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Integrating sustainability in its social context

Pablo Toral, Political Science, Beloit College

My course pushes students to integrate the knowledge, methods and skills that they develop in the natural sciences in a broader social context, by considering the methods and skills they learn in economics, political science and ethics. The natural sciences help students understand the natural world and our impact on the environment. They also inform our strategies to overcome these negative impacts. Economics helps the students calculate the costs of environmental damage on our material wellbeing, the costs of inaction, and the benefits generated by remedial actions. Political science helps the students explain the distribution of the costs and benefits of environmental degradation and whether societies have the will and/or agency to address these challenges. Finally, ethics allows the students to understand the moral underpinnings of environmental degradation and sustainability initiatives.

Global Political Ecology is one of the core courses of Beloit College's environmental studies major. It brings together students from a very wide group of majors, including biology, geology, chemistry, anthropology, economics, education, history, international relations, political science and sociology. This diversity of majors affords me the opportunity to rely on peer learning. Every student is an expert in their field and teaches the others knowledge, skills and methods. Group assignments (in particular a sustainability project that they implement through the semester) and regular in-class updates make cross-pollination possible. I facilitate the process by highlighting the contribution of each discipline to sustainability, and by pushing them to integrate them into their projects. Our campus becomes the laboratory. The challenges the students face to implement their projects successfully pushes them to reevaluate their projects constantly in light of the knowledge and skills they pull together from different disciplines.

Downloadable version of this essay

Sustainability in a social context. (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Jun26 12)