Ecological Public Health

Course Number
5800 (Health Promotion)
Course Syllabus
View Syllabus
Course Instructor(s)
, Donald C Cole, Kate Mulligan


Ecological public health addresses the complex inter-relationships between health (humans and other species), societies and ecosystems, unpacking the myriad interconnections between the social and the ecological in the co-creation of conditions for human and ecosystem health and flourishing. In keeping with a political ecology stance, it will address issues of equity, social and environmental justice, governance, scale, meaning-making and impact. When viewed in global perspective, these dynamics are inevitably tied up with legacies of colonialism and inequities both between and within countries in different regions of the world.

In this course, we will ask: What are the key challenges for ecological public health now and into the future? How are these challenges related to historical and ongoing global forces and flows? How do people think about these challenges? What can people do about these challenges? How can we determine if such efforts are effective, while maintaining our integrity and resilience?


At the end of the course, we expect student participants to be able to:

Objective 1 Concepts

Demonstrate an understanding of the relevance and complexity of terms such as ecology and human health, drawing on concepts such as ecohealth; one health; planetary health; ecological public health; ecosystems; watersheds; biodiversity; sustainability; and resilience. Critique existing definitions, in recognition of different knowledges, in order to defend personal working definitions relevant to different peoples, places, times and scales.

Objective 2 – Relationships

Explicate the inter-relationships between political and economic power, environmental change, and human health in particular places/watersheds/ecosystems/ecoregions through the use of different frameworks & theories. Explain how these dynamics operate at, and across, different scales in the global North and South. Articulate the implications for one’s ethical practice with attention to respect, reciprocity, and responsibility.  Demonstrate mentorship of undergraduates in group work.

Objective 3 Tools

Illustrate the particular challenges that the diversity, breadth and complexity of ecosystem-health problems and responses pose to understanding and research. Select and apply different approaches and use a suite of observational and analytic tools in their work, including critical thinking and reflexivity.

Objective 4 Applications

Draw on their critical understanding of concepts, relationships, and tools as well as their values, motivations and place in the world, to formulate responses (actions, interventions, and practice or policy changes). Work collaboratively in a group to share these and develop ways to promote better global health (ecosystems, other species and humans). Communicate these in inspiring ways through multiple media and in a variety of settings: individual & group face-to-face, on-line, and other appropriate venues. Consider the ways that these may be applied in different professional and organizational settings.

course assessments

Weekly pre-class tasks (25%, due as per calendar)

Although there are tasks for each week, for six of the weeks, you will be expected to complete a specific task for grading. It should be about ½ to one page submitted before 17:00 each Tuesday. Each will be assessed by the TA, with brief feedback provided and rating between 0 (non-completion) and 5 (superb completion), in keeping with rubrics developed jointly by the TA and instructors. The best five out of your submissions will be included in this portion of your overall mark.

Classroom F2F session participation (5+5=10%)

A sign in sheet will be present at all sessions. It is the students’ responsibility to sign in or inform the lead instructor via email prior to the session if they cannot make it. To foster engagement in F2F sessions, participation will be graded from 0 (rare attendance or contributions) to 5 (full attendance, active participation and important contributions) by the lead instructor in consultation with the other instructor, TA and resource people. (5%)

In addition, each graduate student will be responsible for facilitating a seminar (9-10:00) around the graduate designated reading. Facilitation will be graded from 0 (unprepared and unable to facilitate) through to 5 (very well prepared, creative approach to facilitation, engaging all grad students, comprehensive discussion wrt concepts, relationships, tools and application in course objectives). (5%)

Group project (35%, written summary due Oct 17th, 17:00)

Working in a group of about five students, you develop an approach to communicating the need to advocate for policy and/or social change with respect to a specific ecological public health issue (could be Canadian with global implications – topic to be verified with the lead instructor).  The way you deal with the issue is intended to draw on both readings-viewings and students’ own experiences. Proceeding from your definition of the problem-issue-challenges being addressed clearly define who you as a group are (socio-ecological position-location, who is speaking), to what specific audience(s) you are communicating (your allies-supporters, external audiences such as the public etc.), and the steps-actions which you want your audience to join with you in addressing the issue. Consider global forces and actors (including non-human); b) respect for different ways of knowing (i.e. other than Western science and rationality); and c) motivators for change both among yourselves, your potential supporters, those with whom you want to communicate and broader system actors.

The overall goal of the presentation will be to educate and inspire, connecting with the emotional or visceral responses of the audience. Possible formats include an organizing tool and plan for a university club, a poster as part of an educational campaign, a video, music/spoken word/poetry; sociodrama-skit; an Avaaz-style email and petition around a letter to a set of politicians, a blog, or another campaign tool that you can imagine as discussed with the instructor.

Individual scholarly paper (30%: outline due Oct 31st 17:00; full paper due Dec 11th)

Each student will prepare a scholarly paper to explain the nature, causes and potential responses to a particular ecological health issue, drawing on a combination of  theoretical papers,  documentations of experience, scholarly syntheses/reviews, and multiple representations of responses (all citable).  The framing would ideally be transnational (across countries) but could be focused primarily within a country from the global South (Middle or Low Income Country) or global North (High Income Country).  It should reference concepts, relationships and analytical tools discussed in the course.

  1. Nature – begin with how it is experienced (ecological manifestations, lived experience and health consequences) in particular places by particular groups of people, including any inequitable patterns in terms of which groups of people are most affected, and other species as relevant.
  2. Lay out the ecological and political economic root causes, including how these have evolved historically. This exploration must acknowledge complex systemic interactions, multi-scalar interactions (from local to global), power dynamics, the role of non-humans and theoretical perspectives for understanding these.
  3. Responses you propose at different levels should flow from the characterization of the issue’s nature, causes, and existing evidence on/experience with those responses. Be clear on to who is (or needs to be) involved in the responses e.g. program practitioners, researchers, policymakers and others (i.e. the people you think most need to be involved). As graduate students, also include research response options.

General Requirements

Coming into the course, students should have some background in public health, environmental health OR ecology. This can include courses and/or research and/or practice which informs their interest in ecological public health. The course is designed to work with concepts and implications for practice, policy and research and hence is not primarily a methods course, so knowledge of underlying theory and common research methods would be an important asset at the graduate level.