UCL Department of Geography
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Convenor: Dr Peter Jones

Unit Value: 0.5 units                               Year 2                        Term 2


Course Description and Aims

The course introduces students to the main ideas currently framing the environmental agenda in advanced economies, including sustainable development, the precautionary principle, environmental justice and overconsumption. The course moves across three broad conceptual areas:

1)      Governance – drawing on debates about environmental ethics, sustainable development, environmental governance and politics

2)      Discourse – exploring the ways in which claims are made about who should govern as well as existing discourses around ecological modernization

3)      Practice – examining how more sustainable lifestyles might be promoted according to the various factors shaping contemporary consumption and the value in doing so

The broad themes are illustrated through case studies on various international environmental issues (including fisheries management, climate change and sustainable consumption) and the effectiveness of policy initiatives in addressing them. The purpose is to illustrate the breadth of contemporary debate about environmental futures, the different kinds of knowledge used in these debates, and their effectiveness in altering private behaviour towards, and public policies about, the environment.

More broadly, the aim is to develop your own ideas about environmental issues and how societies should respond to them. ‘Solving’ environmental problems is rarely straightforward or uncontested, and there are few situations in which there is a self-evidently ‘correct’ response based on the evidence available. What is acceptable to one interest group (eg government) may be strongly opposed by others (eg environmental pressure groups, local residents) and we need to understand the nature of these conflicts before ‘solutions’ can be sought. This is a difficult task given our limited knowledge of how environmental systems work, the different values interest groups in society hold and the scope for environmental issues influencing their actions, the complexity and uncertainty that surrounds environmental issues, and the variable scales over which they function. Many of the topics are currently controversial and students are advised to keep a newspaper clippings file of key environmental issues.


Form of Assessment

GEOG2009 is designed as a reading course with no assessed coursework. Assessment is through a single three hour examination in May. As a reading course, students should assume they need to do eight hours reading per week to go alongside the classes, in addition to exam revision.


Relationship to other Courses

Although we discuss the role of science in understanding environmental processes, the course draws its main ideas from social science and builds upon aspects of GEOG 1004 (Human Ecology).


Overview Texts

Beder S (2006) Environmental Principles and Policies: an interdisciplinary introduction. Earthscan.

Chasek PS, Downie DL and Brown JW (2006, Fourth Edition) Global Environmental Politics. Westview Press.

Dryzek J (2013, Third Edition) The Politics of the Earth: environmental discourse. Oxford University Press (OUP).

Howes M (2005) Politics and the Environment: risk and the role of government and industry. Earthscan

Jackson, T (2006) The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Consumption. Earthscan.

O’Riordan T (ed) (2000, Second Edition), Environmental Science for Environmental Management. Prentice Hall

Roberts J (2004) Environmental Policy. Routledge.