Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Course Descriptions > Global Environmental Challenges

Global Environmental Challenges

Stephen Taylor

Kauai Community College,
Two Year College


The course involves a scientific approach to evaluating human-caused environmental challenges and their potential solutions.

Subject: Geoscience:Oceanography
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Earth System Topics: Oceans
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Oceanography
Course Size:

Course Context:

This is an introductory course for non-science majors requiring only high-school level math and English skills. It does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. But, it does fulfill elective requirements for physical science and the an academic subject certificate in Marine Science. Typically, the majority of the students take the course to satisfy a general education requirement.

Course Goals:

  • Apply scientific principles and methods to describe natural Earth systems and human impacts on the environment
  • Solve basic problems involving physics and chemistry of Earth systems
  • Compare impacts of potential solutions
  • Apply scientific principles and reasoning to critically evaluate proposed explanations for global environmental challenges

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Philosophy of science, basic math, and principles of physics and chemistry relevant to course content are explored. These are then applied to understand the climate and biogeochemical cycles of the planet. Next, global challenges such as climate change and limited water and energy resources are explored. Finally, students use what they learned to examine potential impacts of various proposed solutions. At first, the course is more directed, then we move more to group discussion, before, finally, students can handle more independent tasks. A big emphasis is placed on making the science understandable in the context of their everyday experiences and keeping topics relevant to their lives, choices, and future.

Attitudinal Goals

  • Identify value judgments inherent in different choices in addressing or failing to address global environmental challenges

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

When considering solutions to global environmental challenges, students are quickly see that the "best" solution in their mind is not necessarily what their peers or others think. As a class, we see that the "best" solution depends on what is important and what can be sacrificed. These are value judgements. Science can help delinate what each choice will mean, but cannot tell people what to value. A good example is carbon wedge activity (Pacala and Socolow, Science. 2004 Aug 13;305(5686):968-72). The carbon goal is the same but each student will pick a different array wedges to get there.


For the attitudinal goal, students are explicitly asked. Students write a position paper describing their chosen solution to a global challenge. students asked to defend their choice by noting negative impacts associate with their choice and why they were willing to accept them over other alternatives.

For other goals, embedded questions and a pre-post survey are used.


Syllabus for Global Environmental Challenges (Acrobat (PDF) 106kB Jun3 13)

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