OCN 120:  Global Environmental Challenges

Instructor:  Jane Schoonmaker, jane@soest.hawaii.edu. 956-9935, MSB 205

Class meetings:  T, Th 12:00-1:15, MSB 315

Course description:  Global environmental change is a subject area of considerable interest today.  The subject matter is now being addressed regularly by scientists, teachers, policymakers, economists, sociologists, lawyers, and the general public.  Resulting discussions are being held at local, regional, state, national, and international levels.  These discussions have become increasingly heated and in many cases based on emotional responses to fear of the unknown future.  There is a growing need for increased scientific literacy among the public as individuals are thrust into the scientific realm through everyday individual choices ranging from which Energy Star appliance to buy to whether to encourage their representatives to support climate change legislation.  The aim of this course is to provide students with little to no college level science background an understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry, and to train them to think “scientifically” about the major environmental issues we face today.  Course material will focus roughly equally on three goals:  1) Mastery of some basics:  understanding the scientific method and critical inquiry; learning the basic tools that scientists use, including mathematics, graphs, and elementary statistics; and mastering selected fundamentals of chemistry, physics, and, to a lesser extent, biology that are needed to  explore environmental issues;   2) Examination of several major environmental challenges selected from topics such as population growth, energy supplies and rates of use, climate change, water resources, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, etc.  Students will learn how the scientific principles and tools mastered in the course are used in understanding the environmental challenges society is facing and in quantifying the impact humans are having on natural earth system processes; and 3)  Investigation and critical evaluation of potential solutions to the environmental challenges.  The course wrap up will consider the many ways in which our environmental challenges are interrelated and linked to fundamental issues of sustainability.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:
1.  Apply scientific principles and methods to describe natural Earth system interactions and human impacts on the environment
2)  Solve very basic problems involving chemistry and physics, and read and create graphs of data
3)  Apply scientific principles and methods to compare causes of environmental problems and impacts of potential solutions to environmental challenges
4)  Apply scientific principles and reasoning to critically evaluate proposed explanations for global environmental challenges.

Text:  The Plan B Series by Lester R. Brown, available free on the Earth Policy Institute website (http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?books) will be supplemented by handouts and additional reading materials available online.

Instructional methods:  Class time will be split between lectures, problem solving sessions, and small group discussions.  It is vital that students regularly attend class.  Lecture materials will not be posted online.  Problem sets for homework will often be started jointly in class.  To save trees, handouts will often be sent as email attachments – check your UH email account regularly (or provide me with an alternative address).  Students will be graded as follows:

20%     two midterm examinations
20%     final examination
30%     in class and homework problem sets and short essay assignments
15%     group project, including a class presentation and a written fact sheet
15%     journal of news items; one entry per week

Course schedule: subject to change!!





