Postgraduate Course: Principles of Environmental Sustainability (PGGE11269)
|School||School of Geosciences
||College||College of Science and Engineering
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||The course is designed to identify and explore the principles that are widely recognised to form the core of sustainable development, and to investigate the extent of the environmental issues currently faced by society. It also aims to examine the underlying driving forces for environmental change, in terms of population growth, technological change, market economics and consumption patterns. The course encourages a strongly interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of sustainable development and seeks to foster critical thinking and debate.
1. Introduction. What is sustainable development?
In the first class the objectives, structure and approach of the course are outlined. We begin by briefly reviewing the rise of environmental concern since 1950. Some core principles of sustainable development are introduced, with an account of how they were elaborated through international policy processes.
2. Conflicting worldviews of environment and development
We examine debates surrounding sustainable development and to consider what values and discourses underlies them. Disagreement can often be traced back to differing worldviews, particularly regarding forms of development and understandings of how nature works.
3. Sustainability indicators and the integration principle
We consider the need to integrate decision-making in environmental, economic and social spheres to make development more sustainable. Integrated policy making requires information to monitor the state of society, economy and environment. We examine a range of sustainability indicators in national and international policy.
4. Environmental limits and the sustainability principle
We examine whether there are environmental limits to the scale of the human economy. What evidence is there that limits are being approached and where do they lie? James Lovelock¿s Gaia hypothesis is introduced as a way of understanding how humanity depends upon the activities of organisms on Earth to maintain stable and habitable conditions. We consider the ¿services¿ provided by biodiversity and the arguments for its protection. Finally, we will focus on so-called ¿safe¿ and ¿just¿ operating spaces for humanity.
5. Climate change and the precautionary principle
We consider the development and application of the precautionary principle, with a focus on climate change. What are the risks that humanity faces, and what level of precaution should be applied in attempts to manage them? We focus on the process of knowledge production involved in global change research, how knowledge is synthesised in the IPCC reports and how this is translated (and contested) into policy. Multiple solutions will be reviewed. The case of ¿Geo-engineering¿ is reviewed as a controversial ¿fix¿ to the climate change.
6. NO CLASS
Mid-semester break for reading and reflection.
7. Population, consumption and the equity principle
We examine the interplay between population trends and patterns of consumption in determining humanity¿s impact on the biosphere. Evidence of the scale of current global inequity is reviewed. Why do intra- and inter-generational equity matter to sustainable development and how can they be ensured?
8. The market and the polluter pays principle
In Northern industrialised economies, decisions about the allocation of resources have increasingly been left to market processes, yet these often lead to pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources. We consider how and why the market fails. The ¿polluter pays¿ principle allows some failures to be corrected. We also debate the role of economic growth in sustainable development ¿ is it a requirement or an impediment?
9. Engaging communities and the participation principle
Processes of community participation in decisions that shape people¿s lives are essential to sustainable development. We explore why, focusing on contemporary debates surrounding participation in energy transitions in the UK and further afield.
10. Justice and Transition to a Low-Carbon Society
In this penultimate session we focus on the question of justice and the transition towards a low-carbon or carbon neutral society. The transition to a low-carbon society will require significant changes to infrastructure, the economy, and social behaviours. We will consider how the principles might guide decisions about what a sustainable and just society should look like as we move from prevailing carbon-intensive industries towards low-carbon industries and practices. Building upon the equity and participation principles, we will explore the concepts of environmental justice and just transition.
To ground this focus there will be a visit to the National Mining Museum of Scotland and the village of Newtongrange on Thursday 24th of November.
11. Envisioning a sustainable future
We consider what a future sustainable society might look like. Will we live much as now, but with electric cars and renewable energy, or will society shift towards more localized and resilient ways of living, with reduced levels of consumption of energy and materials? How will the quality of our lives change? How might catastrophic futures be avoided? What can we gain and what might we lose? This class is a chance for students to explore possible pathways towards sustainability and their implications.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Group presentation (25%)
Written coursework (75%)
3,000-word essay to be submitted by Thursday 8th December 2022 (75% of course mark).
15-minute oral presentations to be delivered to class in weeks 7, 8 and 9 (25% of course mark).
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Understand the evolution of sustainable development and its contested meanings
- Engage more widely and deeply with relevant literatures
- Critically assess arguments and knowledge claims related to sustainability
- Link knowledge from different disciplines and geographical contexts to gain insight into complex issues
- Articulate and apply the core principles of sustainable development to a range of case studies
|There is no textbook that covers the whole course, as a result of its broad, interdisciplinary approach. A detailed reading list will therefore be provided each week. Wherever possible, readings will be made available to students online, via Learn.|
The books listed below are relevant to the course, and will be referred to in some of the lectures. Beder (2006) will be referred to most extensively, as Chapters 1 to 6 clearly set out the most important principles of sustainable development. Dresner (2008) considers the evolution and meaning of sustainable development and therefore provides a solid grounding for the first two sessions of the course. Blewitt (2014) and Robertson (2014) are general introductory texts on sustainability covering a wide range of relevant topics, while Middleton (2013) gives somewhat stronger emphasis to the natural sciences. Hulme (2009), Jackson (2016) and Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) are recent books that have each made significant and distinctive contributions to the sustainable development debate.
Beder, S. (2006). Environmental Principles and Policies. An Interdisciplinary Introduction. Earthscan, London. ISBN: 1844074048.
Blewitt, J. (2014). Understanding Sustainable Development, Second Edition. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN: 9780415707824.
Dresner, S. (2008). The Principles of Sustainability, Second Edition. Earthscan, London. ISBN: 9781844074969.
Hulme, M.M. (2009). Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN: 9780521727327.
Jackson, T. (2016). Prosperity without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow, Second Edition. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN: 978-1138935419.
Middleton, N. (2013). The Global Casino: An Introduction to Environmental Issues, Fifth Edition. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN: 9781444146622.
Robertson, M. (2014). Sustainability Principles and Practice. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN: 9780415840187.
Wilkinson, R.G., and Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Penguin, London. ISBN: 9780241954294.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Keywords||sustainable development,environmental change,sustainable lifestyles
|Course organiser||Mr Rowan Jackson
Tel: (0131 6)51 4340
|Course secretary||Ms Louisa King
Tel: (0131 6)50 2543