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Unit 1: Intro to Environmental Science
Chapters 1+20
Friday, 9/14 (30 multiple choice + free-response section)
The earth is one interconnected system. Humans are totally dependent on earth’s resources for our
survival, yet we have also altered the planet in many ways. In this unit, we will learn how environmental
science can help us understand the complex relationships between humans and nature. To do this, we
will need to examine sustainability, economic development, and the connections between social,
economic and environmental issues in our world today. We will also focus on applying the Scientific
Method to environmental problems.
Essential Questions:
1) How do humans depend on their environment, and how do they impact it?
2) What tools do environmental scientists use to study our world?
3) What are the social, economic and environmental effects of economic growth and development?
4) What are the major challenges facing the world in the coming century?
Major Topics:
– Environmental Science – Environmental Indicators: Biological Diversity, Food Production,
Temperature/Atmospheric CO2, Human Population, Resource Depletion – Developed vs. Developing
Countries – Poverty & Human Rights – Ecological Footprints – Sustainability – The Scientific Method –
Experimental Design – Economics – Markets & Scarcity – Supply & Demand – Wealth & Productivity –
Sustainable Economic Systems
 identify ways in which humans have altered and continue to alter our environment.
 describe key environmental indicators that help us evaluate the health of the planet.
 define sustainability and explain how it can be measured using the ecological footprint.
 explain the scientific method and its application to the study of environmental problems.
 describe some of the unique challenges and limitations of environmental science.
 discuss sustainability in a variety of environmental contexts including human well-being.
 evaluate ways in which the use of economic analysis can do a better job of including the costs of
economic activities on the environment and on people.
 understand that economic systems are based on three forms of capital—natural, human, and
 explain the role of laws and regulations in attempting to protect our natural and human capital.
 define and discuss the relationship among sustainability, poverty, personal action, and stewardship.
Unit 2: Environmental Systems: Cycles in Nature
Chapters 2+3
Friday, 10/5 (30 multiple choice + free-response section)
Nature is full of complex systems that maintain balance over long periods of time, and in order to
understand them, it is necessary to study entire systems instead of isolated pieces of the puzzle. This
unit examines how the interactions of earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere
create complex cycles that are critical to sustaining life on the planet. We will focus on ecosystems,
studying the relationships that develop between organisms and their environment, and the value of
those ecosystems to humans.
Essential Questions:
1) Which chemical properties affect the behavior of earth’s natural systems?
2) What are the different forms of energy, and what laws govern the flow of energy in a system?
3) How do ecosystems capture and store energy, and how is this energy transferred among organisms in
the ecosystem?
4) What is ecology, and how can it help us study the interactions between species in an ecosystem?
5) How do humans rely on ecosystems, and how do they affect them?
Major Topics:
Matter and Energy – Systems – Atoms and Molecules – Radioactivity & Radiometric Dating – Properties
of Water – Acids, Bases and pH – Biological Molecules & Cells – Forms of Energy – Laws of
Thermodynamics – Systems Analysis – Steady States and Feedback Loops – Ecosystems – Ecology –
Energy Flow – Food Webs – Trophic Pyramids – Ecosystem Productivity – Water Cycle – Carbon Cycle –
Nitrogen Cycle – Phosphorus Cycle – Ecosystem Services ($30 Trillion!) – Restoration Ecology
 define systems within the context of environmental science.
 explain the components and states of matter.
 distinguish between various forms of energy and use the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
 describe the ways in which ecological systems depend on energy inputs.
 explain how scientists keep track of inputs, outputs, and changes to complex systems.
 describe how natural systems change over time and space.
 list the basic components of an ecosystem.
 describe how energy flows through ecosystems.
 describe how carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycle within ecosystems.
 explain how ecosystems respond to natural and anthropogenic disturbances.
 discuss the values of ecosystems and how humans depend on them.
