MPhys Physics with Astrophysics / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Climate Change & Society

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM33201
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Why does climate change policy, despite attracting a worldwide interest, remain a disappointment? Is it because the world is not working hard enough to implement decisions, or because the issue is so extraordinarily difficult that no amount of good will be sufficient to control the rising greenhouse emissions? This unit is a meeting place of climate optimists and climate pessimists: the unit’s readings, research assignments, and weekly group debates will help you see a bigger picture, clear a fog of media clichés and platitudes, and help you scratch under the surface of generic policy buzz words: IPCC, consensus, mitigation, sustainability, clean development mechanism, climate governance, COP, green investments, climate policy, geongineering etc. 


Students will be able to understand the scientific information and key concepts that

underlie climate change, and incorporate current events and new scientific information into what they

have learned to foster critical thinking on future global climate change. They will:

  • understand the basic scientific foundation, key concepts and current scenarios that underlie global climate change science
  • Have an appreciation for the effect of climate variability and change on society throughout history
  • Become aware of climate change impacts, including possible meanings for both the
  • natural and the social world
  • incorporate current events (eg Brexit, Trump, Climate Finance) into the greater context of climate change impacts and policy
  • recognize the limits of current science-policy nexus, in particular of the use of modelling techniques in predicting and acting on climate change.
  • analyze climate change from multiple perspectives including analysis of stakeholders
  • analyze climate change from the perspectives of other people and nations
  • learn how to make explicit their own personal views regarding climate change 

This course is also available as a 20-credit version as HSTM33501.


  • The Greatest Empire
  • The Grand Experiment 
  • Science Triumphant
  • Politics: What Works
  • Ethics: What Gives 
  • Economics: The Showdown
  • Security: Tropic of Chaos
  • The City: The Asphalt Jungle
  • The Media: Tyranny of News
  • Futures: The Apocalypse? 
  • Overview and mock exam

Teaching and learning methods

This unit offers blended learning:

  • 11 x online lectures
  • 11 x face-to-face group debates

Knowledge and understanding

Be conversant with theories, methods and skills to study climate change from different historical, cultural and social perspectives.

Possess knowledge about the varieties of interactions between climate, science and social organisations (publics, government, private sector, indigenous communities)

Understand key elements of climate policy and the politics of climate negotiation

Intellectual skills

Possess the language and knowledge-base necessary to discuss the science, history and policy of climate change with their peers

Be able to close-read statements on climate change and interpret the policy implications

Think contextually: understand how environmental issues emerge as social problems that require policy measures

Be able to evaluate the nature of information presented in policy documents and the media

Practical skills

To pilot original proposals applicable to local climate governance policies from behavioral, educational or infrastructural perspectives

Have conceptual skills to understand the policy, public and economic statements regarding the climate change regime 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

The unit requires that students critically read and analyse select academic and media materials, research original topics, prepare for oral presentations, argue opposing views in real-time. Skills include: team work in preparation and presentation of research, critical and policy-oriented thinking, skills to understand the ‘hidden’ framings of climate change statements; writing skills: academic and for specific audiences.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Especially in terms of content analysis. Students taking this unit as 10 or 20 credit module will have an opportunity to further refine these skills as the project requires them to investigate in greater detail a specific problem, carry out innovative research and come up with innovative analytical methods to find out the relevant answers.
Group/team working
Seminar activities to be carried out in groups and debates presented by teams.
Each debate requires students to address the motion in a creative and convincing manner; the groups perform stronger when avoid generic arguments.
Project management
Students, whether working for an essay, presentation or a project, will take ownership of a task that would allow them to develop ideas on how to assimilate their readings and in-class assignments into an original, informed discussion on the subject. Coordination of project parts will be necessary to prepare for an effective debate.
Oral communication
Students will argue opposing views during their weekly debates and in less-structured seminar discussions. These discussions really help the students to frame arguments and defend views.
Use of databases, visual and other material, research for essay and project writing, team preparation for debates, use of a variety of sources.
Written communication
See above

Assessment methods

  • Essay 1500 words 50%
  • Expedition Photo Essay 1000 words 50%

Feedback methods

Students will receive to formative feedbacks during the course of the unit: (1) individual feedback to their presentations and debate and (2) individual feedback on their essay assignment. They will also have access to full feedback on their projects and exams. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments on Blackboard explaining the rationale for the marks given. All feedback on written coursework will be given within two weeks time, unless otherwise specified

Recommended reading

  • Mike Hulme (2009), Why We Disagree about Climate Change. Cambridge.
  • John Urry (2011). Climate Change and Society. Polity.
  • Anthony Giddens (2006). The Politics of Climate Change. Cambridge
  • Candis Callison (2014). How Climate Change Comes to Matter: the Communal Life of Facts. Duke University Press.
  • Roger A. Pielke Jr (2011). The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t tell you About Global Warming. Basic Books.
  • Maxwell Boykoff (2011). Who Speaks for the Climate: Making Sense on Media Reporting on Climate Change. Cambridge
  • Christian Parenti (2011). Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Nation Books.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vladimir Jankovic Unit coordinator

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