New ecology education: Preparing students for the complex human-environmental problems of dryland East Asia

TitleNew ecology education: Preparing students for the complex human-environmental problems of dryland East Asia
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsYe J, Reynolds J.F., Herrick JE, Reynolds JA, Chuluun T, Li F, Long R
Book TitleDryland East Asia; Land Dynamics Amid Social and Climate Change
PublisherHigher Education Press
CityBeijing, China
ARIS Log Number302008

Present-day environmental problems of Dryland East Asia are serious, and future prospects look especially disconcerting owing to current trends in population growth and economic development.  Land degradation and desertification, invasive species, biodiversity losses, toxic waste and air pollution, and water depletion are exacting serious economic losses, social conflicts and health costs.  The list of stakeholders expected to resolve these problems include scientific researchers, government regulators, environmental engineers, business consortiums, resource managers and policy-makers.  While all are crucial, in this chapter we focus on an often overlooked – but exceptionally important stakeholder – students.  Given both the rapid rate and magnitude of change that have already occurred, it’s not surprising that students often sense that the extent of future environmental problems are so overwhelming that there are not adequate means of fully understanding them.  Consequently, educators have the task of instilling a sense of optimism that while the challenge is difficult, it is not impossible.  We must assist students develop a suite of skills that will enable them to deal with the prodigious mix of societal and environmental problems that they stand to inherit.  Towards this end, in this chapter we present our vision of a new ecology education course.  Three key topics are new ecology education emphasize interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches; the role of strong conceptual frameworks; the importance of nonlinearities, thresholds and feedbacks in human-environmental systems; principles of both systems and resilience theory; and how short-term versus long-term solutions to any given problem may be quite different.  Decision-making ultimately relies upon identifying and evaluating choices; thus the next generation of students must be effective communicators, problems-solvers, and systems thinkers.