This module will explore how humans have been impacting the planet over recent millennia, and how more recently the increased impacts are leading to tipping points in many global systems, from biogeophysical to social. As such the module will discuss a range of contexts and approaches, including palaeoscience, an understanding of what a tipping point is and how we can measure/define it, and the raft of recent human impacts, how they are creating change in the natural, social and build world, and what potential solutions exist.
Aims and Objectives
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- Critically reflect on how different systems respond to human pressures, how they can recover, and longer term sustainability of our planet.
- Have an understanding of what a tipping point is, and how we can measure it, across a range of different contexts.
- An ability to collate, identify and synthesise relevant materials across different debates, notably around societal collapse and our understanding of the Anthropocene.
- Confidently present (orally) a key set of ideas/arguments to illustrate your position within a wider debate.
- Identify key human impacts on global (and regional) systems through time, understanding their impacts at local, regional and global levels.
- Recognise what the term ‘Anthropocene’ means, and how it can be used in different contexts. Understand the details around the Great Acceleration.
Topics covered will include:
Week 1: Tipping points and chronological/geological overview
Week 2: Human impacts through time (1). The first farmers: origins, spread and impact of agriculture
Week 3: Human impacts through time (2). The first cities: urbanisation and collapse
Week 4: Human impacts through time (3). Humans as drivers of global climate – an early Anthropocene?
Week 5: The Anthropocene, Great Acceleration, and global tipping points
Week 6: Seminars – societal collapse – drivers and recovery
Week 7: Seminars – when did the Anthropocene start, an evaluation of times and impacts
Week 8: Global tipping points (1): the biosphere – mass extinctions and recovery
Week 9: Global tipping points (2): the geosphere – landscape change and recovery
Week 10: Global tipping points (3): social, urban and cultural systems
Week 11: Synthesis and Revision
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
Students will engage in prescribed (and self-directed) reading around each major topic and undertake research which will form the baseline for seminars. Seminars will be group led, and students will be given time to prepare and then present on a topic within a set of wider debates, as collaborative peer learning tasks. Students will also be expected to engage in post session reading to consolidate your understanding.
|Total study time||150|
Resources & Reading list
Montoya et al. (2018). Planetary Boundaries for Biodiversity: Implausible Science, Pernicious Policies. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 33, pp. 71-73.
Barnosky et al. (2012). Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature, 486, pp. 52-58.
Scheffer et al. (2012). Anticipating critical transitions. Science, 338, pp. 344-348.
Biggs et al. (2018). The Regime Shifts Database: a framework for analyzing regime shifts in social-ecological systems.. Ecology and Society, 23: 9.
Rockstrom et al. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461, pp. 472-475.
Ruddiman (2007). The early anthropogenic hypothesis: challenges and responses. Reviews of Geophysics, 45, 2006RG000207.
Steffen et al. (2015). The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, 2, pp. 81-98.
Lewis & Maslin (2015). Defining the Anthropocene. Nature, 519, pp. 171-180.
Brovkin et al. (2021). Past abrupt changes, tipping points and cascading impacts in the Earth system. Nature Geoscience, 14, pp. 550-558.
Steffen et al. (2011). The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. Ambio, 40, pp. 739-761.
Lenton (2011). Early warning of climate tipping points. Nature Climate Change, 1, pp. 201-209.
Roberts (2014). The Holocene: An Environmental History. Wiley Blackwell.
Diamond (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.. Viking Press.
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
Repeat type: Internal & External