EME 504
Foundations in Sustainability Systems


While our modern technological society's capacity to modify the environment has grown exponentially in the last century, our capacity to restore natural systems to pristine conditions remains limited. This limitation can be at least partially attributed to limited understanding of how complex natural systems behave, how they react to changes in physical, chemical, and biological conditions, and what their individual and collective Tipping Points or points of no-return to stability are.

For the Natural Limits and Conditions of Sustainability Module, I have selected journal articles that range broadly in terms of the level of mathematical and technical information provided. The reason for this choice is that the mathematical approach is very much needed for analysis of real problems, while the conceptual approach is essential to determine if such analysis is applicable to the problem at hand.

Learning Objectives

  1. Define and characterize natural systems from a thermodynamic framework.
  2. Become familiar with the mathematical and graphical representation of tipping points.
  3. Use concepts of tipping points to distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources.
  4. Apply the concepts of minimum viable population and limited resilience intervals to ecosystem management.

What is due for Module 5?

This module will take us one week to complete. Please refer to the Course Syllabus for specific time frames and due dates. 

Module 5: Assignments

Requirements Assignment Details
To Do Familiarize yourself with all the Module 5 readings assignments. 
Read Registered students may access these articles via Canvas/the Penn State Library:
  • Lenton. "Environmental Tipping Points." Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2013. 38:1–29.
  • Lamberson & Page. 2012. "Tipping points." Quarterly Journal of Political Science. v.7(2). pp. 175-208.
Assignment See Canvas for full assignment details


If you have any questions, please post them to our Questions? discussion (not email), located in Canvas. I will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.