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Energy, Environment, and Sustainability

Vak 2013-2014


[BSc] S, PSc

Admission Requirements

Prior participation in ‘Sustainability’ courses such as Earth Systems Science, Sustainable Energy Strategies Environment and Development will provide access to this course. If you have any questions about admission to this course, please feel free to contact me.


Ensuring a stable supply of energy is a global concern and the focus of increasing attention. The extraction and use of traditional sources of energy, i.e. fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), is associated with diverse and long-lasting environmental effects and is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic GHG emissions. The continued viability of fossil fuels as a primary energy source is beleaguered by climate-environment risks and security of supply issues affected by physical resource reserves, fuel prices, energy consumption, and unstable geopolitics in many fuel producing regions. Such concerns over climate change and security of supply represent a significant driving force for the implementation of alternative energy strategies focused on sustainable energy sources.

This course adopts an interdisciplinary focus and explores various energy-related issues through an environmental, social, and economic lens. For example, we will investigate the links between different energy resources and a range of marine and terrestrial environmental issues, as well as the social impacts of both fossil fuel extraction/combustion and renewable energy implementation. In short, we will examine the role of the global carbon cycle, the climate system, fossil fuel and nuclear power as energy sources, renewable energy systems (special focus on wind and hydropower), and the sustainability of shale gas hydraulic fracturing.

Course Objectives

Upon completing this course students should be able to:

  • Think holistically about global energy issues and energy-environment interactions (including the impact of our energy use on the climate system)
  • Critically assess how various energy sources impact the environment
  • Identify and analyse the key aspects of the “energy debate”
  • Critically assess whether an energy system is sustainable
  • Undertake a research project and execute a comprehensive report
  • Display a capacity to communicate effectively, both orally and in the written form, about energy related issues

Mode of Instruction

This course will be assessed through a mixture of written and oral assessments. More specifically, students will be assessed based on constructive class participation (including leading class discussion and submission of a weekly web response), a written exam, oral presentation, and a final research project.

Students will develop an oral presentation on a topic assigned at the beginning of the Block and will be directed towards relevant literature. Through a final research report, students will also have the freedom to develop a research project on an energy issue of their choice. The topic will be pre-approved by the instructor during a one-to-one meeting in week 5.


Assessment: Participation
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Weekly web post (Week 1-6):
For Tuesday’s class: Due day before first weekly seminar by 5pm (i.e. Monday)
For Friday’s class: Due by 9am on Friday

Assessment: Written exam
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Tuesday September 24

Assessment: Oral presentation (15-20 minutes)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: TBA

Assessment: Final research project
Percentage: 40%
-Participation in a stakeholder debate (15%) Week 7
-Project (25%) Week 8, final essay due Friday 18th October by 5pm

This course will be assessed through a mixture of written and oral assessments. More specifically, students will be assessed based on constructive class participation including submission of a weekly web response, a written exam, oral presentation (on a topic assigned at the beginning of the Block), and a final research project including a roundtable stakeholder debate. It is expected that students will engage actively in class discussions and debates.

Please read the following section carefully:

Regarding the weekly assignments:
One web-post must be submitted per week. Overall you need to complete six individual web-post assignments. Based on the literature you are required to respond to the readings by writing a 400‐450 word short discussion/reflection to be submitted via Blackboard (under ‘discussions’). If a web-post is submitted late you will not receive credit for that specific web-post.
You must keep up to date with the web postings to earn a passing grade for participation.
If one or more web-posts are missing at the end of week 8, you will receive a ‘0’ for the ‘Weekly web-post’ portion of the participation grade (i.e. 15%). Furthermore, if you are late in submitting a specific assignment (such as the final research project), you will receive a ‘0’ for that individual assignment.

Late papers:
Late papers/assignments will not be accepted unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Attendance: Attendance at every class is expected. Failure to attend class will negatively impact your participation grade. If you will be absent from class, you must notify me in advance.

Participation: You are expected to participate actively in class discussions and take notes. Your participation grade will reflect your active participation in class discussions, your serving as a discussion leader, and your preparation for class (i.e. that you have read the required readings and written the weekly web-post).

Oral presentations: Over the course of several weeks (specific details can be found in the weekly course breakdown below), a block of time will be dedicated exclusively to student oral presentations.

Feedback and office hours: You may expect to receive general feedback on the weekly web-postings during class discussion. Each student will have a 15 minute meeting with me to discuss your final research project during week 5.

Collaboration and academic honesty: All material submitted to meet course requirements must be a student’s own original work – written by you, in your own words, and submitted to one class only. Plagiarism will not be tolerated and is taken very seriously.


All required course readings will be made available electronically or distributed in class.

Contact Information

Dr. Bríd Walsh (

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to energy and the environment

Week 2: Climate change, carbon, and energy

Week 3: Fossil fuels and the environment (including a case study on the Corrib Gas Controversy)

Week 4: Sustainable energy options: nuclear power and renewable energy

Week 5: Hydropower: mega-dams, storage capacity, and local communities

Week 6: Wind energy: scientific tipping points and social acceptance

Week 7: Hydraulic fracturing ‘fracking’: Squeezing the rocks

Week 8: Reading week

Preparation for first session

Not applicable