Natural Disasters and Human Health in the Anthropocene

Natural Disasters and Human Health in the Anthropocene

Natural Disasters and Human Health in the Anthropocene

[Semester and Year]

Instructor Information

Instructor / Email / Office Location & Hours
[Instructor Name] / [Email address] / [Location, Hours, Days]

General Information


This is a sample syllabus for teaching about natural disasters in the context of planetary health for an undergraduate audience in a 10-week term. Course is open to all years and all majors or concentrations.

Natural disasters, also referred to as natural hazards, are extreme, sudden events caused by environmental factors such as storms, floods, droughts, fires and heatwaves, resulting in short term and long term health impacts. Natural disasters are now occurring with increasingseverity, scope and impact. When we explore natural disasters in the context of planetary health, we are utilizing a systems-thinking approach to grasp the complexities and anthropogenic drivers relating a given disaster to causes and effects, and working to quantify the health impacts and innovate solutions.

Each week will focus on a different type of natural disaster and provide a case study for that event. As the course goes on, students should begin to draw parallels between types of disasters and identify unique elements that affect health impacts.

Learning Objectives

L1: To identify and explain the anthropogenic drivers of increasingly severe natural disasters.

L2: To relate the potential direct and indirect impacts of different disasters, assessing the different settings and scales in which they occur.

L3:To examine local, regional and global actions that perpetuate or exacerbate disasters and understand the facilitating policy framework.

L4:To recognize cross-disciplinary areas for research and innovation in disaster resilience, spanning across the traditionally environmental or medically-focused efforts.

Course Schedule

Week / Topic
1 / Welcome and Introduction
2 / The Anthropocene and Planetary Health
3 / Storms
4 / Floods
5 / Droughts
6 / Exam
7 / Fires
8 / Heatwaves
9 / Policy and Solutions
10 / Final Project Due

Draft Syllabus

Week 1: Welcome and Introduction

Brief introduction to Planetary Health and the Anthropocene to familiarize students with terminology. Introductions and course logistics, and an explanation of the course arch and purpose.


Steffen, Will, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney, and Cornelia Ludwig. 2015. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review:1-8.

Executive Summary of Rockefeller Foundation—Lancet Commission Report on Planetary Health. 2015. Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation—Lancet Commission on planetary health. The Lancet 386 (10007):1973-2028.

Myers, S. S., Gaffikin, L., Golden, C. D., Ostfeld, R. S., H. Redford, K., H. Ricketts, T., Turner, W. R., and Osofsky, S. A. (2013). Human health impacts of ecosystem alteration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, 18753-18760.

Week 2: The Anthropocene and Planetary Health

A brief history of the evolution of research and practice at the intersection of global environmental change and human health. What is planetary health, where has it come from, and what characterizes it?Consideration of the role of natural disasters within the broader field of planetary health, discussion of interconnectedness and overlap.


Week 3: Storms


Week 4: Floods


Week 5: Droughts


Week 6: EXAM

The midterm exam will be a multiple choice and long answer combination test, designed to encourage students to

Week 7: Fires


Week 8: Heatwaves


Week 9: Policy and Solutions


Week 10: Final Project Submission


Mid Term Exam

In-Class Participation

Final Project

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