What you will study
The module is organised into six blocks each of which combine print chapters with online textual, audio-visual, and computer-based interactive materials to offer you a highly varied but tightly integrated learning experience. The aim of this multimedia approach is to provide you with both a feeling for and understanding of global environmental issues as they take effect in particular locations and situations. Blocks 2 to 5 form the core of the module, each one focusing on a key global environmental challenge.
Block 1: Introduction
This begins by introducing you to a key focus of the module – the relationship between Earth as a lively place, full of dynamism and change, and Earth as a place to live, a place we make home. Through an exploration of issues including climate change, emerging infectious disease, bio-char production, and global land grab, you’ll discover the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues that can do justice to both the biophysical and social causes of environmental change.
Block 2: Life
Next, you’ll explore biological life in its various dimensions, especially the contemporary challenge of how human lifestyles can place biological life at risk. Using the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as an example, you’ll investigate the relationship between biodiversity and economic development. In addition, you will consider whether the role of human activities as a driver of a sixth mass extinction supports the proposal that we have entered a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene.
Block 3: Water
You’ll consider the challenge of ‘water security’ in this block and how what appears as a reasonably achievable goal is enormously complicated in practice, often leading to controversy and conflict. Using case studies of water scarcity, water pollution, sanitation, and watercourse management, you’ll see that making the right amount of water available at the right quality in the right place at the right time is a massive – and increasingly difficult – achievement.
Block 4: Carbon
The fourth block focuses on the challenge of carbon and how it changes form and location over a variety of timescales from the geological to the everyday. You will learn how and why much of the carbon that formed coal or oil millions of years ago is now being consumed as fossil fuels; of the contribution this makes to global climate change; and about the resulting push both for low carbon technologies and research into planetary technical fixes like geoengineering.
Block 5: Food
This block addresses the challenge that food poses as a global environmental issue. Now that agriculture has become a key driver of environmental change, it is becoming increasingly clear that different ways of providing food have different environmental consequences. Using examples from across the food chain, you’ll explore the implications of this and also why food has become such a key focus for those attempting to shift our patterns of production and consumption in more sustainable directions.
Block 6: Consolidation
The final block consolidates the module by demonstrating that the knowledge you will have acquired, the skills you will have practised, and the ideas that you will have traced throughout the module all add up to what we call an ‘environmental imagination’. This is a way of thinking about environmental issues that will serve you well, not only in any further studies but in your broader life as well. Using case studies of ecological restoration, climate-induced migration, and the Transition movement, you will put your environmental imagination to work in analysing some of the key ways that people around the world are striving to create better environmental futures.
You will learn
This module offers the opportunity for you to develop both a distinctive, interdisciplinary way of understanding environmental issues in general and deep knowledge of the particular environmental challenges on which it focuses in particular. More broadly, studying the module will also enhance your reading, writing, analytical, multimedia, and communication skills and heighten your ability to be an independent learner. You will learn to:
- interpret, explain, evaluate, and synthesise data and information in many different forms from the numerical and graphical through to the textual and audio-visual
- become familiar with multimedia tools that aid information searching, collection, annotation, and collaboration
- present your findings in a variety of forms from concise summaries through reports to structured essay-style arguments.
Such skills and attributes are highly valued by employers and can be applied to a wide variety of contexts.
While open to anyone with an interest in the issues covered, this module has particular vocational relevance to those working, or wanting to work, in the environment field. You will gain knowledge and understanding of both global and local environmental issues of direct interest to employers (for example water managements systems, climate science, and low carbon technologies), and be able to apply this to problem solving within public or professional contexts, including informing policy debates and report writing. You will work in a variety of settings, both independently and collaboratively with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, which will allow you to demonstrate effective communication skills and adaptability. Finally, you will learn to consider how matters of distribution, fairness, and social justice shape environmental issues and might be incorporated into sustainable environmental practice.