Spring 2019 — 466W/566W: 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 changes in the physiology of Earth's life-support system, extinction, climate change and sea level rise, and adaptation to the impacts of these changes. A particular focus will be on the challenges these anthropogenic changes 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 integrated socio-ecological and economic system of 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. The MARI template for case studies on mitigation and adaptation will be introduced and the importance of modeling for the understanding of the current and future system trajectories and the development of viable options will be emphasized. 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 unknown 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 complex systems of systems with conceptual modeling;
  • 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 conceptual models of a system under consideration and use these models to explore the spectrum of possible futures of this system;
  • understand the importance of having 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/.
  • Brown, V. A., Harris, J. A., Russell, J. Y. (eds.), 2010. Tackling Wicked Problems: Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination. Earthscan, London, New York.

Reading assignment will be made available on a weekly basis on the Class Schedule.


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 the material presented in the class and additional readings. These answers have to be concise and in scientific writing style with sufficient citation of peer-reviewed sources. 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.

In each class, you will have to submit a (online) 2+2 Form, in which you state two points that you learned in this particular class and two points that you did not understand. These 2+2 Forms will be used as documentation that you participated in the class. The instructors will respond to points you did not understand or points you misunderstood either in class (if several students had the same issues) or individually through the web page. Your 2+2 forms are private and not visble to other students. Examples from the 2+2 forms use din class witll be anonymous.

The research assignment will consist of a research case study using the MARI case study template and a presentation of the research paper. The research paper and presentation will be prepared during a Student Project hour and in homework. More information on the case study, including templates for the case study report and presentation, is available in the class workspace.

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. Wicked problems have to be addressed in transdisciplinary approaches. 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 the class web page at http://www.mari-odu.org/academics/2019s_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. All interactions including submission of answers to the weekly questions, comments on your answers, points received, submission of 2+2 forms will all take place on these pages. The web site also provides a personalized learning space where you can interact with the instructors on a one-to-one basis and with your fellow students. Please visit the course website for detailed weekly course information.

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:
100.0-93.0% = A; 92.9-90.0% = A-
89.9-87.0% = B+; 86.9-83.0% = B; 82.9-80.0% = B-
79.9-77.0% = C+; 76.9-73.0% = C; 72.9-70.0% = C-
69.9-67.0% = D+; 66.9-63.0% = D; 62.9-60.0% = D-
0-59.9% = F.

The overall grade for the class will be composed of individual grades using:
Class participation (based on 2+2 forms) 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 available as soon as possible after they are graded.

Grade forgiveness policy:

Missed question sets or other submissions 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 seven 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 in the workspace using the “Stay Woke” utility.

January 2019

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Dec 31
Jan 1
Jan 2
Jan 30
Jan 4
Jan 7
Jan 8
Jan 9
Jan 10
Jan 11
Jan 14
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 1: Practicalities. The Challenge we are Facing
Class slides
Jan 15
Jan 16
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 2: The Syndrome of Modern Global Change: Baseline
Class slides
Jan 17
Jan 18
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 1 are due
Jan 21
No Class
Jan 22
(Drop deadline)
Jan 23
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 3: The Syndrome of Modern Global Change: Baseline, Syndrome, Diagnosis
Class slides
Jan 24
Jan 24
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 2 are due
Jan 28
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 4: The Syndrome of Modern Global Change: Diagnosis, Prognosis, Therapy. Also: Systems — Introduction
Class slides
Jan 29
(Withdrawal deadline 1/2 refund)
Jan 30
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 5: Systems Science and Systems Thinking
Class slides
Jan 31
Feb 1
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 3 are due

February 2019

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Feb 4
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 6: Systems Thinking, Adaptation and Sustainability Science
Class slides
Feb 5
Feb 6
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 7: Wicked Problems
Class slides
Feb 7
Feb 8
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 4 are due
6:00 PM: Final date for selection of topic of research case study.
Feb 11
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 8: Participatory Modeling
Class slides
Feb 12
Feb 13
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 9: Conceptual Models
Class slides
Feb 14
Feb 15
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 5 are due
Feb 18
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 10: Stock and Flow Models
Class slides
Feb 19 Feb 20
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 11: Research Project Hour
Feb 21
Feb 22
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 6 are due
Feb 25
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 12: Agent-Based Models

Class slides
Feb 26
Feb 27
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 13: Career Development and ePortfolio
Feb 28
Mar 1
6:00 PM: Draft outline and bibliography for Research paper is due.