Unit 3: Variety is the Spice of Life: Biomes and Biodiversity
Chapters 4+5
Friday, 10/26 (30 multiple choice + free-response section)
Scientists have discovered over 2 million species on earth, and there may be millions more left to
discover – yet this is just 1% of the total number of species that have ever lived on earth! Why are there
so many species of life, and how do they change over time? In this unit, we will examine the
characteristics of the major types of biomes on earth and how species are adapted to live in each of
them. We will also trace the history of life over time, focusing on how species are constantly affected by
environmental changes.
Essential Questions:
1) What factors create similar climate patterns on distant parts of the earth, and what are the defining
features of the common biomes created as a result?
2) How does natural selection allow species to adapt to their environment over time?
3) Why are there so many different species on earth, and what is the value of this biodiversity?
4) How have humans affected each biome and the species within them, and what is the cumulative impact
on global biodiversity?
Major Topics:
Global Climates – Wind Patterns & Ocean Currents – El Nino – Biomes: Tundra, Boreal Forest, Temperate
Rainforest, Deciduous Forest, Chaparral, Temperate Grassland, Tropical Rain Forest, Savannah,
Subtropical Desert, Freshwater Ecosystems, Marine Ecosystems, Wetlands – Human Impact on Biomes –
Biodiversity – Species Richness & Evenness – Phylogenetic Trees – Genetic Diversity – Evolution –
Natural Selection – Artificial Selection – Speciation – Extinction – Ecological Niches – Fossil Record –
Mass Extinctions
 explain the forces that drive global circulation patterns and how those patterns determine weather and
 describe the major terrestrial biomes.
 describe the major aquatic biomes.
 explain the concept of biodiversity and how it is measured.
 describe the ways in which evolution can occur.
 explain how environmental change affects speciation and extinction.
 explain the concept of an ecological niche.
Unit 4: Population: 7 Billion and Counting
Chapters 6+7
Friday, 11/16 (30 multiple choice + free-response section)
This unit is devoted to the study of populations of organisms in nature, their growth over time, and the
limits to their growth. We will also take an in-depth look at the human population of our world, how it
has grown and changed over time to reach 7 billion people today, and what might be ahead of us in the
future. We will focus on achieving long-term sustainability and improving the quality of life for all
Essential Questions:
1) What factors promote and restrict population growth over time?
2) How do populations of species interact with each other to use resources in the environment?
3) How has the human population grown over time, and what changes have accompanied this growth?
4) What factors affect human population growth rates, and what can we predict global population growth
will be like in the future given current trends and statistics?
Major Topics:
Population Ecology – Population Density – Calculating Population Change – Exponential Growth –
Carrying Capacity (Logistic Growth) – Rule of 70 – Reproductive Strategies & Survivorship Curves –
Ecological Niches – Law of Competitive Exclusion – Interspecies Interactions – Primary & Secondary
Succession – Theory of Island Biogeography – Human Population History – Projections for Future
Population – Demographics and Country Classification – Migration – Fertility – Life Expectancy – Age
Structure Diagrams – Demographics of the USA – Factors Affecting Total Fertility Rate – Education –
Family Planning – Women’s Status – Demographic Transition – Zero Population Growth
 list the levels of complexity found in the natural world.
 contrast the ways in which density-dependent and density-independent factors affect population size.
 explain growth models, reproductive strategies, survivorship curves, and metapopulations.
 describe species interactions and the roles of keystone species.
 discuss the process of ecological succession.
 explain how latitude, time, area, and distance affect the species richness of a community.
 describe the potential limits to human population growth.
 describe important aspects of global and national population growth using demographic terminology
and tools.
 evaluate the social, economic, and environmental factors that have contributed to decreasing growth
rates in many countries.
 analyze relationships among changes in population size, economic development, and resource
consumption at global and local scales.
 explain how people have attempted to harmonize economic development with sustainable
Unit 5: Earth’s Systems and Resources
Chapters 8+9
Finals Week (30 multiple choice + free response section)
The earth is 4.5 Billion years old and has been through incredible changes. In this unit, we will look at the
natural processes that change the earth over time, and how those changes can benefit and threaten
humans. We will also examine Earth’s mineral, soil and water resources, as well as current issues
regarding sustainable use of these resources and providing access for all people.
