Session 2: Know your subject

By the end of studying this unit, participants should be able to:

  • Expand their knowledge on global and climate change.
  • Make connections between sustainability and climate change.
  • Understand the role that humans can play in mitigating climate change disasters.

The link between the “Evolving Planet” and “Phenology.

Phenology can be defined as: “the study of the timing of recurring biological phases, the causes of their timing with regard to biotic and abiotic forces, and the interrelation among phases of the same or different species” (Global Phenological Monitoring,

Humans are positioned as the cause of biodiversity loss and climate change on a planetary scale. Phenological studies on climate change validate this perspective as they track current real-world changes in the timings of recurring seasonal life-cycle events. This discursive evidence creates a narrative of risk and a modern human condition requiring ESD for humans to engage with and resolve an urgent need for problem-solving and change practices for the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. In this way, the practice of the sciences is flagging humans as the anthropogenic cause of climate change that needs to be resolved through education.

Phenology is the study of the timing of recurring life cycle events and their relationship to seasonal climatic changes (Rathcke and Lacey, 1985). Flowering time ultimately influences plant success as this event has important implications for processes such as pollination and seed dispersal. While flowering time may be influenced by a range of selective factors such as climatic variation (Debussche et al., 2003), soil moisture (Struck, 1994), pollinator availability (Waser, 1979Johnson and Bond, 1994) and conditions for recruitment (Pierce, 1984Johnson, 1992b), there is evidence that, within lineages, flowering time may also be phylogenetically constrained (Johnson, 1992a). Johnson (1992a) investigated patterns of flowering in the Cape Flora in relation to rainfall seasonality and phylogenetic affinity, and suggested that strong differences in flowering times between some lineages (particularly in monocotyledons that produce single inflorescences) could be explained by the timing of other phenophase events such as seed dispersal and germination.

The seasonal cycles of early African survival units can be read for the phenological alignment of seasonal knowledge practices over centuries of high climate variability in the southern African region. Human practices and climatic seasonal cycles are explored as an area of sociological enquiry that have the potential to inform current ecological and climate research on phenological change.

The African ‘survival unit’ roots of Process Sociology after Norbert Elias are used to critique the narrow scientistic focus in many current phenology studies on cyclical patterns within species and habitats. Emerging insights point to how research on phenology and climate change needs to include the historical sociologies and seasonal historiographies of indigenous peoples who have lived within seasonal regularities and high seasonal variation in the southern African region over hundreds of years in our recent past.

Diagrammatic Representation of Phenology - Plants

Accessed at

Engage on the course forum

Click on the tab below to the course forum. The discussion on this forum is based on the readings presented above.

Links to Sustainable Development

The SDGs set a goal to protect the planet “so it can support the needs of the present and future generations.” Nearly every day we are seeing just how connected – and fundamental – climate change is to global development.

The SDGs explicitly include four of the nine planetary boundaries: freshwater (SDG 6), climate (SDG 13), oceans (SDG 14) and biodiversity (SDG 15). Goal 15 especially – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. This SDG is linked to the revolving planet.