March 2019

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Mar 4
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 14: Understanding Vulnerabilities: The Earth's Life-Support System
Class slides
Mar 5
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 7 are due.
Mar 6
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 15: Understanding Vulnerabilities: Economy, Inequality and Injustice
Class slides
Mar 7
Mar 8
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 8 are due.
Mar 11
No class
Mar 12 Mar 13
No class
Mar 14
Mar 15
Mar 18
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 16: Knowing the Hazards: Extinction
Class slides
Mar 19
Mar 20
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 17: Knowing the Hazards: Loss of Ecosystem Services
Class slides
Mar 21
Mar 22
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 9 are due.
Mar 25
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 18: Knowing the Hazards: Climate Hazards, Public Health, Food-Water-Energy Nexus
Class slides
Mar 26
Mar 27
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 19: Developing Foresight
Class slides
Mar 28
Mar 29
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 10 are due.
6:00 PM: Draft Research paper is due.

April 2019

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Apr 1
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 20: Decision-Making: Human Nature and Facing Threats
Class slides
Apr 2
Apr 3
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 21: Decision-Making: Socio-Economic and Political Contexts
Class slides
Apr 4
Apr 5
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 11 are due.
Apr 8
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 22: Developing Options: Avoiding Adaptation or Changing Paradigms, Resilience and Anti-Fragility
Class slides
Apr 9
Apr 10
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 23: Developing Options: Safe-guarding the Earth's Life-Support System: Economy and Governance and Mitigating the Degradation of the Life-Support System
Class slides
Apr 11
Apr 12
6:00 PM: Answers for Question Set 12 are due.
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 24 are due.
Apr 15
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 24: Presentations of research papers
For the schedule of presentations, see the main page in the Workspace.
Presentation templates for: powerpoint keynote PDF
Apr 16
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 25 are due.
Apr 17
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 25: Presentations of research papers
For the schedule of presentations, see the main page in the Workspace.
Apr 18
Apr 19
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 26 are due.
6:00 PM: Final Research paper is due.
Apr 22
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 26: Presentations of research papers
For the schedule of presentations, see the main page in the Workspace.
Apr 23
6:00 PM: Presentations for Class 27 are due.
Apr 24
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 27: Presentations of research papers
For the schedule of presentations, see the main page in the Workspace.
Apr 25
Apr 26
Apr 29
3:00 - 4:15 PM: Class 28: Reflections
Class slides
Apr 30
May 1
May 2
May 3

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Class 6: Adaptation and Sustainability Science


  1. Epistemology and Knowledge Creation
  2. Sustainability Science
  3. Adaptation Science
  4. Definitions

Epistemology and Knowledge Creation

Sustainability Science

Adaptation Science


It is important to distingush between hazardous events and the resulting impacts and disasters, and to realize the relevance of the processes that link hazards and disasters. The societal goal of govern and reducing disaster risks requires a deep understanding of the processes that lead to a disaster as a consequence of a hazardous event.


Definition: A hazard is a change of the system state that can lead to system degradation and/or a reduction of the system's capability to function.

A hazard can be a short event (e.g., an earthquake), a longer process (e.g., extinction), or a slow trend (e.g., sea level rise). A hazard can lead to long-term impacts that reduce the sustainability of the system.

We distinguish:

  • extraterrestrial hazards: asteroids, bolides, radiation events, and solar storms
  • geo(logical) hazards: those that arise mainly from processes in the solid earth;
  • hydro-meteorological hazards: those that are associated with processes in the coupled hydrosphere-atmosphere system;
  • biological hazards: pandemics, rodents, insects, algal-blooms, extinction;
  • chemical hazards: changes in major flows of the ELSS leading to changes in the composition of atmosphere, ocean, soil, water (including pollution, acid rain, ocean acidification, change of greenhouse gases);
  • technological hazards: accidents, mal-function, AI, nano-technology;
  • social hazards: involuntary migration, unrest, racism, genocide, wars, imperialism, failed governance
  • economic hazards: depressions, bubbles, speculations, peak-oil, etc.

For risk assessments, it is fundamental to understand how likely the occurence of a hazardous event of a certain type and magnitude is. A widely accepted concept for the characterization of a hazard is the probability density function (PDF). The PDF for different hazard types vary widely. Particularly the low-probability end of the hazard spectrum can show very wide variations for different hazards. The potential impact of a hazard as function of its recurrence frequency or time is also helpful for the characterization of a hazard, although the actual impact on communities depends on where the hazard occures in space (and sometimes time) relative to the exposed community. Low-probability, high-impact events, particularly those that are outside our normal experience, are difficult to assess and prepare for, leading to a wide range of views on the risk.


Definition: Vulnerability is the inability of a system to withstand the effects of a hostile environment.

Vulnerability is a system characteristic that is not depending on a hazard actually occuring. For example, a building may be vulnerable to shaking of a certain type and magnitude, independent of this shaking actually occuring. Thus, a building may be vulnerable to earthquakes of a certain intensity independent of an earthquake actually occuring at the location where the building is located. If it is located in a geographical area that does not experience earthquakes, this vulnerability does not lead to a risk. However, if the building is located in a seismicly highly active area, this vulnerability leads to a high risk.

