Introduction to Food and the Environment C ENV 110

Autumn 2015




Ray Hilborn                                                                              

Office: 352b Fishery  Sciences                                              

Office Hours:  M 1:30-2:30 W 11:30-12:30 Room 329 Fisheries and by appointment                    


Teaching Assistants: 

Beth  Phillips                                                                             
Office Hours  by appointment                                                                        FISH 321C


Erin Ryan-Peñuela                                                                                   

Office hours:  By appointment                                                          MAR  Suite 201-265


Course web site:


Final Exam             December 17, 8:30-10:30  Room  FSH 102


1.  Introduction


The human population will reach 9 billion people in this century and the increase in number of people and wealth suggest that world food production needs to increase by 40%.  Food production already takes up half of the earth’s surface and has dramatically transformed natural ecosystems turning them into monoculture for crops and grazing lands.  How does food production affect the environment, and can global food production be sustained and indeed increased?


Food is produced in a variety of ways; crops are grown, animals are fed on crops and or grazed,  fish are caught in the ocean and fresh water, and fish are raised in aquaculture.  Each method of food production impacts the environment in many ways through transformation of habitats, consumption of energy and release of CO2, pollution of waterways,  soil erosion, and reduction in biodiversity.  Understanding how food production affects and shapes the environment can help us make choices about what kinds of food we eat, and lets us evaluate the sustainability of the food production systems.


In this course will use food production and consumption as an introduction to many of the elements of environmental science including nutrient cycles, population growth, food webs, water supply and demand,  impact of exploitation on natural populations,  land transformation,  energy consumption and its impact on climate.  We will explore different perspectives on sustainability, and evaluate the challenges faced in sustaining the current food production technologies.  We will also explore how environmental changes impact individuals and societies and examine case studies where societies have collapsed due to non-sustainable food systems.


 In the 1960s there were apocalyptic claims that the world would run out of food in the 1970s and wars would be fought over food.  This did not happen and world food production has increased faster than human populations.  However, the methods used to increase yields seem to have reached a plateau, and climate change, water and land shortages all threaten the ability to sustain food production in the face of growing demand. 


This course will cover a range of natural and physical sciences and will meet the Natural World requirement.  The material will also cover how individuals, communities and societies have changed the environment and have responded to environmental changes and will meet the Individuals and Societies requirement.



2.  Course Objectives:

By the end of the course you will

  1. understand how different kinds of food production impact the environment both locally and globally
  2. consider different definitions of sustainability and the sustainability of different food production systems
  3. explore how individual, communities and societies have responded to environmental changes induced by food production
  4. understand the relative environmental costs of different kinds of food
  5. understand the major processes that shape the earths’ environment
  6. be introduced to key research areas in environmental science
  7. have further developed your analytic, interpretive and critical thinking skills
  8. have further developed your comprehension, communication and writing skills


3.  Course Policies


To request academic accommodations due to disability, please contact Disabled Student Services indicating your needs and inform me as soon as possible about special accommodations.  Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, Box 355839, 206-543-8925 (Voice/TTY),


Plagiarism, cheating, and other misconduct are serious violations of your contract as a student.  You are expected to know and follow the University’s policies regarding academic integrity.



4.  Course Requirements and Grading


There will be two mid-term exams and one final exam.  In the discussion sessions grading will be based on (1) a presentation on current media coverage of an issue related to food, (2) written questions you provide on the readings (3) quiz results on the readings, (4) a presentation you prepare on the sustainability of a specific food production system,  and (5) a presentation on a book review or service learning.




Percent of Grade

Mid –term I


Mid-term  II


Final exam


Current media coverage


In class participation


Your analysis of the sustainability of a food production system


Book Review or Service Learning


Discussion questions


Discussion participation


Quiz results from readings




5.  Methods of Instruction

Readings:  This course requires considerable reading, approximately 80 pages per week.  Some of these readings are available in a UW Course-pack that is available for purchase at the book store (these are typically text books and books where copyrights prevent free distribution), and some are available as pdf files on our web site (these are materials that UW has free access to.)  In class quizzes and discussion sections will be based on these readings.


Discussion sections:  A range of activities will take place in the discussion sections that will be used to sharpen your understanding of the information, increase your analytic skills, and allow you to make a number of presentations. Discussion section activities will include:


Debates based on readings:  In some of discussion sections your will be organized into debates on topics from the readings that are required for that session.

Media coverage:  each student will identify media coverage of an issue related to the course content and make a brief oral presentation to the discussion session.

Sustainability of a food production system:  each student will explore in depth one food production system and make an oral presentation on the major issues in the sustainability of that system.

Book Reviews:  each student will choose one book related to the course material and read the book and make an oral presentation on its relevance to the relationship between food and the environment.  An alternate to the Book Reviews is to participate in service learning described below.



Class meetings: There will be three (3) 50 minute class sessions each week.  We are transforming this course from a traditional lecture format to one that emphasizes in-class problem solving by students, although there will still be some lecture format presentations. Most class meetings will include a quiz on assigned readings or some in-class assignment that will be turned in.  Thus you must attend every class session!  Many class meetings will have an assigned reading for that session and you are expected to come prepared to use the material in that reading for in-class activities.


Service Learning: An alternative to book reviews is for students to participate in service learning. 




Service-learning provides students a unique opportunity to connect coursework with life experience through public service. Offered as an integral part of many University of Washington courses, service-learning provides students an opportunity to experience theories traditionally studied within classrooms come to life, through serving with community-based organizations. Choosing to engage in service-learning is a way to demonstrate your commitment to your community and your ability to link your academic studies to practical, real-world experiences. The Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center, located in 171 Mary Gates Hall, facilitates contacts with community-based organizations and will help you to coordinate your service-learning opportunity.




