Understanding Coupling in Natural and Human Systems
Module 10 continues the theme of human-environment interactions seen at smaller scales in agroecosystems in module 8 and elaborates on the coupled human-natural systems (CHNS) concept introduced in Module 1. As learners, in Module 10.1 you will explore different scales and types of food systems, learn about barriers food producers face within food systems, and look in detail at how the framework of CHNS allows us to see divergences of food system into different types, and transitions from one type to another. In Module 10.2 you’ll learn about the impacts of food systems on natural systems, and practice a method called Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) which is used to measure the impact of Human Food System components on the environment. LCAs can be applied to measure the impacts of both particular products as well as complex human systems on the environment. The food systems typology, the CHNS framework and the broad ideas behind LCAs in measuring impacts across a system are tools that you can use to develop your ideas for the capstone project and other learning efforts beyond this course.
As you apply the CHNS framework and the LCA method, you'll be using a geoscience habit of mind introduced in module 1, that of systems thinking. Systems-oriented frameworks and methods are ways of interpreting and measuring complex systems in a way that incorporates the scale of an entire system as well as linkages among many interacting parts. As designers of this course, we believe that these frameworks and skills will be useful to you whether or not you go in some area of geosciences since systems thinking is a needed skill in today's complex world.
- Describe ways that food systems impact the earth system.
- Explain the characteristics and scale of the three major food systems coexisting in the world today and their overlap.
- Demonstrate the complexity and interconnectedness of food system types that connecting society to the environment in different ways within a globalized world.
- Construct an assessment that measures the impacts of food systems on the earth system and local environments.
After completing this module, students will be able to:
- Define food systems and name the component systems, the roles played by each, and the three dominant and overlapping types of food systems in the world today.
- Name different types of impacts of the food system on earth’s natural systems.
- Define the basic elements of a coupled human-natural system.
- Describe a life cycle assessment (LCA) and state what it is used for.
- Explain examples of food systems to illustrate and compare their combined social and environmental inputs and impacts.
- Apply the concept of natural human systems to food systems and distinguish different ways that food systems develop and change because of human and natural factors.
- Apply a coupled natural system framework to describe how human systems affect earth’s natural systems within food systems.
- Construct life-cycle assessments using data on food production activities that compare the impacts of different types of food systems on the earth systems.
- Synthesize outputs of LCAs you have constructed to compare impacts of different food production systems.
Module 10 Roadmap
Detailed instructions for completing the Summative Assessment will be provided in each module.
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