BSc Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
The Human Planet

Unit code GEOG10402
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Environment, Education and Development
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


A number of prominent earth (or geo-) scientists are claiming that humans are inadvertently altering the entire ‘Earth System’ (that is, not only the atmosphere but also the cryosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, the pedosphere and upper lithosphere). In this light, anthropogenic climate change is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Anthropocene describes the new geological we are supposedly entering. This new course explores the scientific origins and status of the Anthropocene hypothesis, as well as its implications for societies worldwide. The hypothesis is profoundly geographical: it suggests that the human impact on the physical environment is both planetary in scale and, in significant respects, irreversible. It also suggests that a deep knowledge of biophysical processes and outcomes must, at the global scale, be combined with an equally deep understanding of how societies work.


This course seeks to:

  • Explain the origins and content of the science underpinning the Anthropocene hypothesis
  • Consider how scientific claims about planetary change influence the decisions of governments and ordinary citizens
  • Explore some of the technological implications of the Anthropocene hypothesis
  • Examine how the hypothesis has been used by non-scientists seeking to shape public understanding of humanity and the Earth
  • Consider the implications of the hypothesis for geographical research

Learning outcomes

When this course concludes, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the origins and content of Anthropocene science
  • Understand the key scientific concepts, methods and arguments which have been deployed to understand and define the Anthropocene
  • Explain why geoscientific knowledge is insufficient to alter wider understandings of, or behaviour towards, the Earth
  • Assess the merits and problems of ambitious technical solutions to the environmental problems of the Anthropocene
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of ‘alarmist’ and more positive ways of thinking about the implications of Anthropocene science


The course will comprise 10 weeks of lectures with 2 study weeks. The lectures will be ordered as follows:

  1. Introduction: ‘Anthropogenic climate change is only the tip of the iceberg …’ (N Castree)


Section 1: The science

  1. Anthropocene science: Quaternary stratigraphy and Earth System Science (M Evans)
  2. Scientific debate and disagreement: is the Holocene really ending and when did the Anthropocene begin? (M Evans)
  3. Predictive science, environmental management and precaution in ‘post-normal’ situations (M Evans)


Section 2: Science and society

  1. Anthropocene scientists as shapers of public understandings of the Earth: exploring the social limits of expertise (N Castree)
  2. Why might the environmental and social implications of the Anthropocene be ignored? (N Castree)


Section 3: The technical and political implications of Anthropocene science

  1. The promise and perils of geoengineering; the ‘return’ of nuclear power? (N Castree)
  2. Political and economic inertia: can governments respond collectively to the Anthropocene challenge? (N Castree)


Section 4: Debating the moral and political implications of Anthropocene science

  1. ‘Green’, ‘red’ and passive revolutions: from ‘dark ecology’ to eco-Marxism to ‘the Good Anthropocene’ (N Castree)



  1. The Anthropocene and the future of Geography (N Castree and M Evans)

Teaching and learning methods

The course is lecture-based. Most weeks the two-hour lecture will include class discussion and activities. Students will be expected to complete assigned readings between lectures. A high level of attendance is expected and will help ensure that you possess basic knowledge on which to build for the course assessment. Your learning will be supported by a Blackboard site including extended reading, supplementary written materials, and other audio-visual resources.

Knowledge and understanding

During this course unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following skills:

  • Close reading and interpretation of advanced scientific publications
  • Evaluating the significance of different kinds of evidence and argument
  • Developing and communicating your own ideas based on a detailed analysis of various sources
  • Working independently

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

• Verbal feedback through discussion sessions within the lectures;

• Individual verbal feedback during staff consultation hours;

• Feedback on your progress with practice exam questions;

• Feedback on exam performance in your second year academic advisor meetings.

Recommended reading

Though there is no core text for this course, the following books are well worth reading to support your learning:

  • David Biello (2017) The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age (New York: Scribner).
  • Cornell, S., and I.C. Prentice (eds.) 2012. Understanding the Earth System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Ellis, E. (2017) Anthropocene (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Oliver Morton (2016) The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (London: Granta Books).
  • Will Steffen et al. (2004) Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet Under Pressure (Berlin: Springer) Available to save as a PDF at:


Key journals

Anthropocene Review; Earth’s Future; Nature Climate Change.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 90

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martin Evans Unit coordinator
Noel Castree Unit coordinator

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