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Unit 5: Cultural Landscapes, a Great Acceleration, and the Anthropocene [Individual]

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Unit 5 assumes an ecological perspective to the Great Acceleration, and uses a “systems thinking” approach that integrates three interconnected factors – energy, economics, and ecology – to provide an overview of how and why our culture and landscapes have changed during the past 75 years, and will continue to change in the future. We’ll examine what those changes mean in regard to the environmental impacts that increasingly imperil our well-being, our natural heritage, and the very ecosystems that support us. Unit 5 concludes with an investigation of potential solutions to environmental problems caused by humans. Taken in proper context, these solutions will help you plan and cultivate a more resilient, sustainable living environment.

Student Goals and Expectations
Students will:

  1. learn how and why cultural landscapes reflect interactions and interrelationships between human activity and natural processes
  2. understand how and why human adaptive processes result in tradeoffs that affect the well-being of people and the natural systems that support them
  3. learn how and why the causes and effects of the Great Acceleration have led to the Anthropocene Epoch and a vast alteration in natural processes of the Earth System
  4. understand the mechanisms of cultural adaptation and learn how to plan and develop sustainable cultural landscapes that support our well-being and natural and cultural heritages


  • Electronic, Interactive Textbook (PDF)
  • Interactive Visual Timeline
  • Unit Overview Video


3 Curriculum introduction
7 Unit 5 introduction
8 Lesson 1: Cultural landscapes – energy, economics, ecology and the human/nature relationship
8 Lesson 1.1: The cultural landscape as a tool for learning
21 Lesson 1.2: Fossil fuels – transformers of culture and cultural landscapes
31 Lesson 1.3: Ideas, innovation, and cultural change
37 Lesson 1.4: The 3Es – energy, economics, ecology – and the modern human relationship with nature
51 Lesson 1.5: The human ecosystem and adaptive cycle concepts
58 Lesson 2: Development of local cultural landscapes during the Great Acceleration
58 Lesson 2.1: The Great Acceleration, mass consumption, and suburbanization
72 Lesson 2.2: Fates of local industries during the Great Acceleration
80 Lesson 2.3: The Information Age
87 Lesson 2.4: Demographics and the development of local cultural landscapes
100 Lesson 3: Visualizing the Great Acceleration and our role within it
100 Lesson 3 introduction
102 Lesson 3.1: Global consumption overview
107 Lesson 3.2: Pictures of socioeconomic change
109 Lesson 3.3: Take a look at our consumption
126 Lesson 4: Systems thinking – understanding change in the Earth System, carbon cycle, and climate
126 Lesson 4 introduction
126 Lesson 4.1: Earth System changes
131 Lesson 4.2: Changes over time – greenhouse gases and Earth’s energy budget
139 Lesson 4.3: The carbon cycle, systems thinking, and feedbacks
148 Lesson 4.4: Holocene Epoch stability and instability – transition to a new epoch?
158 Lesson 5: Markers of a new epoch – the Anthropocene
158 Lesson 5 introduction158 Lesson 5.1: Marking events in time
162 Lesson 5.2: Local markers: the Mammoth Coal Event
166 Lesson 5.3: Global markers for an Anthropocene Epoch
178 Lesson 6: Living in the Anthropocene
178 Lesson 6 introduction
180 Lesson 6.1: Climate change in the Northeast United States and Southeast Pennsylvania
188 Lesson 6.2: Ecological impacts of climate change
200 Lesson 6.3: Looking at the past to forecast the future
207 Lesson 6.4: What’s at stake? What can be done?
216 Lesson 7: Ecological awareness and the restoration of a healthy environment
216 Lesson 7.1: The value of ecological awareness and understanding
228 Lesson 7.2: Pollutants, environmental laws, regulations
234 Lesson 7.3: Mitigations to remedy past transgressions
252 Lesson 8: Preserving natural heritage and open space – planning sustainable cultural landscapes for the Anthropocene
252 Lesson 8.1: The human-nature relationship and ecological ethics
263 Lesson 8.2: Ecosystem services and the concept of value
267 Lesson 8.3: Ecological literacy, local natural heritage areas, values, and impacts
288 Lesson 8.4: Land-use planning strategies for sustainable cultural landscapes
300 Unit 5 Timeline: Great Acceleration
303 Index
308 Glossary
326 Principal Sources