Global Change

Instructor: Dr. Shahid Naeem

Spring 2017: January 18, 25, February 1, 8, 15 (5 sessions; Wednesdays, 6:10-8:10 PM)

Call Number: 86847
Course Number: ENVBN0525


Earth’s vibrant and resilient environment reflects the workings of an extraordinary beautiful and complex system made up of forests, grasslands, deserts, farmlands, plantations, and much more. The environment we experience is the end product of the myriad biological, geological, chemical, and physical processes that occur everywhere – on land and in the sea. And all of these processes are intricately linked together by trillions of plants, animals, and microorganisms. The result a fantastic, dynamic, adaptive environmental system within which we have flourished for hundreds of thousands of years.

All that is changing.

Environmental change is so massive that the world, compared to just a couple hundred years ago, is hardly recognizable anymore. The extent of change is global in scale and so extreme that this period in time, this epoch, has been named the Anthropocene. While it’s not official until approved by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geological Sciences, the term has nevertheless been adopted by everyone.

But what does it mean to be living in the Anthropocene?

Is this the best of times? Is this the worst of times? Yes, it seems there are scary diseases like Zika and Ebola, but we have medicines and cures for diseases like plague, polio, and small pox, and even HIV no longer spells certain death. Yes, there are a billion people hungry, without enough water and health care to survive, but widespread famines are a thing of the past and there is enough food for everyone now. It’s true that the Sixth Mass Extinction is happening, but there have been mass extinctions before; so does it really matter?

And what does the Anthropocene for the Trump Administration, the United Nations, and Global Trade?

Our course objectives are to derive a formal scientific understanding the structure and dynamics of environment in the Anthropocene. We will consider how the environment works, focusing on five major elements of global change – climate, land transformations, mass extinction, emerging disease, and ecological invasions.

Dr. Shahid Naeem is the Director the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability (EICES). He oversees the development of research science programs that benefit from the combined resources of the Consortium for Environmental Research and Conservation. Naeem studies the ecological and environmental consequences of biodiversity loss. He is interested in how changes in the distribution and abundance of plants, animals and microorganisms affect ecosystem functions and, by extension, how ecosystem services are affected. He is actively involved in bringing the science of biodiversity and ecosystem function to conservation, restoration and policy development. He is author, co-author and editor of over 100 scientific publications and co-chaired the UN Millennium Assessment’s Biodiversity Synthesis Report published in 2005. Naeem is also a professor of ecology in Columbia University’s Department of Evolution, Ecology and Environmental Biology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley; was a postdoctoral fellow at Imperial College of London, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Michigan; and served on the faculties of the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota before coming to Columbia in 2003.