Like ovens, bike locks, lawn mowers and earphones, Earth now comes with instructions on how to use it.
Earth: A User’s Guide (EER:1000 in the course calendar) is a new course offered this upcoming fall term by the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources.
“This course is designed to be of interest to anyone from any background,” said Mary Benbow, the Associate Dean of the Faculty and the course’s instructor. “It gives the information needed to be a good Earth citizen.”
The course is being developed with Norman Halden, Dean of the Faculty, who will teach in the Winter Term, 2010.
A good Earth citizen, Benbow said, knows how to navigate the shades of grey when it comes to resource management; they do not take an extremist point of view.
“It’s not a doom and gloom course,” she said. “This course is really looking at the brutal reality that we use resources and to come to some kind of middle ground about how we can do that judiciously. But then also recognize that we have to, in our everyday lives, know where those resources are coming from.”
For example, most readers have a mobile phone in their pocket or near by. A phone contains small amounts of tantalum and niobium, which come from two minerals jointly called “coltan” for simplicity’s sake. Coltan extracts are used to make everything from computers, to jet engines and car air-bags. Its drawback is its origin: it’s mined mostly in the Congo where lax regulation allows harm to befall many people, much forest, and several animals like gorillas. Knowing these facts forces us to ask how much do we want that phone?
An alternative source of coltan may reside locally in a wilderness park but it’s an industrially used mineral, it does not come with a “country or origin” label. Still, as Benbow suggests, what dolphin-friendly tuna did to the fish market, gorilla-friendly cell phones can, perhaps, do to this one.
“I’m imagining having Fine Arts and music students take this course who don’t want to take an environment course but just want that little something, and there is nothing wrong with that. I think often our students become bogged down by their expertise and don’t recognize that there is room to just get a little flavour of different things.”
The course will begin by examining energy and fuels, then how humans live and eat, how biological production relates to globalization, water, and finally, a unit on “bad days on planet Earth” wherein the unpredictability and often catastrophic nature of the Earth – and how we respond to that – is covered.
The course, which was made possible from a University of Manitoba grant from the Strategic Program Development Fund, runs Tuesday and Thursdays from 10 a.m. till 11:15 a.m. in the fall term.
“Supposing you had just arrived in a solar system and there was this ‘blue green planet’. How would you go about finding and utilizing resources? With what we think we know about our Earth, what might we do differently and what might we be required to do exactly the same to survive?,” Benbow asks, and will ask again in the school year (perhaps on an exam).