Environment: Science and Society

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Smith STC.421C, Dr Nora Sylvander and Dr Jessica Templeton


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 Science, Risk and Policy: this section examines the physical science basis of current regional and global environmental risks, including geohazards, wildfires, land-use change, and 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.


In the Department of Geography and Environment, teaching will be delivered through a combination of classes/seminars, pre-recorded lectures, live online lectures, in-person lectures and other supplementary interactive live activities.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures across Michaelmas and Lent Term.


This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas Term and Week 6 of Lent Term.

Formative coursework

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

One essay/report in MT, one mock exam essay in 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:


  • T. Forsyth, Critical Political Ecology; The Politics of Environmental Science, 2003;
  • A. Goudie (Ed), The Human Impact Reader, 6th edition, 2006;
  • M. K. Hill, Understanding Environmental Pollution, 1997;
  • J. Houghton, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, 5th edition, 2015;
  • M. Hulme, Why We Disagree About Climate Change, 2009;
  • A.M. Mannion, Dynamic World: Land Cover and Land-Use Change, 2002;
  • G. T. Miller (Ed), Living in the Environment, 2000;
  • K. Smith, Environmental Hazards, 2001;
  • United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP Yearbook 2015, 2015;
  • M. Whitehead, Environmental Transformations, 2014.


Exam (60%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Assignment (40%) in the LT.

Students may choose their assignment as either an environmental monitoring report (3000 words) or a summative essay (3000 words).

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 29.5
2:1 53.7
2:2 14.7
Third 2.1
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2019/20: 34

Average class size 2019/20: 18

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills