority of normative ethical accounts demand that the human population transitions to a fair, sustainable lifestyle, the economic rules that require perpetual growth are in tension with this moral requirement. In fact, the current rules are sustaining growth by accelerating the main mass and energy cycles in the ELSS leading to a cataclysmic degradation. Humanity has developed into the “anthropogenic cataclysmic virus” (ACV) in the ELSS (Plag, 2015). To reach sustainability, this virus is challenged with a transition into the healer.

Reading List

Boyce, 2013. See See http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/9075669bb1167c89a85947735ace6a03/publication/547/.

Greer, 2011.

Jackson, 2009.

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Class 24 (04/09/2018): Student Presentations


Student will give presentations on their research project. We will have three presentations on:

  1. Impacts of sea level rise and climate change on the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (pptx)
  2. Landfills and Sea Level Rise (pptx)
  3. Chesapeake Bay under climate change and sea level rise (pptx)

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Class 25 (04/11/2018): Student Presentations


Students will give presentations on their research project. We will have three presentations on:

  1. Loss of Ecosystem Services of Wetlands (pptx)
  2. Lion fish (pptx)
  3. Invasive Species (pptx)

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Class 26 (04/16/2018): Student Presentations


Students will give presentations on their research project. We will have three presentations on:

  1. Extinction of Species (pptx)
  2. Ocean Acidification/Warming and Coral Reefs (pptx)
  3. Pollution (pptx)

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Class 27 (04/18/2018): Student Presentations


Students will give presentations on their research project. We will have three presentations on:

  1. Urban Agriculture (pptx)
  2. Population growth and sustainability (pptx)
  3. Towards sustainable fishing and aquafarming in the Caribbean - considerations for Sustainable Development Goal 14 (pptx)

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All Weekly Question Sets

Please, submit the answers by e-mail to the two instructors. Note that your answers to the questions should be concise and in a scientific writing style. Please, include your name at the top and the questions before each answer. The answers have to cite the sources consulted in writing the answer and a list of references. Citations and Reference have to follow the documentation style defined by the Council of Scientific Editors, known as the CSE style. See SSF-Guide or the WISC page for more information on the CSE style. Examples of correct references can be found here.

Questions marked with "GRAD" are to be answered only by students in the 500-level class.

Question Set 1

  1. Why was the Holocene a “safe operating space for humanity” (SOSH)? Describe in which aspects the Holocene was different, and favorable to humanity, from other geological epochs.
  2. What, in your opinion, is the key circumstance that allowed humanity in the last century to grow as fast as it did and push the planet outside of the Holocene?
  3. What, in your opinion, are the most likely consequences of leaving the Holocene and transitioning into a new epoch?
  4. GRAD - Explain why adaptation to climate change is a super-wicked problem.

Question Set 2

You can answer most of the questions for this week based on the readings for class 2.

  1. How is the Anthropocene defined in literature? What are the main characteristics of the Anthropocene?
  2. What, in your assessment, are the key drivers for the changes during the last 200 years and, in particular, the last 70 year?
  3. What are the two global boundaries of the “safe operating space for humanity” (SOSH) that humanity has already crossed and what are potential consequences of crossing these boundaries?
  4. GRAD: Do the definitions of the Anthropocene capture the main differences between this new "epoch" and other geological epochs?

Question Set 3

  1. How is the current loss of biodiversity different from any previous extinction? List all possible characteristics.
  2. Summarize the main argument and concern in Barnosky et al. (2012).
  3. What are the current pitfalls in our conservation efforts?
  4. GRAD: What is the main message of Hassan et al. (2005)?

Question Set 4

  1. Explain in a system-of-systems framework the nature of feedback loops and thresholds.
  2. Compare recent climate change (last 100 years) to pre-industrial variability. What are the main differences?
  3. Which of the nine global boundaries of the "safe operating space for humanity" discussed in Rockström and Klum (2015) have been crossed most significantly and how is the crossing of these boundaries interdependent?
  4. GRAD: Most of the additional energy stored in the Earth system is stored in the Ocean (IUCN, 2016; Cheng et al., 2016). What does this tell us about the extent of global warming an our ability to mitigate global warming?

Question Set 5

  1. To what extent has humanity during the Holocene impacted the Earth's life-support system and is there a fundamental difference in what is taking place over the last 100 years?
  2. Explain the scenario-based approach to the exploration of possible future used by, for example, Carpenter et al. (2005).
  3. Comparing Figure 1 in Lenton and Schellnhuber (2007) (see e.g. http://www.nature.com/climate/2007/0712/fig_tab/climate.2007.65_F1.html for the figure, or https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/3487lenton.pdf for the figure, which is on slide 6 plus additional information) to the discussion of rapid changes over the last 10 years provided in previous classes, which of the thresholds have already been crossed, or are likely to be crossed, much earlier than anticipated by Lenton and Schellnhuber (2007)? It may be helpful for you to read through Richard Blaustein's (2015) comment on "Predicting Tipping Points" available at http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/spring2015/tipping-points.
  4. GRAD: Is the IPCC comprehensively considering all drivers of climate change? How is this reflected in the assessment reports?

Question Set 6

  1. The syndrome: What are the largest changes caused by humans in the last 100 years in the chemistry of the atmosphere and ocean and how did these changes impact the energy balance of the earth system? Be quantitative.
  2. The diagnosis: Explain the importance of flows in the Earth's life support system and the impact of the current mainstream model for economy on these flows. To what extent depends the current economy on changing the flows and how is this impacting the Earth's life-support system?
  3. The prognosis: What are the main hazards/developments that could cause global catastrophes and how are they related to changes in the Earth's life-support system caused by humans in the last 100 years?
  4. The therapy: What would be a crucial step towards sustainable development as defined by Griggs et al., 2013. Are the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations facilitating this step?
  5. GRAD: Discuss the relationship between the carrying capacity of a system and the development of populations of human and non-human animals.

Question Set 7

  1. Based on Kremen et al. (2007), discuss how land-use change affect pollinator communities? Provide a detailed answer.
  2. To what extent is the current mass extinction exceeding pre-human extinction rates? Use Pimm et al. (2014).
  3. Based on Doncaster et al. (2016), are there early warning signs indicating a significant change in the Earth's life-support system?
  4. GRAD: What are the consequences of Rothman's (2017) assessment?

Question Set 8

  1. What are the main vulnerabilities to sea level rise of infrastructure and the built environment as identified in the CCRA 2017 compiled by the U.K. Committee on Climate change? Provide a list of the vulnerabilities (not the risk) and a brief summary for each point you include in the list.
  2. Summarize the core challenges of climate change and sea level rise for public health.
  3. Give two examples of injustice caused by climate change and/or sea level rise, one on local scale (Paolisso et al., 2012) and one on global scale (Looi, 2016).
  4. GRAD: Based on the Zillow study (see Dvorsky, 2016) and Hallegatte et al. (2013), describe two major risks of sea level rise that could cause economic regression or a major economy crisis.

Question Set 9

  1. Discuss the potential implications of foreseeability of the increasing damage of climate change for those who are causing climate change.
  2. Based on Epstein (2008) discuss how models can help to inform decision making.
  3. Based on Constanza et al. (2013), describe how the non-human environment (often denoted as "nature") and its wealth are accounted for in the current mainstream model of economy.
  4. GRAD: Comment on the consequences of the definition of sustainable development given by Griggs et al. (2013) for economy and compare this to the concept of Greer (2011).

Question Set 10

  1. What do you know about cognitive biases and how do you think they impact our decision making? Give examples.
  2. We do not expect you to read the book on fast and slow thinking by Kahnemann (2011), although this would be very good for you. However, have a look at the summary at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow. Then provide two examples of decisions based on fast and slow thinking and comment on the quality of the decisions made.
  3. Apply the Kahneman et al. (2011) methodology to reduce the impact of cognitive biases to a recommendation you have recently heard of, e.g. related to the discussions on climate change, terrorism, or the discussion on health insurance in the U.S.
  4. GRAD: Based on Glantz and Kelman (2013), explain the difference between “Decision making under uncertainty” and “Decision making under Foreseeability.” Make sure that you properly distinguish between uncertainty and foresight.

Question Set 11

  1. Explain in detail the difference between the classical concept of “resilience” and the new concept of “antifragility”. What are main characteristics of a resilient and an antifragile community? Provide examples of a resilient system and one that is antifragile.
  2. Explain the concept of “paradigm” and give an example of a paradigm that may not be applicable under climate change.
  3. To what extent are current options for adaptation to climate change and sea level rise antifragile?
  4. GRAD: tbd

Question Set 12

  1. Considering the normative ethical principle of a duty not to participate in massive harm, discuss to what extent the descriptive ethical basis for the national and international handling of involuntary migration caused by climate change impacts is consistent with the normative principle.
  2. To what extent is the current wealth distribution and the development of this distribution over time consistent with the normative ethical principle of a duty to justice? Use the Credit Swiss "Global Wealth Report 2016" available here as a source for data and global wealth distribution.
  3. How would you characterize the descriptive ethics that is the basis for a system trajectory pushing us out of the safe operating space for humanity? Is this consistent with the normative ethics of a duty to care about the life of future generations?
  4. GRAD: tbd



This project provides an opportunity to investigate a real-world issue of regional interest and its global impact and to apply the mitigation and adaptation concepts discussed in class to the kinds of issues you will be expected to understand as a professional, an informed citizen and a voter. Working on the project will also allow you to develop and/or improve your skills in research, writing, oral communication, and working in a cooperative, group setting.

You will be provided with a list of potential topics but you are encouraged to identify and propose your own topic. Only one student may work on each topic. Your job is to research the topic with the goal of developing options to address the problem in the context of mitigation and adaptation science. The five main areas of Adaptation Science as defined in Moss et al. (2013) should be reflected in the structure of your report, i.e., the hazards, the vulnerabilities, foresight, decision making, and options.


The paper should be between 2,000 and 2,500 words of text (for the 500-level: 2,500-3,000 words). Figure and table captions and bibliography are not included in the word count.


Assume that you are writing this papers in support of decision making by a specific stakeholder group engaged in addressing the real-world issue. Write the research paper in a way that a non-expert can understand the text.


The paper has to be typed with one-and-a-half line spacing preferred. Start with the title of your paper. Then write you name and the class identifier below the title. Then have the numbered sections of your paper (see below). Give each section a meaningful headline. At the end, include the bibliography with the heading "References". For the format of references, see below the section on References.

Insert figures and tables in the text. Figures and table must be numbered and must be referenced in the test. Figures must have a caption below the figure, including the source of the figure. Tables have a caption above the table. Make sure that each caption explains the figure or table sufficiently but does not add significant text.

All units should be System International units (e.g., km instead of miles; mm, cm, m instead inches and feet; degrees Celsius instead of Fahrenheid; g and kg, instead of pounds).


Your paper should have seven sections. After an introductory section, you will consider the five areas of adaptation science. A final section will summarize your recommendations on how to address the issue you are considering. You will present the following information, with appropriate attention to detail throughout and the appropriate bibliography.

  1. Introduction: Give a brief overview of the real-world issue you are addressing. Questions you may consider here include: What is the challenge? Where is this a problem? What system are you considering (eco-system, species, human community, ...)? Who (human or non-human) is impacted? What and who has caused the problem? Who is trying to solve/address the problem? Is this a wicked or super-wicked probelm? What has been done to address it? Who are you writing for and who may benefit from your research paper?
  2. Hazards: What are the hazards that constitute threats for the system you are considering? Give a comprehensive overview of the hazards, how they interrelate, and how they may change over time. You should discuss the hazard probabilities as a function of hazard magnitude. Which of these hazards can be mitigated?
  3. Vulnerabilities: What are the vulnerabilities of the system considered? As much as possible, you should be quantitative here. Be realistic, tangible and precise. Which of the vulnerabilities can be reduced through adaptation of the system?
  4. Foresight: What was/were the causes that led to the system being exposed to threats and what future developments can be anticipated? What future challenges can be expected? What is the prognosis? You should consider at least three different scenarios. In particular, what are the long-term consequences of the “no action” option? Importantly, explain how small-scale (local) and large-scale (global) processes impact the system's current and future trajectory. What has been done to move the system towards desirable futures? What were the outcomes of these efforts?
  5. Decision making: Who are the stakeholders involved and impacted by the problem and how do they make decisions? You should consider that the system is embedded in a societal framework with many stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests. The viability of any option proposed to move the system toward a desirable or desired future will depend on the decision making of these stakeholders, in particular those that make decisions impacting the future of the system.
  6. Options: What are viable options to address the problem through mitigation of the causes, managing and mitigating the impacts, and adapting the system to the changes. Be sure to address the practical advantages and disadvantages of competing options (remember that wicked problems have no defined solution, only better or worse options, and most realistic options are not going to be simple). Think about who the competing stakeholders might be and what they stand to gain/lose from each option. Consider at least three options and discuss the associated scenarios and the potential system trajectories. Make sure that the options you discuss are consistent with the foresight you developed in Section 4.
  7. Recommendations: Here you should recommend specific options to impact the future of the system in a desirable way. Related these recommendations to the scenarios you discussed in the sections on foresight and options. To who are you making the recommendations?

Project Paper

The project paper counts for 35% of final grade. 20% or for the draft and 15% for the final paper.

  • Each student needs to write a 2000-2500 word paper (excluding illustrations and bibliography) on a given topic that includes the sections described above.
  • Paper have to include the citations of all the sources used and a bibliography has to be provided at the end of the paper that includes all of the sources cited in text.
  • Each student must use and cite at least six references for the project. These can be web-based or print, but be sure they are legitimate. Make sure that at least three references are taken from peer-reviewed literature. For most topics, you will be able to find good material from websites provided by government, conservation, and/or academic organizations. Be sure to evaluate the source of the information carefully; remember that anyone can put anything on the web, and that conservation organizations vary in their degree of balance and bias. All references must be cited in the written Bibliography that you submit on the day indicated in the Timeline. If you make any changes to the list you will need to resubmit a new bibliography as soon as possible. Failure to adhere to these guidelines will result in a reduction in the score.
  • All references must be cited in the written Bibliography that you submit on the day indicated in Timeline. If you make any changes to the list you will need to resubmit a new bibliography as soon as possible. Failure to adhere to these guidelines will result in a reduction in the score.
  • You have to re-write the information that you have learned from the literature using your own words and must cite the sources from which the information is derived. You may not use the direct quotes from the source. You have to rewrite it completely, NOT just make a few changes in the sentence!
  • Failure to rewrite will result in a loss of points up to 0 for the paper. Failure to cite sources, even if you paraphrase content, constitutes plagiarism and will result in a score of 0 for the entire project and an Honor Code sanction.
  • Grades will be based on thoroughness, accuracy, mechanics, and adherence to instructions.

Oral Presentation

The oral presentation counts for 20% of final grade.

The oral presentation should last 15 minutes. Less time means you haven’t covered the topic in sufficient depth. More time means you did not practice and not prepared sufficiently. Your goals for the presentation are to inform the audience (general public and your peers) about the real-world issue and to convince your audience to care about it and act responsible. Presentations must include illustrations. When you develop your presentation, be sure you are paraphrasing source material (i.e., putting it into your own words) rather than reading sections of material copied verbatim from your sources. The latter will be considered a violation of the ODU Honor Code and will result in significant grade penalties! You cannot read your presentation from the cards or from the screen! This will result in grade penalties.


Note that the research paper and the presentation are important parts of the writing class. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask!


Citations and Reference have to follow the documentation style defined by the Council of Scientific Editors, known as the CSE style. See SSF-Guide or the WISC page for more information on the CSE style.

Examples of acceptable references are:

  • Journal article:
    Barnosky, A. D., Hadly, E. A., Bascompte, J., Berlow, E. L., Brown, J. H., Fortelius, M., Getz, W. M., Harte, J., Hastings, A., Marquet, P. A., Martinez, N. D., Mooers, A., Roopnarine, P., Vermeij, G., Williams, J. W., Gillespie, R., Kitzes, J., Marshall, C., Matzke, N., Mindell, D. P., Revilla, E., Smith, A. B., 2012. Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature, 486, 52-58, doi:10.1038/nature11018.
  • Article in Book/Collection:
    Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S., 2013. Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Ecosystems. In Pielke Sr., R. A., Seastedt, T., Suding, K. (eds.): Vulnerability of Ecosystems to Climate, Volume 4 of: Climate Vulnerability: Understanding and Addressing Threats to Essential Resources, 163-184, Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-384703-4.00105-2.
  • Book:
    Taleb, N. N., 2012. Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. Random House.
  • Technical Report:
    Plag, H.-P., Brocklebank, S., Brosnan, D., Campus, P., Cloetingh, S., Jules-Plag, S., Stein, S., 2015. Extreme Geohazards — Reducing the Disaster Risk and Increasing Resilience. European Science Foundation.
  • Web Page:
    MARI, 2017. Fall 2017: Natural hazards and Disasters. http://www.mari-odu.org/academics/2017f_disasters. Accessed on September 14, 2017.

Examples of citations of the above sources in the text are:

  • Barnosky et al. (2012) found ...
  • ... might lead to a significant state shift (Barnosky et al., 2012).
  • ... a transition from being resilient to being antifragile (Taleb, 2012).
  • ... loss of coastal ecosystems (Plag and Jules-Plag, 2013).

Timeline and Activities

  1. Feb. 2, 2018: Each student will select or propose a topic. Instructor will assign the final topics.
  2. Feb. 19, 2018 (Class 12): During this weeks you will need to do the research on the topic and find the best and most appropriate sources (websites and papers) that will have all the information to address the four questions. You have to use at least 6 sources. Make a list of all sources. The format has to follow the documentation style defined by the Council of Scientific Editors, known as the CSE style (see SSF-Guide or the WISC page for more information on the CSE style).
  3. Feb 23, 2018: Submit the bibliography list together with a brief outline of your paper before 6:00 PM via email to both instructors. You will not get points for the outline and bibliography but the failure to turn it in by the due date or the failure to submit it in a required state/format will result in 5 penalty points. Moreover, we will not be able to give feedback and support, if you don't submit the outline and bibliography.
  4. Mar 19, 2018 (class 18): Work on writing the draft of the paper.
  5. Mar 23, 2018: Submit the draft of the paper before 6:00 PM via email to both instructors. Please note: the draft does not mean something you put together at the last minute. It should be the best paper version you can produce. The draft will be corrected and edited and returned to you as soon as possible.
  6. Mar 28, 2018 (class 21): Work on revising your research paper.
  7. Apr 6, 2018: Submit the final research paper before 6:00 PM by email to the two instructors.
  8. Apr 11 (class 25), Apr 16 (class 26), Apr 18 (class 27): Presentations of research papers will be scheduled. Your final presentation is due on the day before the class you are scheduled to present.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, you will receive NO credit for the presentation if you are not in class the day it should be presented.


The projects should be addressed from an adaptation science point of view. Thus, it will be important to address the hazards and vulnerability, to discuss the foresight for future developments, describe the relevant decision making processes and stakeholders engaged in decision making, and to consider options to address the problems through adaptation and/or mitigation.

For more details on how to carry out the project, see the Student Project Page. Only one student can work on a specific topic. Please, select a topic and inform the instructors by e-mail. Topics are assigned based on who communicate the selection of a topic first to the instructors. You are invited to propose your own topic to the instructors.

Topics marked by (*) have already been taken by a student.

  1. * Landfills and Sea Level Rise: Future sea level rise may inundate the coastal zone over the next centuries. To what extent do the landfills in Hampton Roads (e.g., Mount Trashmore, Lambert's Point) pose a threat already today to the environment and people, and even more so to future generations and ecosystems, and what options should be considered to govern the risk? See as a starting point the Pilot article. There is a large landfill in Miami on Biscayne Bay that could affect the everglades restoration and is near Biscayne Bay national Park. This Miami landfill would be good to review and a good preparation for the 467 Class on Sustainability Leadership.
  2. Limiting Energy Usage: A key issue in unsustainability is humanity's exceeding energy usage. It is not only the source of energy that is a problem but even more so the amount of energy used. What are the drivers of energy usage? Is there a need to reduce energy and what are the options for that? What can local stakeholders, such as ODU, do to reduce energy usage?
  3. Preparing the Economy for Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: Climate change is expected to come with more extreme weather-related events are they are expected (and are already today) to interupt supply chains and impact businesses. How can a region like Hampton Roads, where sea level rise will exacerbate this impact, prepare for these trends and ensure the continuity of businesses?
  4. * Tourism and Sea Level Rise: Virginia Beach and other communities in Hampton Roads depend economically on tourism. Is sea level rise an issue for this and how could the region prepare for a future with potentially significantly higher sea levels? This issue has been discussed often in popular newspapers and magazines for Miami.
  5. * Extinction of Species: One of the global boundaries discussed in the course is the extinction rate, which has been crossed significantly. The decline of Eastern songbirds is one aspect of this challenge, which involves forest fragmentation, feral cats, nest parasites, and loss of winter habitat in the tropics as major causes. What could local communities do to address this problem? There are a number of endangered endemics in south Florida. The Miami Pine-rocklands has both plants and animals that are very endangered. Focusing on these issues would be a good preparation for the 467 class on Sustainability Leadership.
  6. * Extinction and Food Security: A recent UN report (see e.g. article as a starting point) finds that extinction risk for pollinators is high (40% of food pollinators are at risk) and could threaten food security. Can we expect that the extinction risk is increasing under climate change? What could local communities do to address this problem?
  7. * Pollution: The amount of pollution that the Earth's life-support system can tollerate is one of the global boundaries that is hard to quantify. Therefore, it is important to keep pollution at as low a level as possible. Taking the example of the Elizabeth River, which is contaminated with industrial pollution that today is primarily confined to sediments, how is sea level rise and climate change impacting the long-term perspective? What restoration options (e.g., buffer zones, wetlands) should be considered, if any?
  8. * Invasive species: The threats from invasive species is on the rise (see e.g. https://phys.org. Invasive species add to the stress ecosystems experience under climate change and sea level rise. Conservation projects will have to consider this challenge. Discuss the example of (a) purple loosestrife, (b) kudzu, (c) veined rapa whelk, and (d) mute swans. South Florida has hundreds of invasive plants and animals. Many have been reviewed, but not holistically. Focusing on invasive species in South Florida would be a good preparation for the 467 class on Sustainability Leadership.
  9. * Chesapeake Bay under climate change and sea level rise: The Chesapeake Bay is facing today a number of issues, for example, the “dead zone” (nutrient pollution); a decline of submerged aquatic vegetation/seagrass due to sedimentation, loss of water clarity (caused partly byoyster decline); changes in aquatic vegetation as important nursery habitat; and the status of of blue crabs (facing overharvesting and loss of quality habitat). How are these challenges developing under climate change and sea level rise and what adaptation is required to govern the risk?
  10. Industrial waste and sea level rise: At the Dominion Virginia Power’s coal-ash storage facility at the Chesapeake Energy Center, a now-closed coal-burning power plant in Chesapeake, Va., about 3 million tons of arsenic-laden coal ash have been deposited for about 60 years ending in late 2014 on a narrow, low-lying peninsula adjacent to the tidal Elizabeth River. The site is partly below sea level and with sea level rise the risk of inundation rapidly increases. What are the potential hazards for acquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and the population? Who are the stakeholders engaged in deciding the future of these deposits? What are the perspectives and what mitigation and adaptation would you propose to stakeholders?
  11. Food-Water-Energy Nexus: Growing and competing demands for food, water, and energy are increasingly causing serious crises regionally often resulting in large involuntary migration, social unrest or wars. The loss of water and food security are among the major risk considered by the World Economic Forum. What are the nexus-related risk and where are the main vulnerabilities at regional and global level? Who is making decisions and who is being affected by them? How is the nexus impacting our politics and economy and how is the global economy affecting the risks? How can this nexus be addressed?
  12. * Degradation of Mangroves: Mangroves ecosystems, which are among the world’s most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems, have been destroyed and degraded in most parts of their native range. What are the main reasons for the mangroves loss? What kind of ecosystem services are unique to mangrove forests? What kind of impacts does the loss of this habitat and the species have on local and regional economy? Is it possible to restore mangroves ecosystems? For this paper, it would be great to focus on south Florida mangroves. This would be a great preparation for the 467 class on Sustainability leadership.
  13. * Loss of Ecosystem Services of Wetlands: Wetlands in a broad sense were traditionally seen by people as an inconvenience, waste of land, or even danger. What is the extent of wetlands loss on global to local scales and what are the main hazards causing this loss? What is the significance of wetland ecosystems both within the earth's life-support system and for human communities? Use examples of wetlands in Hampton Roads to address the five areas of Adaptation Science.
  14. * Ocean Acidification/Warming and Coral Reefs: Ocean acidification and warming has a visible and rapidly increasing impact on the health of coral reefs. How are ocean acidification and warming threatening developing in space and time? Are there other hazards impacting coral reefs? What are the vulnerabilities of the coral reefs in terms of acidity and warming? What is the likely development over the coming decades? Who is involved in decision making related to coral reef degradation and protection? Are there options the reduce the degradation of coral reefs? This study could focus on the reefs off of Miami or the Florida Keys as a case study. This would be a great preparation for the 467 class on Sustainability leadership.
  15. Sustainable Cities: Humanity is developing into an urban species, and global sustainability depends on the sustainability of cities. The current increase in urban population requires an enormous building activity and the development of new concepts for sustaimable urban living. Cities are exposed to many internal and external environmental, social and economic hazards, and have specific vulnerabilities. Based on the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #11 "Sustainable Cities and Communities" (see SDG 11 Targets) discuss the decision making structures and options for sustainable cities.
  16. Soil Degradation and Sustainable Farming: There is a rapid loss of soil at the same time as the need for more arible land is increasing due to population growth. On human time scales, soil is a non-renewable resources, and the current trends indicate that in a few decades, most of the arable land will have lost the top soil with dire consequences for food security. At the same time, the industrialized farming has a severe impact on biodiversity. Discuss the hazards and vulnerabilities that lead to soil loss and degradation and to a reduction in biodiversity. Develop options for sustainable farming that protects soil and supports biodiversity. There is a large amount of agriculture along the Everglades that will have an effect on the restoration and potentially future development. There are lots of opportunity to look at south Dade agriculture effects to the restoration or the sugar cane agriculture effects to restoration and population growth. This would be a good preparation for the 467 class on Sustainability leadership.
  17. * Urban Agriculture: Food security is and important variable coupled to social stability. Wirld food price variations have been linked to social unrest and wars. Urban agriculture could provide a important source for food with a number of other advantages. Discuss the major threats for food security and develop options how urban agriculture could contribute to more food security and to more sustainable cities and communities.
  18. Wildfires: There is a rapid change in wildfire risk in many regions globally and also in many parts of the U.S. from Alaska to California. What are the hazards that increase the probability of wildfires and the risk associated with them? What are the main vulnerabilities of ecosystems and human communities to wildfires and how did exposure change over time? What can we expect in the future? Who is involved in managing the wildfire risk and what options are there to manage and reduce the risk?
  19. * Climate Change and Agriculture: Climate change is expected to have a significant impact on agriculture due to shifting climate zones, which will have an impact on the phenology of both agriculture plants and crops, weeds and the neigbouring ecosystems. Looking at the phenology in agricultural regions already impacted by changes in droughts, heat waves, floods or the wind field, what are the agriculture hazards resulting from the potential shift of climate zones and the vulnerabilities of the agricultural plants? What changes can be expected in the coming decades? Who is involved managing the risk of climate change for agriculture? Based on phenological considerations, what options could help to reduce the climate change risk in agriculture?
  20. * Population growth and sustainability: Population growth and increased resource usage per person (in terms of energy, land use, dwellings, public services, use of products, food products) are at the core of the rapid changes in the earth surface layers (land use, soil, hydrosphere, atmosphere), which are unsustainable. To what extent is the way population growths and increased resource usage is sanctioned consistent with the ethical principles our society is based on and what changes in systems that provide sanctions for population growth and resource usage would increase the consistency between the normative and descriptive ethics in our society? It would be interesting to look at the booming population growth of south Florida and central Florida. Florida is currently the third largest state at about 21,000,000 people with a projection of 33,000,000 by 2070. There is also an influxs of victims from the hurricanes IRMA and Maria particularly from Puerto Ricco, which none of the population models include so far. This would be a very good preparation for the 467 class on Sustainability leadership.
  21. * Impacts of sea level rise and climate change on the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Among others, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (BB NWR) provides important functions for migrating birds. At the same time, it is exposed to sea level rise that might lead to a rapid transition from freshwater to saltwater domain, particularly if a storm surge breaches the barrier islands shielding the BB from saltwate intrusion. Climate change might impact availability of food for migrating birds. The research project should result in recommendation to the NWR management on how to prepare for sea level rise and climate change. There are a number of refuges and national parks in south Florida that have had little climate change scenario work done specifically for them in the last few years. Looking at the effects of increased temperature, sea level rise and/or precipitation changes would be useful for these areas. Some but not all include Biscayne Bay NP, Everglades NP, Hobe sound NWR, Ding Darling NWR, Crocodile lakes NWR, Loxahatchee NWR, Big Cypress NP and more. Focusing on these areas woiuld be a very good prepartion for the 467 class on Sustainability leadership.


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