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Environment: sharing a dynamic planet

Environmental issues pose challenges. What are the biophysical and social causes of environmental change? What exactly is an environmental issue and why are they often controversial and difficult to resolve? How can we make a difference? You'll address all of these questions as you explore four key global environmental concerns – life, water, carbon, and food – through a rich and interactive set of study materials. As you do so, you'll develop a distinctive way of thinking about environments and environmental issues that draw on the insights of both natural and social sciences to be at once intellectually innovative and practically relevant.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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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 diseases, 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'll 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'll 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, your environmental imagination is put 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.

Vocational relevance

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'll gain knowledge and understanding of both global and local environmental issues of direct interest to employers (for example, water management 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'll 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'll learn to consider how matters of distribution, fairness, and social justice shape environmental issues and might be incorporated into sustainable environmental practice.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor to help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and who you can ask for advice and guidance. We aim to provide online tutorials. Recordings of these will typically be made available.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Environment: sharing a dynamic planet starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 when we expect it to start for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)

Entry requirements

This an OU level 2 module, and you need to have a good knowledge of the subject area, obtained either through OU level 1 study or by doing equivalent work at another university.

Our key introductory OU level 1 modules Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) or Introducing the social sciences (DD102) would be ideal preparation.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

October 2024 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 19/04/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You'll be provided with module books and have access to the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • an assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums.

You will need

Some of the web activities in this module use the HTML 5 system. In order to display this you will need Internet Explorer 9, the latest version of Firefox or Chrome or other modern HTML 5 compliant browser. If you have a computer with a Windows XP operating system, you will need to install Firefox or Chrome or other modern HTML 5 compliant browser for these activities, as you cannot use Internet Explorer 8.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DST206 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.