Essential Questions:
1) How was Earth formed, and what ongoing processes shape the earth and living things on it?
2) How are rocks formed and changed over time, and what can they tell us about the history of our planet?
3) Where are earth’s water resources found, and how do humans use them?
4) How are earth’s water resources distributed amongst the human population?
5) How can humans manage mineral, soil and water resources to ensure sustainable access for all?
Major Topics:
Formation of Earth – Minerals – Layers/Structure of Earth – Tectonic Plates – Earthquakes – Volcanoes –
Rock Cycle – Weathering – Erosion – Soil Formation and Properties – Soil Problems and Conservation –
Earth’s Water Resources – Groundwater – Aquifers – Water Tables – Water Management – Human
Water Use – Unequal Access to Water – Conservation of Water – Water Ownership
 describe the formation of Earth and the distribution of critical elements on Earth.
 define the theory of plate tectonics and discuss its importance in environmental science.
 describe the rock cycle and discuss its importance in environmental science.
 explain how soil forms and describe its characteristics.
 explain how elements and minerals are extracted for human use.
 identify Earth’s natural sources of water.
 discuss the ways in which humans manage water distribution.
 describe the major human uses of water.
 identify the factors that will affect the future availability of water.
Unit 6: The Bare Necessities: Land and Food
Chapters 10+11
Friday 2/8
All human activities require land, and our societies have spread to every corner of the globe. In this unit,
we will investigate the major demands humans place on the limited amount of land on Earth and what
environmental impacts these demands cause. We will pay special attention to agriculture, and how
various practices can harm or benefit the environment. As always, our focus will remain on evaluating
the impact of human activities on environmental systems and finding sustainable practices.
Essential Questions:
1) What are humanity’s demands on Earth’s land resources, and what limits exist on those resources?
2) What organizations and policies can promote sustainable land use, and how?
3) What practices characterize modern industrial agriculture, and what are its benefits and drawbacks?
4) How can we reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment and promote sustainability?
Major Topics:
Tragedy of the Commons – Externalities – Maximum Sustainable Yield – Public Lands – International &
US Public Lands – Rangelands – Forests – Fire Management – National Parks – Wildlife Refuges &
Wilderness Areas – Federal Regulation – Residential Land Use – Urban Sprawl – Smart Growth – Human
Nutrition – Malnutrition/Hunger – The Green Revolution – Industrial Agriculture – Genetic Engineering –
Sustainable Agriculture – Integrated Pest Management – High-Density Animal Farming – Fish & Shellfish
 Explain how the tragedy of the commons and maximum sustainable yield affect land use.
 Describe the functions and operations of the four major US public land management agencies.
 Describe the approaches and policies necessary to ensure sustainable land use.
 Analyze the causes and consequences of urban sprawl.
 Describe human nutritional needs and the challenges of overcoming hunger and malnutrition.
 Analyze the development, practices and consequences of modern industrialized agriculture.
 Evaluate the benefits and costs of using genetically modified organisms in agriculture.
 Describe alternatives to industrial agriculture.
 Explain the environmental impacts of various approaches to raising/harvesting meat & fish.
Unit 7: Energy Resources and Consumption
Chapters 12+13
Friday 3/1
The Industrial Revolution completely transformed human society and its impact on the environment.
Much of this change came from the increased use of fossil fuels, which enabled humans to enormously
magnify their productive capabilities and increase the quality of life for billions of people around the
planet. Yet these fossil fuels are limited in supply and come with large environmental effects, so their
use is not sustainable in the long-term. At the same time, billions of people around the world
desperately need more cheap energy to improve their standard of living. In this unit, we will investigate
how humans utilize fossil fuels, and investigate alternative, renewable, sustainable sources of energy.
Essential Questions:
1) What are the major human uses for energy, and how does it underpin modern society?
2) How are coal, oil and natural gas extracted and utilized, and to what extent are they sustainable?
3) What steps are necessary to make our society more energy efficient and sustainable?
4) What are the advantages and disadvantages of solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass and
hydrogen energy?
Major Topics:
Nonrenewable Energy – Variations in Worldwide Energy Use – Energy Quality & Energy Efficiency –
Electricity Generation – Fossil Fuels – Coal – Petroleum – Natural Gas – “Peak Oil” – Nuclear Fission –
Radioactive Waste & Nuclear Accidents – Renewable Energy – Energy Consumption & Conservation –
Energy Efficiency – Sustainable Design – Biomass Energy (Wood, Charcoal, Ethanol, Biodiesel) –
Hydroelectric Energy – Solar Energy – Geothermal Energy – Wind Energy – Difficulties of Energy Cost and
Storage – The Electricity Grid – A Comprehensive Renewable Energy Strategy
 Describe how energy use and energy resources have varied over time in the US and worldwide.
 Compare the energy efficiencies of the extraction and conversion of different fuels.
 Explain the various means of generating electricity.
 Discuss the uses and consequences of using coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear fuels.
 Describe projections of future supplies of our conventional energy resources.
 Define renewable energy resources.
 Describe strategies to conserve energy and increase energy efficiency.
 Compare and contrast the various forms of biomass energy.
 Explain the advantages and disadvantages of using solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric energy.
 Describe the environmental and economic options we must assess in planning our energy future.
Unit 8: So Fresh and So Clean: Water and Air Pollution
Chapters 14+15
Friday, 3/22
One result of humanity’s dramatic increase in resource consumption in recent centuries is the
generation of large amounts of pollution. The atmosphere and oceans are large commons in to which
much of this pollution is discharged. In this unit, we will examine specific harmful pollutants – along with
their sources and effects – as well as the technologies and legislative responses that have addressed
pollution problems with varying degrees of success. Our emphasis will be on case studies.
Essential Questions:
1) How is human wastewater treated, and what effects can it have if it contaminates water bodies?
2) What are the major chemical pollutants found in water, and are the sources and effects of each?
3) What are the main air pollutants of concern, and what are the sources and effects of each?
4) What air pollutants drive the complex problems of smog, acid deposition and ozone depletion occur?
5) What technologies and regulations address air and water pollution, and how effective have they been?
Major Topics:
Point & Non-point Sources – Human Wastewater – Biochemical Oxygen Demand – Eutrophication –
Waterborne Diseases – Septic Systems – Sewage Treatment Plants – Manure Lagoons – Heavy Metal
Pollutants – Synthetic Compounds – Oil Spills & Remediation – Nonchemical Pollutants – Laws – Major
Air Pollutants – Primary & Secondary Pollutants – Natural & Anthropogenic Sources – Smog Formation –
Acid Deposition – Pollution Control Technology – Ozone Function & Destruction – Indoor Air Pollution
 Distinguish between point source and nonpoint sources of pollution.
 Identify ways in which human wastewater can cause water pollution.
 Evaluate the different technologies that humans have developed for treating wastewater.
 Identify the major types of heavy metals and other substances that pose serious hazards to humans and
the environment.
 Discuss the impact of oil spills and options for remediation.
 Identify contaminants that are nonchemical pollutants.
 Explain the connections among industrialization, affluence, and water-pollution legislation.
 Identify the major air pollutants and where they come from.
 Explain how photochemical smog and acid deposition are formed and describe the effects of each.
 Examine various approaches to the control and prevention of outdoor air pollution.
 Explain the causes and effects of stratospheric ozone depletion.
 Discuss the hazards of indoor air pollution in both developing and developed countries.
Unit 9: Waste Management, Human Health and Environmental Risks
Chapters 16+17
Friday 4/12 (30 MCQ + 1 FRQ)
As human societies have grown in size and affluence, they have begun to generate waste which cannot
be easily broken down or used by natural processes. There are many ways to reduce and to deal with
this waste, but each come with environmental and economic tradeoffs. Increasing population densities
and technological development have also lead to new threats to human health. In this unit, we will
examine the major impacts of waste and development on human health, and how we can manage the
risks they pose.
