• Offered by Crawford School of Public Policy
  • ANU College ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
  • Classification Advanced
  • Course subject Environmental Management & Development
  • Areas of interest Environmental Studies
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Mode of delivery In Person

This course aims to give students an introduction to the biological and physical systems that create the natural environment of our planet. This basic scientific knowledge is essential for analysing any environmental or resource management problem.

The course starts with an overview of the planet and its uniqueness, and continues with an investigation of Earth's most special feature – life. Students will briefly revisit the concepts of systems, feedback and dynamic equilibria before learning a little of the physics and chemistry of life itself. This is followed by examining global processes, biogeochemical cycles and the interactions between biota and the non-living environment.

The primary focus of the course is biological principles, including the basic chemistry of life (mainly respiration and photosynthesis); zonation and terrestrial and marine environments; classification and biodiversity; populations, communities and ecosystems; population dynamics; competition and co-operation; bioaccumulation. If time permits, the course also includes brief modules on soil, marine ecology, and the atmosphere.

The course covers a wide field of different science-based disciplines, presented by an experienced communicator, for students who are not science specialists, but who possess basic numeracy and an understanding of and interest in environmental issues.

Most of the course content is knowledge distilled from scientific research of the last several decades. However, teaching is informed by more recent research findings wherever that is required, and scientific journal articles are sometimes used, although they may be simplified because the course is designed for non-scientists. Wherever possible, I try to present material in a way that makes students aware of the nature of the scientific process, and of what constitutes effective scientific inquiry. Throughout the course, I make clear that scientific findings are provisional, and they are revised in the light of new evidence and peer-reviewed findings.

The basic premise and framework for this course, and the convener's own background, are firmly rooted in rationalism and the scientific tradition. Our understanding of the natural world, and any conclusions and policies flowing from that, are based on evidence, controlled experimentation, and sceptical inquiry, and not on religious belief or ideological preference.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

After finishing the course, and completing the necessary requirements associated with it, a student who has studied effectively will be able to:

  • Appreciate the uniqueness of planet Earth and the services it provides
  • Understand and use accurately the key terms and concepts in environmental science, in particular the movements of matter and energy, the role of the carbon cycle, photosynthesis and respiration.
  • Identify the planet's major climatic regions, biomes and marine zones.
  • Understand basic ecological principles, in particular population dynamics, competition, trophic relationships, diversity, ecosystem balance and resilience.
  • Appreciate both the strength and fragility of living systems.
  • Assess primary productivity in different ecosystems.
  • Gain an elementary understanding of marine ecology
  • Understand the significance of soil to human society, and be familiar with the major problems affecting soil sustainability and its effect on agricultural productivity and on other ecosystems.
  • Manage ecosystems and reserves with greater skill, using knowledge of species interactions and feedback loops.
  • Understand the composition and function of the atmosphere, and appreciate the linkage between atmospheric composition, climate and human well-being.
  • Contribute informed, accurate and scientifically correct input to discussions about environmental management, climate change, and the biophysical basis of society.

Other Information

A brief field trip is sometimes included.

The course is particularly innovative in its multi-disciplinary approach and its coverage of technical issues for those without a specialist background.

Indicative Assessment

Two in-class tests (20% and 25%), essay (15%), final exam (40%).

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


Three contact hours per teaching week. About 2-3 hours additional work per week, on average, would be necessary for reading, revising and doing required assignments. 

Prescribed Texts

No prescribed texts, but a reading list is provided, along with detailed hand-outs written by the lecturer.

Preliminary Reading

Several lists will be provided during the course, which include recommended reading, reliable websites, and sources of further information.

Assumed Knowledge

Some understanding of basic high school science concepts is recommended.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

If you are a domestic graduate coursework or international student you will be required to pay tuition fees. Tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2016 $3480
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2016 $4638
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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There are no current offerings for this course.

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