How can human populations and their environment coexist without destroying each other? This may be the most significant question facing future generations, yet little has been done to explore it. This October, SFI aims to change that with Population and Environment: Analytical Demography and Applied Population Ethics, its first-ever combined working group and short course.

Supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, this interdisciplinary, collaborative introduction to modeling and evaluating the future of human populations and their environments brings leading scientists together with graduate students and other early career researchers over four days this October 13-16. The working group will first synthesize knowledge in this area and develop a curriculum targeted at a multi-disciplinary graduate-level audience. The instructors then will work together to teach the newly developed curriculum.

“We want to give students a crash course in the most advanced tools to answer the most important questions,” explains SFI Director of Education Paul Hooper. “Students will be exposed to threads of wisdom from some of the world’s leading scientists in the fields of analytical demography, anthropology, economics, biology, and complexity science. And they’ll see that these diverse ideas allow you to take a very rigorous, mathematical, and realistic approach to modeling human populations and their ecosystems.”

Why SFI, and why now? For Hooper, it’s a classic SFI story.

“There’s been important progress on this question in individual disciplines,” Hooper says. “In the fields of demography and economics, scientists are building analytical models for understanding inequality, fertility, and education. At the same time, ecologists have been working on models of population-environment interactions that are generalized across species.”

But Hooper thinks the time is ripe to bring these ideas together in an open, interdisciplinary, collaborative environment, where the best of these various threads are woven together. Just as important, he says, is the goal of redistributing the curriculum to the next generation of scientists.

To ensure the knowledge is disseminated as broadly as possible, plans are forming to turn it into a free, online course so that anyone can access it. And with the capabilities of SFI Press, Hooper hopes to produce a textbook that can serve an interdisciplinary course on population and environment for the many students and scientists around the globe who will be tackling this issue in the coming decades.