Energy, Environment, and the Future: Crisis and Opportunity

Energy, Environment, and the Future: Crisis and Opportunity, City University of Hong Kong (since 2008-2016)

  • Program: B.SocSc. Environmental Policy Studies; B.Soc.Sc. Asian and International Studies
  • Lecturer: Graeme Lang
  • Class size: approximately 60 students.
  • Duration: 3 hours/week, 13 weeks; elective course.
  • Objective: the ability to research and discuss the following, and to apply this knowledge to planning of programs and policies: types of energy sources and their costs and risks; extraction, consumption, and depletion of fossil fuels, and the social, political, and environmental consequences; renewable energy: types, costs, and availability; nuclear energy: costs, advantages, risks; planning for low-carbon economies.
  • Focus: Topics discussed in the course include:
    1. Energy and society: preindustrial forms of energy; the ‘great leap’ in energy in the 18th-19th centuries: coal and steam; the ‘oil revolution’ from the late 19th century;
    2. Depletion of fossil fuels, peak oil, peak coal, etc.; impact on economies, transportation, the global food system, and globalization;
    3. Extracting and consuming fossil fuels: the impacts on the producing and consuming areas. Coal (mines and mine disasters; coal politics); Oil: ‘resource curse’ thesis – corruption, rise in inequality, distortion of local economy, pollution; petropolitics;
    4. ‘Unconventional oil’ and gas: tar sands (bitumen) in Canada: environmental and health impacts; shale gas and ‘tight oil’ (U.S.): extraction issues, ecological impacts;
    5. Nuclear power: costs, benefits, risks and dangers; variations between countries in use of nuclear power (e.g. France, Japan, U.S., China); disasters (Chernobyl, Fukushima);
    6. Renewable energy sources: hydro, wind, solar, biofuels; the question of fuel replacement, scale, advantages and disadvantages, etc.
    7. Planning for low-carbon organizations, cities, economies, and food production: cases and examples.
  • Student evaluation: essay topics of 1,500 – 2,000 words around the themes presented above under Focus.
  • Course evaluation: rated highly by students, who appreciate the deep understanding of the energy system, which they had taken for granted and is not covered in other courses.
  • Challenge: finding local/regional examples of innovative experiments and solutions.