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View the Undergraduate Certificate in Sustainable Living for information on Sustainable Living study options.

This breadth unit will delve into rocks, oceans and working of human society to explore the massive impact humans are having on the world we live in. Life on Earth has nearly been extinguished five times since the explosion of complex life some 550 million years ago. The causes of the five major events are debated. Theories encompass meteorite strikes, ocean putrification and mega volcanism. But all past mass extinctions have involved the atmosphere and oceans being pushed to extreme conditions by unusual circumstances.

Humans emit more gases in a year than volcanoes, reform landscapes for agriculture, mining, energy and cities and generate mountains of waste. Humans have become shapers of Earth on a scale similar to or even exceeding natural processes, and in some cases, even beyond what extreme natural processes are capable of in short much shorter time scales. The unit will explore the questions such as: Are we pushing our atmosphere and ocean to the extremes, and thereby limiting the viability of humans and other living organisms? Are we, by reshaping Earth according to human need, initiating the sixth mass extinction? Does it matter, and what should we do, if we are? Can society's existing systems and governance structures deal with these events or do they need to be changed? Can we engineer solutions in order to redesign our planet in ways to promote a future we can and want to live in? And even if we are capable of 'geoengineering,' is there a will to apply it and is it wise to pursue it? What values are relevant to answering these questions and how are decisions to be made in the face of competing values? This unit will explore the science, governance and values relevant to the issue of mass extinction and human earth shaping.

Summary 2021

Unit name Humans: Earth Shapers
Unit code XBR112
Credit points 12.5
Faculty/School College of Sciences and Engineering
School of Natural Sciences
Discipline Earth Sciences|Plant Science|Philosophy and Gender Studies|Politics and International Relations|Oceans and Cryosphere

Sebastien Meffre

Teaching staff

Level Introductory
Available as student elective? Yes
Breadth Unit? Yes



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Teaching Pattern

This unit is offered fully on-line.  There are no tutorial requirements for this unit.


Online Quiz 20%, Essay 20% Online discussion 20% Assignment 40%

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