Lesson Plan: The Resources We Live By

Deidre Duffy
Initial Publication Date: April 29, 2016


In this lesson, students use EcoTipping Point success stories to create illustrated geography books/PowerPoint presentations about the natural resources that can make or break human communities. This lesson is ideal for World Studies and Geography courses.

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Learning Goals

Students will begin to understand the relationship between human social systems and ecosystems by focusing on the abundance of vital natural resources.

Context for Use

See Teaching Notes.

Description and Teaching Materials

Suggested Procedure:

  1. Tell students to define 5 - 8 natural resources that humans rely upon for the survival of their communities. They will determine their chosen natural resources by researching the difficulties communities face when these resources are in decline. It should be pointed out that some natural resources are necessary for all communities, but other natural resources, for instance fish, or a particular energy source, may be vital to a community in one geographic area but not to communities in other areas. As long as it is a vital resource to some communities, it counts!!!
  2. In teams, students should visit the EcoTipping Points Website 'Our Stories' Page on the EcoTipping Points website (www.ecotippingpoints.org/our-stories.html), and use the links under 'Find a Story by Topic' (on right-hand side-bar) to guide them towards stories about different problems and solutions related to different resources in the eco-social system. Recommend to students that they look at stories under each of the topic links.
  3. When students have identified a resource that they think is vital, (i.e., water, healthy soil, forest, energy sources, food supplies), they should add it to their vocabulary book. Using several pages of printer paper and colors to construct it, the book should contain the following for each item:
    • the name of the resource;
    • a drawing or photograph of the resource;
    • a description from their story of what can happen when that resource is in decline; and
    • a description of what that community did to restore their vital natural resources.
  4. As an alternate assignment, pairs could create PowerPoint presentations about the vital natural resources using the same guidelines for elements to include.

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Teaching Notes and Tips

The EcoTipping Points Project:

A New Hope for Positive Change and Sustainability

EcoTipping Points are levers for restoring sustainability to our imperiled environment – small actions that tip the balance from decline to restoration by tapping the inborn power of nature and human societies to heal themselves.

Many environmental and social problems are so complex and overwhelming it's hard to know where to begin. But pioneering communities around the world are showing what it takes to succeed.

As we assemble their stories, the scientific goal of the EcoTipping Points Project is to better understand what made them successful. The pragmatic goal is to help people identify "tipping point" levers right at home – concrete actions that they and their community can act upon. The EcoTipping Points Project is dedicated to making the stories and their lessons known through the media, workshops, and direct collaboration with community groups.

<<Browse over 100 Success Stories>>

EcoTipping Points are real - In every success story, the sweeping changes from environmental decline to restoration and sustainability can be traced back to a lever that set the change in motion. That lever is the EcoTipping Point – typically an environmental technology (in the broadest sense of the word) combined with the social organization to put the technology into practice. The lever is catalytic, setting in motion a cascade of changes through ecosystem and social system. But it takes more than that to be an EcoTipping Point – which leads to our next finding.

Reversal of vicious cycles - In all of our stories, the decline was driven by interconnected and mutually reinforcing vicious cycles. Decline was turned around only when the vicious cycles driving decline were themselves turned around. Anything less is merely "swimming against the current." Reversing the vicious cycles is seldom easy; they can be very powerful. But it's the only way to change to a course of restoration. Here is the good news - once the vicious cycles are turned around, the very same feedback loops can mobilize nature and natural social processes to work just as powerfully to bring about restoration and health. And they spin off new virtuous cycles, such as "success-breeds-success", which accelerate the process and lock in the gains.

Ingredients for Success - What does it take to turn around the vicious cycles driving decline? What makes an effective EcoTipping Point lever? What are key characteristics of the eco-technology – and the social organization for putting that eco-technology into practice? We have found eleven things to play a strong role in our stories. They all contribute to making a "positive tip" really happen. Most or all them may in fact be essential.


References and Resources

BOOK: Human Ecology - Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development

Identifying Ecotipping Points can be a challenge. Understanding basic human ecology principles can help to map out and evaluate alternatives. This book introduces those principles in an accessible, story-laden format.

Human ecology is the study of how human social systems relate to and interact with the ecological systems on which they depend. This book explains how ecosystems are organized and function; the interactions of human social systems with them; and how social institutions and processes contribute to or conflict with sustainability. It integrates long-standing ecological principles with more recent concepts from complex systems theory. Simple diagrams, examples, and exercises make the concepts easily understood. Ideal as a text for all college levels, as well as AP environmental science and background for K-12 teachers.


Duffy, D. (2012). Lesson Plan: The Resources We Live By. Retrieved from http://www.camelclimatechange.org/view/assignment/51cbf3b17896bb431f6adc31