What you will study
The contemporary world faces an unprecedented environmental challenge. Whether we look at global problems like climate change and pollution of the atmosphere, or more regional and local problems like loss of species, habitats and livelihoods, increasingly, international responses are sought to these dilemmas. Yet the global reach of this environmental challenge, and the complexity of causes and potential solutions, means that policy responses are also intertwined with issues of development, international justice and responsibility.
This module engages with this environmental crisis, and asks: what are the causes and consequences of environmental problems; what have been the political and policy responses to them; and what else could or should be done in the future? In assessing environmental policy in an international context, the module will help you to develop a better understanding of the range of these challenges. It will help you to understand the underlying social processes that shape them, and the conceptual and theoretical tools you need to analyse them. The module draws on ideas from a range of social science disciplines including geography and environmental studies; politics and international studies; economics; and development studies.
The module is divided into three blocks and each block has a book as a core component, accompanied by a range of online videos, audio and web-based interactive resources. As well as the conceptual skills you will learn, the module will also help you to develop your skills as an independent learner, equipping you with both the intellectual and key communication and study skills appropriate for OU level 3 study.
Block 1: A Warming World
The first block introduces one of the biggest, and most complex, of today’s environmental problems – climate change – in order to develop an overview of many of the issues, problems and constraints that recur throughout the module. Taking climate change as its focal point, Block 1 considers a range of perspectives on environmental problems including the relationship between science and policy, the international politics of environmental negotiations and economic and technological responses. Through this, Block 1 establishes a ‘toolkit’ of concepts and ideas, which will enable you to become conceptually equipped to consider other international environmental problems.
An online video on climate change (looking at Bangladesh and around the Thames estuary), audio programmes and a range of web-based activities will illuminate the subject and help you understand the issues and themes addressed in this block.
Block 2: Environmental Issues and Responses
The next block broadens out from climate change to consider a wide range of processes and problems. In some ways Block 2 is an extended look at ‘what is taking place in relation to international environmental problems today’. It begins by considering environmental implications of global and historical developmental trends – population growth, industrialisation and urbanisation – which help to shape the environmental problems we face, and set the international terrain on which they are addressed. These trends raise major questions about the world’s ability to pursue industrial development without compromising environmental sustainability and about the environmental effects of the world’s growing urban population.
Block 2 then focuses on how global environmental resources such as water and biodiversity are managed internationally, nationally and at the local level. Here you will be asking how environmental issues around water and biodiversity come to be defined and constructed as a problem, as well as the contests over policy responses that have been generated.
This block concludes by addressing the international political and economic dimensions of global environmental governance. It assesses the character and importance of formal intergovernmental institutions, agreements and the policies emanating from those arrangements. It also draws attention to wider notions of the ways in which governance of the international economy shapes and constrains responses to environmental problems.
The themes examined in Block 2 will be supported by online video and audio resources together with a range of interactive web-based activities.
Block 3: Prospects and Possibilities
The responses considered in Blocks 1 and 2 demonstrate a mixed record in response to environmental crises. In contrast to the first two blocks, this block considers what might be done differently in the future. Where and how can we build on the successes that have been achieved and overcome the constraints we face? And what can you do as an environmentally aware citizen and consumer?
Block 3 considers a range of factors and social movements operating in places and through networks at a variety of scales from local to international, but all with potentially global significance. It searches for various currently marginal but potentially inspiring practices and policy options both in industrialised countries and developing countries. You will be looking at examples of change within current structures, including consumer movements and new forms of governance, as well as at some more radical attempts to change structures. In addition to examining what kinds of change may be feasible, Block 3 also considers what might be desirable, from a variety of standpoints and in relation to concepts of social and environmental justice.
This module is an ideal next step from OU level 2 study. You will consolidate a variety of study skills that you have learnt at levels 1 and 2. However, in addition, as a level 3 module, it has a strong independent learning component, which includes step-by-step development of independent learning skills such as how to research sources outside of study materials, and how to evaluate and integrate them into your analysis. Specific web-based activities are combined with the module continuous assessment through the first two blocks developing your use of external material.
This module provides a sophisticated understanding of the processes and players that shape contemporary international environmental problems. It offers an interdisciplinary view of these, and the policy responses and debates that have arisen, drawing widely from the social sciences. As such, it is an invaluable guide to those interested in making sense of contemporary international environmental problems and wishing to analyse and evaluate questions of public policy and action in this increasingly important sphere. This makes the module especially valuable if you work in any organisation, public or private, that operates in the environmental field, particularly those with an international orientation, or which seeks to influence public policy and debate on international environmental matters.
The study of this module will equip you with a range of transferable skills, including how to conduct independent research and evaluate diverse sources, which are sought after in a number of areas including environmental management and policy, and planning.
Are you are interested in geography? This module will broaden your outlook. If you are also interested in going on to further study for a PGCE you will find our booklet Becoming a teacher useful.