The term vulnerability as defined above is mainly used applied to the built environment and the non-human environment. In social sciences, “social vulnerability” describes the extent to which a community could be affected by stress, changes or hazardous events.


Definition: A disaster is the loss of lives and property; often as the result of a hazardous event.

Hazardous events that impact a system trigger processes in this system and these processes determine to what extent the combination of a particular hazard and a particular system will lead to a disaster. These processes depend on the vulnerability of the system to the particular hazard, and the ability of the system to function through the disturbance and to recover from the damages.

For human communities both the design of the built environment and the social capital of the human fabric determined the processes a particular hazard will trigger and the extent of the disaster this causes. Thus, while there are natural, non-anthropogenic hazards, the extent of the disaster caused by these hazards are to a large extent determined by humans. Therefore, we do not speak of “natural hazards.”

Concerning the extent of disaster, we follow Plag et al. (2015) and classify large event as:

  • Extinction Level Events are so devastating that more than a quarter of all life on Earth is killed and major species extinction takes place.
  • Global Catastrophes are events in which more than a quarter of the world’s human population dies and that place civilisation at serious risk.
  • Global Disasters are global scale events in which a few percent of the population dies.
  • Major Disasters are those exceeding $100 billion in damage and/or causing more than 10,000 fatalities.

Concept of Risk

Definition: Risk is the potential for consequences where something of value is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain.

In general, risk means the possibility of loss, including injury. There are many different ways to quantify risk. We will use the product of hazard probability, vulnerability, and value of exposed assets as a quantitative measure of risk expressed in $.

Risk is a useful concept for assessing the relevance of hazards, and for a comprehensive risk assessment, the full ”Probability Density Function“ (PDF) of the hazard needs to be considered.

The concept of DRG captures this. Disaster risk assessments are an important tool to guide community actions to reduce or govern the risk. However, public and governmental support for DRG depends on risk awareness, which is determined by individual, community, country and cultural biases. In modern societies, the media play an important role for the development of, as well as the biases in, risk awareness.

There are fundamental challenges in understanding and communicating risk. The importance of complex interactions in shaping risks is often overlooked. The need for rigerous expert judgement in evaluating risks is not sufficiently acknowledged. The centrality of values, perceptions, and goals in determining both risks and risk governance is not adequately built into risk assessments.

A particularly challenging issue is how to account for low-probability, high-impact hazards in the long-tail of the hazard's PDF. “Successful risk assessment requires thinking 'oustide of the box' to avoid failure of imagination, but this is a skill rarely found at the levels of government and global corporations” (Spratt and Dunlop, 2018). In general, risks associated with extreme events are very often severely underestimated. Deliberations of existential risks to human civilization are often very polarized and the role of science in these deliberations is criticized.

Disasters and Sustainability

Disasters affecting human communities constitute often severe disruptions and can reduce the sustainability of the community or render the community totally unsustainable. Therefore, our efforts to make progress towards sustainable development have to address disaster risk.

There are two main programs at global level that focus on DRG. One of them is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (UNISDR, 2015). This framework was adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, on March 18, 2015. It aims to achieve a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries over the next 15 years. It outlines seven clear targets and four priorities for action to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risks: (i) Understanding disaster risk; (ii) Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk; (iii) Investing in disaster reduction for resilience and; (iv) Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The other program at global level is the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2015) with the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An important impediment to sustainability are disasters disrupting communities. The SDG 11 focusses on “Sustainable Cities and Communities” and aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Each SDG comes with a number of targets, and several of the SDG 11 Targets directly relate to disaster risk:

  • Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
  • Target 11.b: By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
  • Target 11.c: Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials


See Class 1.

Reading List

Sustainable development:

Griggs et al., 2013


Reading List

Kates et al., 2001

Moss et al., 2013

Class 7: Wicked Problems

Class slides


Reading List

Rittel and Webber, 1973

Levin et al., 2012

Class 8: Participatory Modeling

Class slides


Reading List

Participatory Modeling Video.

Class 9: Conceptual Models

Class slides


Reading List

Class 10: Stock and Flow Models

Class slides


Reading List

Class 11: Research Project Hour

Class slides


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

Reading List

Class 12: Agent-Based Models

Class slides


Reading List

Epstein, 2008.

Class 13: Career Development and ePortfolio

Class slides


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

Class 14: 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.

Class 15: Knowing the Hazards: 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.

Class 16: 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.

Class 17: Understanding Vulnerabilities: The Earth's Life-Support System

Class slides


Reading List

Class 18: Understanding Vulnerabilities: 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.

Class 19: 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.

Carpenter et al., 2005

Class 20: 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.

Class 21: 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.

Class 22: 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

Class 23: 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.

Class 24: Student Presentations


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

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Class 25: Student Presentations


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

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Class 26: Student Presentations


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

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Class 27: Student Presentations


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

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Class 28: Reflections

class slides

The class focuses on feedback from the students and a wrap-up of the class.
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