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Study information

Climate Change: Science and Society

Module titleClimate Change: Science and Society
Module codeGEO2317
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Saffron O'Neill (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In this module, you will develop your skills in the analysis of global climate change, using perspectives from physical and human geography, economics and politics. You will get a strong grounding in climate and society relations, economic principles, ethical dimensions and the governance and politics of climate change. You will be challenged to think about the topic’s interlinked human and physical geographic dimensions through the two assessments.

Both assessments are designed to stimulate your interest in the lecture content beyond the lecture environment. They are designed to promote peer-to-peer and independent learning.

First, you will be asked to write a reflective essay based on personal experience. You will be encouraged to set yourself a week-long challenge to address climate change mitigation or adaptation. This action could be related to food, travel, waste or energy use, for example. The assessment is then an essay exploring action and barriers to inaction, and interdisciplinary theories of the embodied experience of living with climate mitigation and adaptation, drawing on the literature on public engagement with climate change and environmental risk. It will draw on your experience of carrying out this particular climate challenge.

Second, you will take part in a series of topical debates about climate change. Past debates have explored the role of insurance in mitigating flood risk, the ethics of geoengineering, and the role of the media in communicating climate change. You will work in a small group to prepare a presentation, articulated as a debate, presenting a clear, articulate and convincing argument either for or against the debate motion. Your opposing team will also do the same. Then, the debate will open up to the audience of your peers for questions. Each debate team will be given a starter reading list, and expected to go beyond this literature in order to construct their debate argument.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will:

  • analyse human-environment relations through examining how weather, hazards and long term environmental change affect society, through issues related to ongoing faculty research such as flooding, heatwaves, migration, and risk communication
  • analyse the causes and consequences of global scale changes in environment
  • analyse the interaction of consumption with greenhouse gas emissions intensity, and options to dematerialise the economy
  • explore alternative perspectives, theories and methods for investigating climate change as a social phenomenon and environmental reality, as embedded in current research on climate change risks and on emissions reduction behaviour.

The module involves in-depth workshops and class debates that seek to develop the following graduate attributes:

  • interpersonal skills through small group discussions and formalised debates carried out over multiple weeks of preparation
  • confidence in assessing the robustness of scientific evidence and in generating and delivering verbal presentations
  • problem solving through moral reasoning and analysis of justice criteria; analysis of social strategies, resolving moral dilemmas, and policy formulation; especially for the reflective essay
  • articulating scientific concepts and evidence with confidence through enquiry-led research on assessed debate topic; including providing peer feedback on topics during class time
  • team management in the assessed debate topics.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe how the main scientific and social concepts of climate change have developed
  • 2. Outline the concepts and principles of policy analysis applied to climate change issues at various scales, from energy choices to global environmental agreements
  • 3. Illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of climate change research, policy and practice

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Adopt a cross-disciplinary perspective for the development of knowledge and understanding
  • 5. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 6. Analyse critically data on the causes, impacts and consequences of climate change as an example of human-environment relations
  • 7. Analyse critically data on the social dimensions of climate change; including through geopolitical relations, economic dimensions, and hazards and vulnerability approaches

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently; through both written and verbal means
  • 9. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument and identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 10. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management)

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Human causes and impacts of climate change
  • Decarbonising the economy and reducing climate change
  • Land use change and its links to climate change
  • Adapting to changing weather and climate risks
  • Social approaches to hazards and vulnerability to climate change
  • Climate policy and governance
  • Public engagement with climate change
  • Ethics of climate change

Student-led debates and the reflective essay will consider pertinent contemporary questions regarding the interdisciplinary and contested nature of climate change science, society and policy.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching16Lectures and interactive workshops
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Assessed class-led debates
Guided Independent Study40Reading and preparation associated with debate topics
Guided Independent Study76Reading associated with lecture materials and with essay and debate preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Peer assessment of debate group presentations3-hour sessionsAllOral feedback from peers during debates

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Reflective critical essay502000 words1-10Written
Group oral presentation with questions/debate5015 minutes1-10Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Reflective critical essayReflective critical essay1-10August Ref/Def
Group oral presentation with questions/debatePowerPoint summary of presentation1-10August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Leichenko, R. and O’Brien, K. (2019) Climate and Society: Transforming the Future, Wiley.
  • Dryzek, J., Norgaard, R. and Schlossberg, D. (eds.) (2011) Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Oxford University Press.
  • Hulme, M. (2009) Why we Disagree about Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Two important journal resources are:

Key words search

Climate change, climate impacts, vulnerability, hazards, geopolitics, energy

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date