Essential Questions:
1) What unique problems does human waste generation pose to the environment, and what products and
practices are most responsible for waste generation?
2) How do we currently handle solid waste disposal, and how can we improve waste management to
reduce waste on a personal and societal level?
3) What are the major threats to human health on local and global levels, and how have they changed
over time with technological development?
4) How can risk analysis and risk management help us evaluate the severity of various risks and minimize
threats to human health?
Major Topics:
Human Waste Generation – The Throw-Away Society – Municipal Solid Waste – Content of Solid Waste
Stream – E-Waste – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Composting – Landfills – Incinerators – Hazardous
Waste – RCRA – CERCLA – Brownfields – Life-Cycle Analysis – Integrated Waste Management –
Categories of Human Health Risk – Types of Disease – Historically Important Infectious Diseases –
Emergent Diseases – Toxicology – Types of Harmful Chemicals – Dose-Response Studies – LD50 – Types
of Health Studies – Routes of Exposure – Biomagnification – Risk Analysis – Risk Management
 Define waste generation from an ecological and systems perspective.
 Describe how reducing, Reusing, and Recycling – as well as composting – can avoid waste generation.
 Explain the implications of landfills and incineration.
 Understand the problems associated with the generation and disposal of hazardous waste.
 Present a holistic approach to avoiding waste generation and to treating solid waste.
 Identify the major categories of human health risk.
 List the major historical and emerging infectious diseases.
 Name the five major types of toxic chemicals.
 Distinguish between dose-response studies, retrospective studies, and prospective studies.
 Describe the factors that help determine the chemical concentrations that organisms experience.
 Explain the factors that in to a risk analysis and distinguish between the two major philosophies of
chemical regulation.
Unit 10: Global Change in the Age of Man
Chapters 18 + 19
Friday 4/26 (30 MCQ + 1 FRQ)
Throughout this course we have explored the natural world and humanity’s impact on it, particularly in
the last 300 years when the bulk of population growth and economic development has occurred. In this
unit, we will delve in to detail in examining the 2 broadest and most serious threats to the sustainability
of the human species: biodiversity loss and climate change. Both of these phenomena are have
accelerated in recent decades, but fortunately we have many opportunities to address these problems
before they get worse. We will focus on specific evidence, specific impacts and specific solutions.
Essential Questions
1) What are the causes and effects of the ongoing global loss of biodiversity?
2) How can we respond to this crisis to ensure continued biodiversity?
3) How has climate change already affected our world, and what future effects are projected?
4) How can humanity address climate change while still providing economic growth for billions of people?
Major Topics:
The 6th Mass Extinction – Declines in Genetic Diversity – Global Declines in Species Diversity – Declines in
Ecosystem Function – Habitat Loss – Invasive Species – Overharvesting – Pollution – Climate Change –
Conservation Legislation – Biosphere Reserves & Protected Areas – Global Climate Change –
Greenhouse Effect – Major GHGs – Natural & Anthropogenic Sources – CO2 & Temperature Data –
Historical Temperatures – Future Projections and Modeling – Climate Feedbacks – Consequences of
Global Warming on Ecosystems/People – Controversy/Doubt – Kyoto Protocol – Carbon Sequestration
 Understand how genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem function are changing over time.
 Identify the causes of declining biodiversity.
 Describe the single-species approach to conserving biodiversity, including laws that protect species.
 Explain the ecosystem approach to conserving biodiversity and how size, shape and connectedness
affect the number of species that will be protected.
 Distinguish among global change, global climate change, and global warming.
 Explain how solar radiation and greenhouse gases warm our planet.
 Discuss how CO2 concentrations and temperatures have changed over time.
 Describe the importance of feedback loops in the process of global warming
 Identify how global warming is affecting people and the environment.
 Discuss how the Kyoto Protocol and carbon sequestration aim to reduce global warming.