The world we inhabit in the United States offers a wealth of consumer goods and experiences that promise to break negative environmental and social patterns and help us build and participate in more sustainable livelihoods. For instance, by joining a conservation organization, buying shares in a local food CSA, supporting ecotourism in rural communities, or purchasing products that are certified as socially or environmentally responsible, we are told that humans and nature can coexist in ways that are mutually beneficial. However, human-nature relationships are complex and most of these kinds of projects oversimplify these relationships or overpromise on the benefits to both nature and people. Similarly, in the Global North, societies of the Global South are often portrayed as having more inherently “sustainable” lifestyles that are now being corrupted by rapid economic growth and a lack of appreciation for the importance of nature to human well-being. This view again oversimplifies the human-nature relationship and suggests that socio-ecological sustainability will only be achieved through intervention.
The goal of this OCS program is to give students the interdisciplinary tools to investigate the complexities of human-nature relationships and appreciate the opportunities as well as challenges inherent in creating sustainable livelihoods. We have chosen to design a team-taught interdisciplinary course in Minnesota (US) and Oaxaca (MX) because each provides excellent case studies of socio-ecological systems. Additionally, these locations provide the opportunity to “know our neighbors” both locally and globally to compare and contrast approaches to building socio-ecological resilience in the Global North and Global South. This program will expose students to examples that engage with the idea of sustainability in socio-ecological systems in a way that is critical, yet inspiring and unexpected. We are particularly interested in tearing down myths such as the assumption that humans and nature are always in opposition to each other, that socio-ecological resilience is only relevant to human well-being in the developing world, that rigorous interdisciplinary collaborations are difficult across qualitative and quantitative disciplines, that innovation can only come from Western forms of knowledge, or that the Global South is a place of hopelessness.