Teaching the Anthropocene: Reframing Geoscience Education for the Critical 2020s Decade

Thursday 1:15-3:45pm PT / 2:15-4:45pm MT / 3:15-5:45pm CT / 4:15-6:45pm ET Online
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Gary Gomby, Central Connecticut State University

I've been teaching a "Human Impacts" course framed around the narrative of the Anthropocene since 2015. Our students, particularly high school and undergraduates --who may never take another science class—need to understand that planetary change involves much more than "global warming." You will learn about: the Anthropocene (the "Age of Humans") and its relevance to geoscience education; planetary boundaries and tipping points; population growth and planetary change; environmental justice, which is inseparable from any discussion of anthropogenic change. Participants will explore and provide feedback involving two classroom exercises illustrating these concepts at a global and local level. They will use these exercises and a sample syllabus as a jumping-off point for developing their own lesson plans. We will wrap-up the workshop with a discussion as to the usefulness of this approach for your own teaching and share examples of lessons/activities incorporating the Anthropocene. Ten years ago, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, who coined the name "Anthropocene," lamented that students needed to be taught they were living in the Anthropocene. It is now time to "teach the Anthropocene."

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This workshop is designed for any high school or college instructor interested in a new approach to teaching geoscience in the context of global planetary change and environmental justice.This is a truly interdisciplinary approach to geoscience education.


By the end of this workshop, participants will:

  • Understand how the process of defining the Anthropocene as a new division of the geologic time scale has generated intense interest among both geoscientists and those in many disparate fields and why the Anthropocene concept offers opportunities for teaching across disciplines
  • Understand the Anthropocene Working Group's 2019 recommendations that the Anthropocene be officially recognized as a formal geological time unit and its relationship to the "Great Acceleration" of population growth, industrialization and globalization in the mid-20th century
  • Access and evaluate case studies illustrating The Global Anthropocene: Telecoupling (linked human socioeconomic and environmental systems at a distance) involving China, Brazil and the United States
  • Develop an Anthropocene lesson plan using topics from a sample syllabus (see below) and the case studies
  • Evaluate the usefulness of "teaching the Anthropocene" approach to geoscience education

Agenda (Times are PST)

1:15 Welcome and Introductions

1:25-1:45 Beyond Sustainability:  Teaching the Anthropocene--Brief presentation about the Anthropocene and why we should use it as a framework for geoscience education; rationale for teaching the Anthropocene

1:45-2:30  "A Telecoupled World:  Exploring the linkages between human socioeconomic systems and environmental systems across distances"    Work in Groups

—"Pork and Beans" Module—linking demand for soy in China with deforestation in Brazil.  Explore the significance of global supply chains and environmental change.  Participants will explore the link between China's pork consumption, soy production in Brazil and deforestation using the telecoupling framework (coupled human and natural systems linked over long distances).

2:30 - 2:45  Break

2:45-3:10 Expand your syllabus:  incorporating the Anthropocene into your teaching; small group discussion

3:10-3:30  Group discussion of telecoupling module; shared examples of teaching the Anthropocene

3:30 Workshop Evaluation

3:45 Adjourn


The Anthropocene

If you are unfamiliar with the Anthropocene concept, I'd suggest looking at the following:

1.  Start with the life of the late Nobel laureate Dr. Paul Crutzen, who sparked the debate about the Anthropocene: https://media.nature.com/original/magazine-assets/d41586-021-00479-0/d41586-021-00479-0.pdf

2.  "Defining the Anthropocene" The  2015 article by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin remains an excellent summary of the controversy about declaring the Anthropocene  an official new division of the Geologic Time Scale.  The discussion has engendered considerable (!!) controversy and debate. https://d3qi0qp55mx5f5.cloudfront.net/teaching/i/basic_pages_sidebar_downloads/Lewis_Maslin_2015_Defining_Anthropocene.pdf

3.  The findings of the Anthropocene Working Group, established by the International Stratigraphic Commission to examine the stratigraphic evidence for an official Anthropocene division is summarized here:  http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/working-groups/anthropocene/

4.  If you subscribe to Netflix, watch a newly released Netflix documentary, "Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet," that features David Attenborough and Johan Rockström, one of the scientists who introduced the concept of planetary boundaries.

Teaching the Anthropocene:

1.  What's at stake:  Why we should be teaching the Anthropocene—The 2011 Yale360 article "Living in the Anthropocene:  Toward a New Global Ethos," co-authored by Crutzen and Schwagerl, was the inspiration for my class.  It is an eloquent statement regarding the need for a sea-change in our approach to teaching geoscience in an age defined by anthropogenic change.    https://e360.yale.edu/features/living_in_the_anthropocene_toward_a_new_global_ethos

2.  Watch the TEDx talk!  https://youtu.be/ABZjlfhN0EQ

This talk by Will Steffen is an excellent summary of the big ideas I teach in my Anthropocene class.  Steffen is one of the most important figures in the Anthropocene discussion. Note his comments about the relative importance of climate change and biodiversity change in defining the Anthropocene, as well as his discussion about the Great Acceleration, and planetary boundaries.

Some of the Materials Used in My Course:

1.  The Anthropocene Dashboard:  https://theanthropocenedashboard.com/

Website/blog designed to accompany a course on the Anthropocene

2.  Sample Syllabus (See Course Outline below)

3.  Erle Ellis, The Anthropocene:  A Very Short Introduction

Workshop Materials

1. Telecoupling Module eer_workshop_ii.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 86.9MB Jul15 21)

2.  Course Outline Outline of Anthropocene Course Topics.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 26kB Jun28 21)