G411/G511 Sustainable Development Systems

Dr. Tom Evans (evans @ indiana.edu), SB 102, voice: 812.856.4587
Department of Geography
Meeting time: Monday 4-6:15pm

This course will explore spatial and geographic dimensions of sustainability. Content will cover both social and biophysical aspects of sustainability, and the tradeoffs that often exist between the two. In particular, we will consider when the sustainability of ecosystems is threatened by economic development and when the sustainability of social systems is threatened by changes in or limitations of the biophysical environment. The course will examine the role of spatial relationships in social-ecological systems, including the interplay between local, regional and global systems that affect the potential for sustainability at these different scales.

The course will first consider whether the concept of sustainability is even a useful one in development contexts and then turn to a consideration of other concepts that are arguably more tractable. In particular we will discuss the resilience of social-ecological systems and the ability of societies and ecosystems to adapt to various types of disturbances. Classic examples of disturbances include Indonesian Tsunami (biophysical), the crashes in commodity price markets (economic) and the advent of the green revolution (social-technological). We will explore the challenges of maintaining sustainability in different geographic locations and in different types of systems (e.g. shifting agriculture, urban growth and associated traffic congestion, polar regions). And we will examine specific components of sustainability (land, water, forests, culture, livelihoods) and the challenges of balancing the desire to attain or maintain sustainability in each of these domains. This course will primarily have an international dimension to it with case studies and examples drawn from developed and less-developed countries.


The only required text is Resilience Thinking by Walker and Salt. Other readings will consist of journal articles, book chapters and reports from various sources (which will generally be linked/online resources from this webpage). The objective of the readings is to present fundamental concepts as well as engaging case study examples.


Course topics:

1) Adaptation to climate change in semi-arid tropics
2) Global dimensions of food security
3) Dynamics of deforestation, reforestation and carbon sequestration
4) Coping with disasters - response and resilience to natural hazards and socio-economic shocks
5) Scale issues with sustainability - cross-scale interactions, policy and interventions and different levels
6) Global governance of environmental resources
7) Incorporating stakeholders in natural resource management
8) Analytical tools to assess sustainability and resilience


Schedule and Topics

W1 Aug 29

  Course Introduction
W2 Sept 5   Labor Day No Class

W3 Sept. 12


Sustainability, Resilience and Indicators

W4 Sept. 19


Measuring Sustainability and Resilience

W5 Sept. 26


Resilience; project scoping

W6 Oct. 3 Project abstract due (one page)


W7 Oct. 10


Geographic dimensions of Sustainability

W8 Oct. 17

  Global Forest Systems

W9 Oct. 24

Project abstract revision due

Global Forest Systems

W10 Oct 31


Global Food Systems and Food Security

W11 Nov. 7


Global Food Systems and Food Security

W12 Nov. 14


Global Urban Systems

W13 Nov. 21   Global Urban Systems

W14 Nov. 28


Project presentation dry runs

W15 Dec 5


Tentative date for project presentations

Exam Week

Final project due

Project must be submitted via Oncourse Tuesday Dec 13 2:45pm

Course Policies