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MSc Environmental Governance / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Climate Emergency, Technology and Society

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG70931
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

What is a climate emergency? Why do people disagree about it? What is the role of technology in responding to it? How can we reduce and remove greenhouse gas emissions? How can we adapt to the impacts of climate change? Should we reflect sunlight back into space to cool the planet? How can we make better decisions about climate technologies? How do we govern a climate emergency? This interdisciplinary course unit will explore these questions and more in providing an overview of the risks of anthropogenic climate change and societal responses to them. It is a compulsory core unit for students on MSc Climate Change, but can be taken as an option by others.

It begins by examining the risks of climate change, including global temperature rise, sea level rise, extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, storms, and compound events, as well as large-scale discontinuities in the form of climate tipping points and ‘Hothouse Earth’. It looks at why more science does not lead to more climate action in response to these threats, and how culture and values shape the way people perceive them and express preferences in responding to them.

The unit then develops a critical understanding of the technologies available to us in responding to the risks of a climate emergency. First, it explores mitigation options for reducing and removing greenhouse gas emissions, including demand reduction, energy efficiency, and low carbon energy supply, as well as technological and natural approaches to carbon dioxide removal. Second, it considers adaptations to the impacts of climate change, including engineered and nature-based solutions, as well as social and institutional adjustments. Third, it examines more speculative ideas for reflecting sunlight away from the Earth using geoengineering by solar radiation management.

Finally, the unit considers the social and technical evaluation of these technologies. It develops a critique of mainstream methods of technology assessment and makes the case for public participation in decision making and a wider broadening out and opening up of assessment framings. It concludes by looking at the challenges of governing a climate emergency and the prospects for generating solutions to climate change that are inclusive of divergent values and beliefs

Aims

  • To provide a background on the risks of climate change, including global temperature rise, sea level rise, extreme weather events and climate tipping points
  • To explain why people perceive the risks of a climate emergency differently, and express different preferences for how we respond to them
  • To provide a critical understanding of how technological solutions are classified, particularly in relation to ‘nature-based’ and ‘social’ interventions
  • To explore the social and technical dimensions of climate technologies spanning mitigation, adaptation and solar radiation management
  • To provide a critique of mainstream methods of technology assessment, and the means for broadening out and opening up assessment framings
  • To examine the challenges of governing a climate emergency, as well as the prospects for generating solutions that are inclusive of different social values

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit students should be able to:

  • Discuss the risks of climate change facing society
  • Explain different perceptions of climate change and preferences for climate solutions
  • Deconstruct and critique classifications of climate solutions
  • Assess climate solutions against a range of criteria
  • Critique mainstream methods of technology assessment and explain the value of broadening out and opening up assessment framings
  • Discuss the challenges of governing a climate emergency and the prospects for generating solutions that are inclusive of different social values
  • Collaborate in developing and presenting arguments for debate on climate change topics
  • Formulate written arguments in relation to climate change topics

Teaching and learning methods

The unit is delivered through weekly two-hour sessions typically composed of a one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar. Seminar activities include discussions, debates, and practical exercises. A high level of participation is required from all students throughout the unit. Wider reading around the themes of the lectures is expected. Formative feedback will be given during lectures and seminars. The course is supported by a dedicated Blackboard site.

Assessment methods

Assessment activity

Length required

Weighting within unit

Group debate on a contested proposition about the climate emergency or societal responses to it. Topics will be allocated to groups of students by the convenor. The coursework will be assessed through 1) your contribution to the debate, and 2) a short written summary of the debate

20-minute debate plus 600-word written summary

40% (debate and written summary each worth 20% of the final grade)

Individual essay on a topic chosen by you from a list supplied by the convenor.

2,000 words

60%

Feedback methods

Formative feedback will be given during lectures and seminars.

Recommended reading

Blackstock, J. and Low, S. (Eds.) (2018): Geoengineering Our Climate: Ethics, Politics and Governance. Routledge: Oxon, UK.

Hulme, M (2022): Climate Change. Routledge: Oxon, UK.

IPCC (2022): Climate Change 2022: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC: Geneva, CH.

Leichenko, R. and O'Brien, K. (2019): Climate and Society: Transforming the Future. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK.

Matthewman, S. (2011): Technology and Social Theory. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, UK.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2015): Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool the Earth. The National Academies Press: Washington DC, US.

The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering (2018): Greenhouse Gas Removal. The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering: London, UK.

Key journals include: Global Environmental Change, Nature Climate Change, Science, Technology and Human Values, Public Understanding of Science, WIREs Climate Change, Climatic Change, Environmental Science and Policy, Frontiers in Climate, Energy Research and Social Science.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rob Bellamy Unit coordinator

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