Universiteit Leiden
The Great Sustainability Transition: Global challenges, Local actions
Universiteit Leiden

The Great Sustainability Transition: Global challenges, Local actions

Taught in English

Some content may not be translated

3,051 already enrolled


Gain insight into a topic and learn the fundamentals

Paul Behrens
Thijs Bosker

Instructors: Paul Behrens


(27 reviews)

Beginner level

Recommended experience

26 hours to complete
3 weeks at 8 hours a week
Flexible schedule
Learn at your own pace

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There are 4 modules in this course

In this week we will first introduce the concept of planetary boundaries within which humanity can safely exist. Next, we will focus on one of the key planetary boundaries, biodiversity and how humans are impacting biodiversity. To do this we will do the following: First we will give you a general understanding on the scale of the issue. Next, we will discuss the importance of biodiversity, and explore how we can value biodiversity. Third, we will focus on the key threats which are driving biodiversity loss. Finally, we will, we explore conservation efforts related to maintaining biodiversity. In addition you will go out and find biodiversity within your own community, as a local action. This will be done using an app, which is linked to a citizen science project.

What's included

8 videos8 readings2 quizzes5 discussion prompts

In this module, we will discover how climate change is warming the planet. We will explore the changes we have seen so far to our climate and biosphere and discuss what is driving the change (unnecessary spoiler alert: It’s humans!). We’ll survey the options we have for avoiding further climatic changes and for coping with the higher temperatures and discuss changes we are certain to see in the coming decades. Given the truth it may make you want to turn away from learning about climate change. But this is one of the worst things you can do – we are worried about it, so we don’t talk about it! In the local action this module you’ll have a chat with a family member or friend about climate change. You’ll explore their concerns, what they think can be done, and become more comfortable discussing climate change with others. Talking with other people about climate change, expressing your fears and hopes, can have a systemic impact overall as your friends and family can pass it on to other people. Like a pebble thrown into a still pond, your conversation could have impacts far beyond what you thought.

What's included

5 videos3 readings2 quizzes4 discussion prompts

This module we will turn our attention to pollution. We have looked at one form of pollution already, greenhouse gas emissions but there are so many more. There are different pollutants in the air, in the water, in the soils and in our bodies. We’ll take a look at the impacts different pollutants like microplastics and particulates have on the environment and on human health. We will also explore how the pressures from pollution can all combine to tip ecosystems into very unhealthy states. This tipping can also apply to human systems – like the straw that broke the camel’s back the increase in one pollutant can have significant impacts on society. For this week’s local action, we’ll be taking stock of plastic pollution in our local community, mapping the trash for researchers and helping clean up the environment. Let’s get started! Thijs & Paul

What's included

5 videos3 readings2 quizzes2 discussion prompts

Welcome to the final module of this sustainability course. This module we will be bringing everything we have learned together to understand where humanity and life on this planet is heading in the future. We have learned how humanity needs massive transitions in energy and food for the long-term survival of civilizations. But if it so obvious and so many of the solutions are available, why haven’t we made these transition yet? The answer, in part, is due to the fact we need a massive economic and political transformation to enable these transitions. In this module we’ll begin to understand why it has been so difficult to change. We’ll introduce concepts such as economic and social “lock-in” which describe why we continue doing things that endanger life on the planet. We’ll also explore common action problems – a type of problem that economists use to describe the difficulty of regulating environmental protection and conserving resources over the long term. We need system transitions as well as individual change – these are not separate as some people like to suggest. We’ll explore why individual change drives system change and system change drives individual change in a feedback loop that can start social tipping points that may accelerate the transitions we need to safeguard the future. We’ll reflect on what this means for the future. We know that the coming decades will be difficult and full of alarming changes to the environment and livability of the planet – even if we were to make drastic changes today. We’ll reflect on the role alarm and hope for the future can play in how we think about the future. We will read a chapter of Paul’s book The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Futures from the Frontiers of Climate Science and his other writings which are structured this way. We will finish the course by applying what we have learned to the local problems you submitted at the start of the course. How might these problems be addressed near you? Join us in this last week to put the pieces of the picture together! Paul & Thijs

What's included

6 videos4 readings2 quizzes4 discussion prompts


Instructor ratings
4.8 (14 ratings)
Paul Behrens
Universiteit Leiden
1 Course3,051 learners

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