Instructions for how to browse a list of organizations and service-learning positions matched with this course will be presented the first day of classes. You can also visit the Carlson Center web site at and follow the link to AUTUMN 2015 Service-Learning. You can log in using your UW Net ID to browse positions starting on Wednesday, September 30th. The Carlson Center will send you an email if browsing is available before this time. For this class, service-learning registration opens on October 5th (Mon) at 8am, and closes on October 7th (Wed) at 5:00pm.


All students are expected to complete an orientation with their registered service-learning organization as soon as possible after registering for service-learning (unless otherwise noted in the description). Please be proactive in contacting your organization (after your service-learning registration is confirmed) by phone and e-mail to either 1) schedule an orientation or 2) confirm your attendance at an already scheduled orientation session. It is expected that all service-learning students will have completed an orientation and begun their service-learning experience no later than October 13th.



Readings and discussions:  This will be a reading intensive course,  with readings from the classic literature of environmentalism and recent scientific papers.  Each student will prepare written material in the form of commentary for each discussion section based on the readings for that week.  We will use a series of chapters from text books  for readings in the associated basic science.  Students are expected to spend 10 hours a week outside of class on course matters.  This will include approximately 100 pages of readings each week. Students are expected to have the readings for the week completed by the beginning of the week, Monday. Class lectures on M/W/F will include discussions and assignments that require the readings to be complete.




6.  Course Schedule



Lectures will cover the following topics:


World Food Production

Environmental impacts of food production

Defining sustainability

Poverty, health and population growth

Human Population dynamics and exploited populations

The linkage between food, environment, health and poverty

Soils and food sustainability

Biogeochemical cycles

The hydrologic cycle

Seeds, genetic diversity, seed banks

Genetically modified organisms

Nutrients used in food production and consequences

Organic vs conventional agriculture

Food production, soils and the sustainability of  civilizations

Energy in food production


Food and Ecology

Biodiversity and extinction

Biodiversity impacts of agriculture

Fisheries sustainability

Seafood Certification

The Columbian Exchange

Climate impacts of food production

Environmental change and human health





7.  Readings:  full articles and selected chapters of the books.

Barney, J. N., and Ditomaso, J. M. 2008. Nonnative species and bioenergy: Are we cultivating the next invader? BioScience. 58: 64-70.

Branch, T. A., Watson, R., Fulton, E. A., Jennings, S., McGilliard, C. R., Pablico, G. T., and Ricard, D. 2010. The trophic fingerprint of marine fisheries. Nature. 468: 431-435.

Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Crest Books, Greenwich, Connecticut.

Cohn, J. P. 2008. How Ecofriendly are wind farms. BioScience. 58: 576-578.

Cunningham, W. P., and Cunningham, M. A. 2010. Environmental Science: a global concern, 11th ed. McGraw Hill, Boston.

Donald, P. F., Green, R. E., and Health, M. F. 2001. Agricultural intensification and the collapse of Europe's farmland bird populations. Proceedings Of The Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 268: 25-29.

Ehrlich, P. 1968. The population bomb. Ballantine Books, London.

Enger, E. D., and Smith, B. F. 2010. Environmental Science: a study of interrelationships, 12th ed. McGraw Hill, Boston.

Godfray, H. C. J., Beddington, J. R., Crute, I. R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J. F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S. M., and Toulmin, C. 2010. Food Security:  The challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Science. 327: 812-818.

Hall, S. J., A. Delaporte, et al. 2011. Blue frontiers: managing the environmental cost of aquaculture. Penang, Malaysia, World Fish Center.

IPCC. 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. 73.

Kaufmann, R. K., and Cleveland, C. J. 2010. Environmental Science. McGraw Hill, Boston.

Lomborg, B. 1998. The skeptical environmentalist:  measuring the real state of the world. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK.

Malthus, T. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population. J. Johnson, London.

Montgomery, D. R. 2007. Dirt: the erosion of civilizations. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Myers, S. S., and Patz, J. A. 2009. Emerging threats to human health from global environmental change. Annu. rev. environ. resour. 34: 223-252.

Paddock, W., and Paddock, P. 1967. Famine 1975! America's decision: who will survive. Little Brown, Boston.

Pauly, D., Christensen, V., Dlasgaard, J., Froese, R., and Torres Jr., F. 1998. Fishing down marine food webs. Science. 279: 860-863.

Reisner, M. 1986. Cadillac Desert:  The American west and its disappearing water. Penguin Books, New York.

Roy, P., D. Nei, T. Orikasa, Q. Y. Xu, H. Okadome, N. Nakamura, and T. Shiina. 2009. A review of life cycle assessment (LCA) on some food products. Journal of Food Engineering 90:1-10.

Schwarzenbach, R., Egli, T., Hofstetter, T. B., von Gunten, U., and Wehrli, B. 2010. Global Water Pollution and Human Health. Annu. rev. environ. resour. 35: 109-136.

Shellenberger, M., and Nordhaus, T. 2004. The death of environmentalism:  global warming politics in a post-environmental world. WWW.THEBREAKTHROUGH.ORG. 1-37.

Turner II, B. L., Clark, W. C., Kates, R. W., Richards, J. F., Mathews, J. T., and Meyer, W. B. 1990. The earth as transformed by human action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK. p. 713.

Tyner, W. E. 2008. The US ethanol and biofuels boom: Its origins, current status, and future prospects. BioScience. 58: 646-653.



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