Environment: Science and Society

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Smith STC.421C and Prof David Jones STC.417


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Environment and Development and BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics. This course is available on the BA in Geography, BSc in Economic History and Geography and BSc in International Relations. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

An analysis of the debates concerning the nature, causes and effects of, and the alternative solutions to, the key natural environmental degradation and pollution problems faced by human societies. The purpose of this course is to provide essential information, first, about the scientific foundations for much environmental concern and, secondly, a social-science perspective on that science, identifying how it is communicated and employed in areas of environmental governance. The course provides both a grounded discussion of physical changes underlying some key environmental debates, and an introduction to approaches from social science concerning the governance implications of environmental science. Students will explore the role of science in environmental understanding and governance through a combination of lectures, classes, and practical environmental monitoring.


The course consists of three sections, although the specific content, order and relative proportion of teaching may change with staff availability:


Part A: Introduction and Themes: this introduces students to social scientific perspectives on scientific knowledge and environmentalism.


Part B: Environmental Risk and Science: this section examines the physical science basis of current regional and global environmental risks, including geohazards, wildfires, and global atmospheric pollution.


Part C: Science and Environmental Governance: this final section of the course examines how environmental science is incorporated in global environmental governance (specific examples include climate change, ozone depletion, and biodiversity conservation). The course concludes with an examination of the notion of sustainability science.


20 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 18 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the LT.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of both MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 pieces of coursework in the MT and LT.

Two essays/reports in the MT and LT.

Indicative reading

No one book or small group of books adequately covers the themes considered in the course, and separate reading lists are provided for each distinct part of the syllabus. Basic reading material includes:



Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.
Assignment (25%) in the LT.

Students may choose their assignment as either an environmental monitoring report (2000 words) or a summative essay (2000 words).

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2018/19: 21

Average class size 2018/19: 10

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
First 23.8
2:1 53.3
2:2 17.1
Third 4.8
Fail 1