published December 31, 1969

SENCER E-Newsletter, October 2004, Volume 4, Issue 2

Sustainability and Human Health: A Learning Community

Donald E. Stearns and Kim Worthy, Wagner College

Designed for non-science majors, this learning community considers the impact of humans on the environment, with emphasis on the major environmental issues facing the health and survival of the present generation, including pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, the biodiversity crisis, acid deposition, and the desertification of once fertile lands. It is organized around two lecture courses, one dealing with biology, the other with literature, that focus on immediate environmental problems that, if not addressed, will threaten human survival.

The Environmental Biology course takes as its starting point the sustainability of human life in the present environmental context. Lectures and labs cover basic biological and chemistry that support human life (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, nucleic acids, water, air, and salts), the principles of Darwinian evolution, and the natural resources on which humans rely (plants, animals, soil, minerals, and fossil fuels). Ecological concepts are presented that reveal how nature functions as a vast interconnected web, and laboratories convey scientific method and experimental design through the testing of water and air for pollutants, toxins, bacteria, and acids. The course also considers how existing technologies exacerbate stress on the ecosystem, including humans, and how new and alternative technologies can contribute to a higher, and more sustainable, quality of life for all species.

The Literature and the Environment course focuses on essays, poetry, and works of fiction, drama, and film that deal with the natural environment. The course brings the perspective of literary artists to the discussion of the cultural and social role that "nature" plays in human existence.

These two lecture courses are combined with a third element, a Reflective Tutorial. This is an interactive, discussion-based, and writing intensive course that challenges students to find connections between their learning in the other courses and their role as active citizens. Students participate in field trips to Dover Township, New Jersey, where the pollution in Toms River may be linked to a childhood cancer cluster, and to Washington, DC to meet and lobby a member of congress, as well as in a service learning experience.

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