Tues. Jan. 11


Scientific method

Read handout for 1/13
Read Plan B, Ch. 1, Selling our Future, for 1/18

Thurs. Jan. 13

Scientific method: Geosleuth mystery
Driving forces of change

Cohen paper

Read Cohen paper for class Jan. 18, prepare for discussion on 1/25

Tues. Jan. 18

Population trends
Exponential growth

Exponentials and logarithms

Population calculations – due 1/25

Thurs. Jan. 20

Population pyramid exercise


Complete pyramid exercise – due 1/25

Tues. Jan. 25

Population trends and implications – class discussion

Peak Oil
Electricity w/o Carbon

Read Peak Oil article for 2/1
Read Elec. w/o C article for 2/3

Thurs. Jan. 27

Energy sources, history of use, environmental issues



Tues. Feb. 1

Peak oil


C neutrality/energy calculations – due 2/10

Thurs, Feb. 3

Energy options
Discuss Electricity w/o Carbon



Tues. Feb. 8

Water cycle, budgets, residence time

Residence time handout

Residence time calcs  due 2/15
Making Every Drop Count

Thurs. Feb. 10

Water trends, Hawaii; precipitation-stream flow exercise


Finish precip-stream flow exercise – due 2/17

Tues. Feb. 15

Flow video and discussion



Thurs. Feb. 17

Review and catch-up



Tues. Feb. 22




Thurs. Feb. 24

Climate – radiation balance; electromagnetic spectrum; black body radiation

Radiation balance handout
Reading on greenhouse effect

Radiation homework, due 3/3
Read greenhouse article for 3/3

Tues. Mar. 1

Review midterm



Thurs. Mar. 3

Climate – greenhouse effect; greenhouse gases



Tues. Mar. 8

Video – Inconvenient Truth



Thurs. Mar. 10

Climate – C cycle; calculations with large numbers


Read Physical Science behind Climate Change for 3/15

Tues. Mar. 15

CO2 lab exercise


Finish exercise – due 3/17

Thurs. Mar. 17

Climate – temperature records, data, trends



Tues. Mar. 22

Spring break


Read Plan B Ch. 4&5 for 4/14
Work on group projects!

Thurs. Mar. 24

Spring break



Tues. Mar. 29

Temperature records exercise


Finish exercise – due 3/31

Thurs. Mar. 31

Climate – projections; models



Tues. Apr 5




Thurs. Apr. 7

Solutions – review of challenges
and outline of solutions


Read Plan B Ch. 8&9 for 4/19

Tues. Apr. 12




Thurs. Apr. 14

Plan B – discussion/energy



Tues. Apr. 19

Plan B – discussion/resources

Sustainability reading

Read for 5/3 discussion

Thurs. Apr. 21

Group presentations



Tues. Apr. 26

Group presentations



Thurs. Apr. 28

Group presentations



Tues. May 3

Sustainability discussion


 Socolow & Pacala paper

Final Exam:  Tues. May 10, 12-2 pm


OCN 120  News Journals:
Keep a weekly journal of news articles concerning environmental issues and/or solutions.  Each entry should include a copy of the article with full citation, a short paragraph-long summary of the article, and at least 2 discussion points.  The discussion points may be questions you have about article content, specific aspects that you disagree with, or items of particular interest for class discussion.  We will periodically spend class time on journal items, and each of you will have the opportunity to lead a brief discussion about an article in your journal.  I will announce these sessions ahead of time so you can come to class prepared.  Journals will be collected at the end of the semester.

An example of an entry is given below (article is attached):
Group finds “Eric Brockovich” chemical in D.C., Bethesda water
The Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2010

Summary:  The Environmental Working Group has completed the first nationwide study of hexavalent chromium in the drinking water supplies of 35 cities in the US.  Hexavalent chromium, the chemical of interest in the 2000 film, Erin Brockovich, is considered by the NIH to be a “probable carcinogen”, but no legal limits have yet been established for drinking water.  California has proposed a maximum concentration of 0.06ppb.  Concentrations above that level were found in 25 of the 35 water supplies tested. Sources of hexavalent chromium include industrial processes of chrome plating and plastic and dye production.

Discussion points:
1.  The American Chemistry Council claims CA limit of 0.06ppb unrealistic because some waters have natural levels that high.  Comment:  So what?  If it is carcinogenic, I don’t care whether the source is natural or pollution-related – I don’t want to drink it!
2.  The American Chemistry Council also claims that the EPA can’t measure concentrations that low.  Seems suspicious to me.  What is the detection limit?
3.  What are Honolulu levels?


OCN 120 Group Projects:

The focus of the class after spring break will be on possible solutions to some of the environmental issues discussed in class.  The primary format for this portion of the class will be research done by groups of about 4 students.  General topics will be assigned to the groups based on student interest.  The groups can then decide how to focus their research.  Each group will prepare a 20 minute class presentation and a fact sheet on the subject.  They will address questions from the class for 10 minutes.  Examples of fact sheets will be distributed in class.

An example of a group project:  general topic – alternative energy.  The group will research the topic and may decide to focus on a narrower topic, for example, photovoltaic systems.  Their presentation should explain the scientific principles involved in photovoltaic production of electricity, and should address current capabilities and possible future expansion.  Barriers, both natural and human-related, to develop of the resource should be examined.  Efforts should be made to realistically assess the role photovoltaic systems will play in the future energy mix at local, national, and global scales.

More information, including a grading rubric, will be distributed in class.