Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

UCSF 137 The Scientific Basis of Environmental Issues

Summer 2014 - Session II

UCSF 137

The Scientific Basis of Environmental Issues

Rome—Summer 2014


Instructor:  Dr. David B. Slavsky, Loyola University Chicago

Texts:   Christensen, The Environment and You (1st edition) 

Class Meetings:  M, W, 8:30 a.m. – 12:40 p.m. from June 30 – July 23; final exam is on

                              F July 25.

Core Area Satisfied:  This is the foundational course in scientific literacy for the Core Curriculum at Loyola University Chicago.



Course Description: Many of the most important policy and societal decision of the 21st Century will be driven by environmental issues.  These critical issues include (but are certainly not limited to) climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollutants and toxins in the atmosphere, water and soil, and the growing difficulty of providing food, water, shelter and energy to an ever increasing and energy using population.  This course is designed to provide the scientific background needed to understand these issues in order to allow students to be able to meaningfully participate in the policy discussions of the next several decades.


Course Outline:


Since there are 8 meetings, each meeting will cover many topics.  The outline of these topics is listed below:


 June 30:  Review of syllabus; nature of science, uncertainty in science, ecosystems, sustainability science, environmental ethics, the environment and the market place


July 2:  Valuing ecosystems, US and international environmental laws and regulations; The Chemical Basis of Life:  Review of atomic and molecular structure, bonding, carbohydrates and macromolecules; energy in the environment, the Earth’s atmosphere and the energy budget of the atmosphere.


July 7:  Organism and population ecology and evolution:  a review of the fundamental unit of life the cell; the growth and reproduction of organisms, the growth of populations, limits on population growth, evolution and natural selection, human population growth, using the factors determining population growth to predict future population


July 9:  Competition for shared resources, flow of energy in ecological communities, disturbances in ecosystems and community change, ecosystem ecology, cycles in the environment including rock cycle, water cycle, oxygen cycle, nitrogen cycle, phosphorous and sulfur cycles, the importance of biogeochemical cycling



July 14:  Climate and climate change:  evidence for climate change, measuring the climate, review of literature studying causes of climate change, forecasting global warming, policy discussions about global warming; atmospheric quality and pollution, structure of atmosphere, pollution in troposphere, pollution in stratosphere, US and international air pollution policy


July 16:  Geography of terrestrial life, biomes and climate, tropical and temperate biomes, what is biodiversity?, importance of biodiversity, global patterns of biodiversity, threats to biodiversity, strategies for conservation, US and international biodiversity policy



July 21:  Water:  the global water budget, streams, lakes, and ponds, groundwater, wetlands, oceans, strategies for conserving water


July 23:  Food:  Origins and history of agriculture, agroecosystems, growth of crop plants, managing soil resources, water and agriculture, managing food for the future; review for final exam.


July 25:  Final exam from 10:30-12:30




Your grade in the course will be based on:


30% quizzes

40% classroom participation

30% final exam


Each Wednesday of the course will begin with a short (10-20 minute quiz) focused on the material covered and discussed in the prior week. (The quiz on the first W will cover material from the first day).  Each quiz will count for 10% of your grade and you can drop the lowest quiz grade.


Because this is a course that is dedicated to helping students become active participants in the policy discussions surrounding environmental issues, we will hold frequent discussions in the class.  For these discussions to be most meaningful, you will need to have done the reading ahead of time for class and be prepared.  Your grade for this portion of the course will be based on the cogency of your comments (and questions), and the respect for all opinions that you exhibit as we discuss some very controversial questions.


The final exam will be given on Friday, July 25 (the day set for all finals in the second summer session at Rome).  The final will include all material read and discussed throughout the summer term.


General Comments:


The compressed nature of the summer schedule provides both opportunities and challenges for learners in this course.  The obvious factor is that we will cover a lot of material in a short time, and each class session will be 4 hours in length.  Therefore, I will not stand (or sit) and lecture to you for four hours on a summer morning.  The class will be centered around discussions of the topics for that day; I will provide the scientific background for each topic, but each day’s discussion and questions should lead to the greatest insight.  Therefore, it is imperative that each student come to class prepared by having done the assigned reading for each day. 


I enjoy an interactive class, so want each of you to feel free to ask questions and make comments about the material we are discussing that day. 




I am very excited to embark on this study with each of you, please do not degrade the experience by engaging in academic dishonesty.  Engaging in academic dishonesty on any of the quizzes or the final (including, but not limited to) copying from another paper, using crib notes or transferring information to another student will result in an F in the course.  In all cases of academic dishonesty, I will send copies of the relevant material to the Director of the Rome Center and the appropriate Dean’s Office for inclusion in your permanent Loyola file.