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The bonus assignment is voluntary!
IF you choose to undertake this assignment, it is due by 5:00 Friday, February 17.
The ENV200Y Bonus Assignment
(This remains version I- revised 06/II/04 - I have made a small change in the Details section to clarify the length of the assignment - 2 pages! - but no changes to the Questions.)

The Bonus Assignment is designed to give you a voluntary head start on your essay, which
will  focus on the 2005 report Ecosystems and Human Well-being:  Synthesis. The report is one of the synthesis documents from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), an initiative that began in 2001 under the United Nations Environment Program. The MA is focused on the relationships between ecosystems and human well-being, particularly the link with “ecosystem services”— the direct and indirect benefits people receive from ecosystems. Its goal was to establish a scientific basis for the conservation and sustainable use of such services. 1,360 scientists from 95 countries contributed to the assessment. 

You may access the summary document suggested for the bonus assignment at the link provided below. Alternatively, it and the primary document required for the essay will be available on CD on overnight reserve from the Earth Sciences Library by Monday, January  23, 2006

Quick links to the details of the assignment and the questions

INTRODUCTION "Biodiversity benefits people through ... its contribution to material welfare and livelihoods. [In addition, it]
contributes to security, resiliency, social relations, health, and freedom of choices and actions. Science can help ensure that decisions are made with the best available information, but ultimately the future of biodiversity will be determined by society."1

In its 100+ pages, Ecosystems and Human Well-being identifies 3 issues: (1) 60% of ecosystem services examined during the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably; (2) modifications being made in ecosystems are increasing the likelihood of nonlinear change; (3) the harmful effects of the degradation of ecosystem services are being borne disproportionately by the poor, are
contributing to growing inequities and disparities across groups of people and are contributing to poverty and social conflict.

Understanding these issues can be challenging. We already know that ecosystems are complex entities characterized by non-linearities, feedbacks, and time lags. To try and ease people who are not scientists into an understanding of  Ecosystems and Human Well-being, GreenFacts.Org  a Belgium based non-profit, non-advocacy ENGO has prepared a "popularized  version of the MA synthesis document." The mission of GreenFacts, an affiliate of IUCN,  the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, is to provide summaries of scientific consensus documents. In the specific case of the MA report, GreenFacts summary is:  Scientific Facts on Ecosystem Change.

I think the summary document is an excellent introduction to the larger picture being painted by Ecosystems and Human Well-being and as such provides a valuable foundation for the essay. Consequently I suggest it as the focus  for the bonus assignment. You may however choose to dive right into the larger document which GreenFacts summarizes. The anwers to the questions posed in this assignment can be found there as well.

1. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being:  Synthesis.
World Resources Institute, Washington, DC. (as GenSyn(Web).pdf)

You may click here for access to Scientific Facts (as a pdf file) or link directly for the html version . The file is about (~1.3 Mb). If you use a dial-up line, you may prefer to wait for CD access.

The Bonus Assignment Details

  1. The assignment consists of 5 questions (Q1, either Q2 or Q3; Q4, one of Q 5, 6 or 7; and Q8 . The answers can be found in the GreenFacts document (or if you prefer to wade right in, you can go directly to Ecosystems and Human Well-being (this document is large ~13 MB)
  2. In total the assignment is not to exceed 2 typewritten, double spaced pages. You do not need to repeat the question on your paper, simply number your responses appropriately. (Since the assignment is only 2 pages, adequate answers will likely be one to two paragraphs.)
  3. The assignment is due in our offices (2103 ESC) no later than 5:00 on Friday February 17, 2006. As this is a bonus assignment there will be no extensions granted.
  4. If there is no one in the office, you may place your assignment in the white box to the right of ESC 1021. If you put your assignment in the box, please make sure you include an email address for our acknowledgment of its receipt.
  5. Please keep your eye on the last revised date at the beginning of this document. If we start to get a number of questions that indicate to us that we should better clarify this assignment, we will note those changes in a different colour and change the date of revision.

Answer Q1

Question 1
Choose one of the 10 systems examined in the MA: (forest, cultivated, dryland, coastal, marine, urban, polar, freshwater, island, mountain) Using Table 1.1 in GreenFacts define and comment on the significance of your system (where significance could be all or some of global area, human population density, contribution to GDP or NPP). Choose carefully with the scope for answers 2-3 in mind!

Answer Q2 OR 3
Question 2
Differentiate direct from indirect “drivers” of ecosystem change. What drivers appear to be most significant for the system you chose.
Question 3

Significant uncertainties exist in our understanding of the status and direction of change of ecosystems. What significant gaps exist for the system you chose.

Answer Q4
Question 4

In addition to changes in Earth’s ecosystems, human activity has impacted significantly on the Planet’s biogeochemical cycles. Describe those impacts and the consequences for one of these cycles (water, carbon, nitrogen or phosphorus).

Answer Question 5, 6 OR 7
Question 5 Choose one example from the 4 types of ecosystem services.  What specific changes have occurred wrt this "service". What is mean by "tradeoffs" in the development of substitutes for ecosystem services.
Question 6
Explain how human well-being is linked to ecosystem services and why the linkage is often non-linear. 
Question 7 Explain the link between degradation of ecosystem services and our ability/inability to meet the MDG.

Answer Q8
Question 8

We face a number of severe global environmental issues. In the 1960s and 70s, society mounted a reasonably effective response to that times’ perceptions of environmental problems (see e.g. the Environmentalism section of Chapter 2 of Draper). Today we seem unable to mount effective responses. Some have suggested this failure derives from the complex nature of the problems (many people don’t understand the issues) and our inability to respond effectively at an international scale. What do you think?

Questions of your own? If you have questions about this assignment, please get in touch: