Geographic Perspectives on Sustainability and Human-Environment Systems



About Module 2

This module addresses the complex and coupled linkages between human systems and ecosystems. It provides an overview of the key concepts that are necessary for understanding many of the environmental problems we face today and considers potential solutions. The perspective proposed here is a “systems perspective” that shows how human and environmental systems are coupled, how they are sustained through feedback mechanisms, and what important properties are of relevance for their resilience and sustainability.

This module focuses on the following questions:

  1. What are coupled human-environment systems?
  2. What are feedback mechanisms and how do they work?
  3. What are resilience and stability, and what do they have to do with sustainability?
  4. How do humans impact ecosystems?
  5. Can ecological systems develop and evolve in positive ways?  What are the risks?

Use these questions to focus your thinking as you work through the lesson.

What will we learn in Module 2?

By the end of Module 2, you should be able to:

  • define and use these concepts: landscape, system diagram, positive and negative feedback loops, carrying capacity, overshoot, resilience, and stability;
  • explain what a systems perspective is, and use this perspective for understanding complex human-environment systems;
  • draw a systems diagram using computer software and share the diagram in a Discussion Forum post;
  • draw a resilience diagram and explain the connection between resilience and sustainability;
  • understand each of the terms in I=PAT equation, as well as the overall significance of this equation and different perspectives on it.

Become familiar with these terms to the point where you, too, can use these in your own work.

What is due for Module 2?

Module 2 will take us one week to complete. See the Calendar in Canvas for specific due dates.

There are a number of required elements in this module. The chart below provides an overview of the activities for Module 2. For assignment details, refer to the location noted.

Module 2: Lesson Assignments
Requirement Location Submitting Your Work
Reading Assignment: What is Human Ecology? What are Coupled Human-Environment Systems? No submission
Reading Assignment: The St. Matthew Island Reindeers Feedback Mechanisms No submission
Reading Assignments: Ehrlich, Simon, Kurzweil, Hynes Population, Affluence, and Technology No submission
Learning Activity: Drawing Systems Diagrams Learning Activity: Biogas System Diagram Your diagram and comments are submitted through Canvas


If you have any questions, please post them to our Course Q & A discussion forum in Canvas. I will check that discussion forum often to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate. If you have a more specific concern, please send me a message through Inbox in Canvas.