Unit one introduces the study of the environment, perceptions and attitudes surrounding its appreciation, and obstacles preventing or distracting you from seeking solutions for problems. The unit examines ways an understanding of the environment will enhance your daily life and job. New concepts such as the “Planetary Boundaries” are introduced to illuminate the current stresses within the global ecosystem. The lesson concludes with a discussion opportunity for those who have registered and the Green Citizen Consumer Survey which participants are asked to complete.



Agenda for Unit 1:

  • Everyday is Earth Day
    • View Polar Explorer 6 minute video clip
  • The Planetary Boundaries
  • In-class discussion
  • My Personal Consumption
    • Exercise: Green Citizen Lifestyle Survey
  • Talking Heads Video: Bob Willard

The Polar Explorer

Mark Terry’s film The Polar Explorer  looks at the impact of global human practices on the Arctic and Antarctic regions. He found that environmental disruptions in these places were occurring at a greatly accelerated rate from other more temperate places. Possibly this is due to their unique climate in which even small changes are profound. What follows is a six minute excerpt from Mark’s film.

Planetary Boundaries

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The “Planetary Boundaries” image graphically interprets research conducted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Nature has many tipping points or boundaries as the Planetary Boundaries image indicates. These boundaries represent the safe operating limits of the Earth’s capacity to regulate itself in a way comfortable for humans. When human activities, combined with other non-human caused factors, exceed these boundaries, a stable state is disrupted. The Planetary Boundaries formulation determines what researchers believe to be the tipping points for a variety of phenomena which humans are warned against exceeding. The image shows human activity’s impact has gone beyond the boundary line for both bio-diversity loss and nitrogen/phosphorous loading. It also shows that human impact is in danger of exceeding recommended tipping points for ocean acidification and freshwater use. As for items such as atmospheric aerosol loading, and chemical pollution, there is not as yet sufficient data to draw reasonable conclusions.

At their simplest level these tipping points or boundaries can describe a declining number of fish in the ocean or an increase in average temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctica resulting in the melting of ice. Gradually rising temperatures will lead to the melting of the permafrost in northern places. This process in turn will release even more harmful methane gases stored in the permafrost which then increases the greenhouse gas effect in the atmosphere. This results in even more releases over which humans have no control, and so it goes with each change driving another.

Likewise cod stocks in the Atlantic Ocean reached a point of virtual no return from which the fish were unable to replace their lost members and an entire industry, and to some extent a culture of Newfoundland outports, dependent on those fish, disappeared almost overnight.

My Personal Consumption

One place you can start to make sense of your own role is looking at your personal consumption. Your choices drive the marketplace to produce either more beneficial, or more harmful, products and services. Again keep in mind that there are few absolutes when it comes to any choice, but also risk in just about everything you do and everything you choose! They all carry some impact and some caution. You undertake a personal analysis to sharpen control over your own destiny.Everyone likes to think they’re “cool” or somehow distinct within a crowd. Yet in your consumption choices you often betray the easiest of “follow the leader” attributes. The environmental choices you make give you the ultimate ability to truly distinguish yourself as your own person and not just be a faceless member of the crowd.

Should you care about any of this? While the polar bears and penguins are a long way from our doorstep they are like the proverbial canary in a coal mine. In the days before technological aids, miners took a canary into the coal mines in which they worked. The canary was quicker to sense the existence of harmful vapours which if left unchecked would kill the miners. If the canary responded, in many cases died, it was a signal to the miners to get out. Likewise the fate of penguins in Antarctica and polar bears in the Arctic might be a signal as to future outcomes in other parts of the world.

Take this Green Citizen Lifestyle Survey to determine your consumption identity.

Meet Bob Willard

In the first of a series of interviews students are introduced to speakers from various sectors of society discussing their perspective on “green” initiatives within their respective specialization.


Bob Willard, Author, The Sustainability Advantage. Bob is a leading expert on quantifying and selling the business value of corporate sustainability strategies and has given hundreds of keynote presentations to corporate, government, university, and NGO audiences. Willard points out how an awareness of environmental and social issues encountered by business has gained momentum in recent times and what you can anticipate in the workplace of the future. His new book, The New Sustainability Advantage was released in 2012. More information on the Sustainability Advantage is available at:www.sustainabilityadvantage.com