Conservation and Sustainable Development: an Upper Division Course
Understanding the relationships among factors that undermine social and economic stability in human populations and the conservation of biodiversity may help us envision more sustainable means to foster development that supports human communities, while protecting the biodiversity upon which human livelihoods depend. Linking protecting natural habitats and biodiversity to promoting human development should result in better living conditions for both current and future generations. Thus, making conservation a priority in development efforts is a major component of intergenerational social justice.
Along the way we:
- briefly review historical patterns of development and conservation in both regions, with an emphasis on environmental history, political ecology, and conservation biology perspectives;
- examine critiques of both past development and conservation efforts, and study the ecological, economic and sociopolitical principles underlying newer approaches advocated in recent years, as well as evidence that may illuminate when, and under what conditions, approaches to sustainable development may be successful;
focus on major types of natural-resource based development, including agriculture, forestry, livestock production, wildmeat hunting, fishing, and oil/mineral extraction.
By the end of the course, the class works to draw lessons from more and less successful efforts toward a vision of how successful integration of conservation and development goals might be achieved.
2. To become familiar with the environmental and social histories that underlie both poverty and environmental degradation, as well as the debates over such history.
3. To understand environmental and human welfare dilemmas of our present age, and how different scenarios may lead to either improvement or worsening these dilemmas.
4. To examine the principles of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation, and examine critically efforts to create sustainable solutions that can eliminate poverty while protecting biodiversity.
5. To develop critical reasoning skills in considering interpretations of historical and current situations, as well as skills is using quantitative and qualitative information in analysis and as evidence to evaluate hypotheses.
6. To complete an exploration of a conservation and sustainable development case or issue that is written up to benefit other learners, or to participate in a significant community-based service learning experience, with the goal of connecting principles learned in the course to real world efforts.
The largest assignment for the course is to complete either a large case study that is publicly shared (e.g., on Wikipedia, or as part of a blog/website) OR to complete a community-based project that aids a local conservation/ sustainable development organization.
I always try to connect to what my students already know, and many have taken courses in economics, globalization, or conservation before taking this course, but have not yet connected many of the dots among these topics. Other students come with no background and little knowledge of the places we study.
I begin the course with an examination of what people already know about Africa and Latin America - what they know about biodiversity conservation - and what connections there may be between development needs and conservation in these regions. We spend a good deal of time trying to generate preliminary questions that they have, and I share my own questions as a co-learner with the class. The students do in class free writing around these topics and save their early ideas for reference by the end of the class.
We then move into an exploration of the concept of "Sustainable Development" - Students read a paper on this and are directed to several websites for more consideration, and come to class ready to explore the concept in detail. I then ask the students to apply their understandings to the Millennium Development Goals and the Targets for the Convention of Biological Diversity. This theme is brought up frequently as we examine new cases and consider the frameworks used in an effort to foster development in various African or Latin American nations.
As we then move through the bulk of the course focusing on different eras, and different approaches to development and to conservation, students are asked to think about how the approaches did or did not lead to sustainable outcomes, and to try to understand why or why not. We work together to try to understand how the approaches used by people who have written case studies affect how they understand the issues and histories of each case, and amass many questions about each of the cases. Some of these questions become the foci for greater student work on the cases, or on their efforts to develop broader understandings across the cases.
Students, whether pursuing a case study project or a community-based project, are encouraged to connect their experiences to the class themes, and share what they are learning in the last third of the course. Final conclusions are reported out with a celebration, inviting community partners to the presentations. This allows community partners and students completing both types of projects opportunities to see interconnections on their work.
Each of the synthesis essays is evaluated also for use of appropriate sources, critical analysis, and writing quality. I share examples of particularly strong essays from past classes to provide a framework. I again look for progress over the course.
The projects are more variable in how they are evaluated as the nature of what students take up is more variable. The assignment is scaffolded to include a brief proposal, a draft, and final version so that we can agree to the details of what they will do in the project.
We conclude the course by revisiting the course learning goals prior to their completing an inclass reflection essay - this gives them a chance to think about where there are gaps in what they have learned (and me some time to help them fill these in) and a chance for me to show a rubric I'll use in evaluating their final reflection essay.