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University of Leeds

Environmental Management: Social-ecological Systems

University of Leeds via FutureLearn

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Understanding the complex relationships between humans and nature – so-called social-ecological systems – will help us tackle global environmental challenges, such as sustainable food supply, conservation of biodiversity and environmental management.

On this free online course, you will discover how interdisciplinary approaches, bringing together social and natural sciences, tackle some of the key environmental challenges affecting our world today.

Take an interdisciplinary approach to environmental management

You will think about your environment in new ways and gain insights into the different social systems and policies that are used to both exploit and conserve our environment. Each week will cover a different environmental management topic, through video, podcasts and case studies from around the world:

Week 1: Language of nature

Learn about the different ways that nature is perceived by different types of societies and the impact of property rights on natural resource management. The case study explores the history of different types of ownership in Tanzanian forests.

Week 2: Mathematics of nature

Discover the mathematics of nature by examining examples of complexity, causality and diversity, and change in social-economic systems. You will explore population growth and uneven consumption of natural resources.

Week 3: Environment and conflict

Understand the relationship between human conflict and the natural world; what impact does war have on both humans and the environment, and what is the relationship between the two? Scarcity and conflict is explored through the California water shortage and the case study looks at the environment as a weapon of war.

Learn with a range of social-ecological systems experts

The course is led by Professor Jon Lovett, Chair in Global Challenges at the University of Leeds. His research focuses on the institutional economics of environmental management, and takes an interdisciplinary approach to bring together both the natural and social sciences.

Jon is the educator responsible for the highly successful University of Leeds course on FutureLearn, Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide:

“This MOOC made me question my own ideas about what is just in issues concerning nature. The teacher is absolutely committed to this subject. His knowledge, resources and enthusiasm make this course, in my opinion, one of the best around.”
- FutureLearner, Marilyn Rietveld, on Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide

Experts from a range of different disciplines will also contribute to the discussion and will provide a richness and diversity to the conversation:

  • Professor Janet Watson, Leadership Chair for Language at Leeds;
  • Abdallah al-Mahri, Mehri language expert;
  • Dr Claire Quinn, Associate Professor of Natural Resource Management, University of Leeds;
  • Pam Warhurst, Chair, Pennine Prospects;
  • Ruth Waters, Natural England;
  • Dr Chris Hassall, School of Biology, University of Leeds;
  • Jane Dawson, Quakers;
  • Dr Manal Nader, Nivine Abbas and Sahar Issa, Institute of the Environment, University of Balamand, Lebanon.

There will be quizzes and debates to explore the issues further and provide an opportunity for you to share your own reflections with Jon, our experts and other learners.

Taught by

Jon Lovett


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