Introduction to Critical Reading & Discourse – The Challenges We Face   



The goal of the critical reading and discourse exercises in this course is to explore how our attitudes and behaviors are related to different global change issues. We will read articles from the WorldWatch Institute and the primary literature designed to provide a framework for lively classroom discussions and activities. Then we will discuss questions related to the individual articles to better understand our role in global change.


This lab will introduce a broad spectrum of concepts related to global environmental change and the challenges that go along with those changes. We will explore the current state of the world and the challenges we face in relation to global change and sustainable development. We will discuss two articles, one from the WorldWatch Institute and one from the journal Solutions for a Sustainable and Desirable Future. Both of these articles give a broad overview of the kinds of pressing environmental and social issues that we, as a society and thus as individuals, are facing. 



Before Coming to Discussion Section




Read the article from WorldWatch Institute Challenges We Face - A History of Our Future - 2003 State of the World p. 3-13.

Read the article by Steffen in Solutions How Defining Planetary Boundaries Can Transform Our Approach to Growth - p. 1-8.

Reflect on the United Nations DPSIR (Driving Forces – Pressures - State - Impacts - Response) framework in relation to global change problems, described in the Challenges We Face article.


Explore the DPSIR Framework and the Planet Under Pressure graphic modules (below).


Then...(skip to after graphics)


Figure 1 - DPSIR Framework

More Graphics from GRID-Arendal:

The driving force – pressure state – impacts – response framework





Figure 2 - Planet Under Pressure Module

Planet Under Pressure Interactive Module






Think about the topics discussed in the articles and graphic modules that you consider to be the most pressing environmental challenges that we face, as a global society today. Are there other environmental or social problems that you feel are important that the article or graphic module do not address? What are they?


Consider the topics that you believe to be most important, in relation to the DPSIR (Driving Forces – Pressures - State – Impacts - Response) framework. For example, if you think that the availability of fresh water resources is the most pressing environmental challenge that humans are facing, apply that problem to the DPSIR framework.  For instance, consider:


  • What human activities are causing the problems associated with fresh water resources?
  • How dire is the state of our freshwater resources?
  • What types of strategies could we implement to help solve problems associated with fresh water availability and quality?
  • Does the driver-response model change the way they think about the issue?


Develop and write down two questions for discussion section about topics that you found most interesting and most pressing. One question should be based on the Challenges We Face paper, and the other should be based on the Planetary Boundaries paper. Your questions should be developed to either:


  • Promote discussion (at least one of the two)
  • To answer questions that you did not understand (i.e., the author's logic, the scientific basis for the author's assertions, etc.).


Bring your questions and your enthusiasm for a lively discussion to class with you.


Questions for Discussion: In Class


Question 1

Summarize the five threats presented in the Challenges We Face article. What kinds of steps are being taken to remedy each of these threats? Are we doing enough?


Question 2

Do we face other threats, not addressed in these articles? What actions are needed to manage these challenges?


Question 3

Did you find anything in the Challenges We Face article that seemed "outdated" (e.g., with respect to conservation or overpopulation)?  How do we address the issue that our understanding in science changes over time?                                    


Question 4

The article states that, "we have a paralysis of hope." What does this mean? How can we overcome this?



Individual Assignment: After Discussion


Write a one page double-spaced report answering the following questions:


Question 5

Based on your lab's discussion and the articles you read, what do you believe is the most pressing environmental issue today? Why?


Question 6

Describe how you would apply your "most pressing issue" to the DPSIR (Driving Forces - Pressures State – Impacts – Response) framework.


Question 7

Did your lab's discussion change your opinion, if so how, and if not, why not? Make sure to use and cite information presented in the article or graphic module to support your opinions.


Answer the above questions in a Word document and hand in on Canvas under your lab section.  You will find the assignment listed under “Lab 1- Challenges We Face” on the assignment page.

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