Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Sustainable Earth

Sustainable Earth

Andrew M. Goodliffe
University of Alabama


This four-hour natural science course provides an understanding of important Earth resources and how their
utilization impacts the environment through water pollution, air pollution and hazardous waste production. Laboratory
includes an introduction to geographic information systems (GIS) and field trips to local sites of environmental interest.

Course Type:
Entry Level Environmental Geology

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in separate lecture and lab components. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an introductory class with no pre-requisites. The class is an elective for geoscience majors (5-10% of the enrollment) and required for environmental science majors (~10% of the enrollment). For the non-majors in the class (80-85% of the enrollment), this typically satisfies their core natural science requirement. Students who take this class and subsequently decide to major in the geoscience must take both a physical and historical geology class.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? no

Course Content:

This class focuses on sustainability issues in the earth sciences. The class begins with a survey of global population issues, setting the stage for discussions on why many resources are becoming so scarce. The class then moves on to earth resources (e.g. minerals, fossil fuels, water)—specifically how they form, accumulate, and are exploited. This is followed by a discussion of alternative energy sources. The class then moves on to waste disposal and pollution. Towards the end of the class there is a larges section in which we examine climate change issues.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to identify earth resources
Students will know the limitations of a range of earth resources
Students will know the consequences of poorly designed resource exploitation and use strategies.

Course Features:

Activities in the lab section of the class reinforce lecture materials and demonstrations. A number of other activities are designed to draw this all together - for example the students are required to participate in online discussion topics and submit relevant news articles. Two example activities include Oil and Gas Exploration Project and Water Flow in the Subsurface.

Course Philosophy:

I am gradually nudging this class toward a format that encourages active learning. For example, I use lots of activities in the lecture class, and as much discussion as possible. In the lab section the exercises emphasize real world examples and include a number of field trips. I emphasize relevancy to every day activities and hope that the students will come out of the class as better global citizens.


Four incremental exams
Answers to questions posed using a "clicker" in the lecture class
Grading of online discussions threads
Grading of lab activities
Submission and description of geologically relevant news articles
Classroom participation


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 123kB May14 08)

References and Notes:

Course readings:
Environmental Geology, Carla W. Montgomery
The best mix of resource geology (including alternative energy), pollution, and global climate change.
Laboratory Manual for Physical Geology, Zumberge, Rutford, and Carter
I like using Zumberge for the mineral section, Stewart to the GIS-based activities
Taking Sides - Clashing Views on Environmental Issues. Students are required to read and discuss a number of issues from very different viewpoints