Not a day goes by without there being some alarming news about climate change, global warming, or impending oil shortage in the papers. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state with ever greater confidence that mankind is the culprit. The 2007 Nobel peace prize went to the IPCC and Al Gore Jr. “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”. Should you believe the IPCC and Al? Must we radically change our life styles to “save the planet”? What choices are we to make to secure our future energy supply?
In order to understand the claims of scientists and energy policy advocates and to arrive at a well-founded opinion, you need a basic understanding of the workings of the natural world. This is taught and studied in this course by focussing on different energy systems and their relevance for a sustainable future. Along the way you obtain basic working knowledge of the relevant parts of physics, chemistry and biology. Examples include: fundamental restrictions on the efficiency of energy conversion, (im)possibilities of solar energy use, (dis)advantages of biofuels and/or more clever ways of employing solutions provided by nature. Urgent issues related to sustainability – such as different energy scenarios, climate change, green chemistry and waste management – are studied in small groups at the end of the course. To allow for a sound judgement of different scenarios, this course also develops the tools to compare and quantify different options (albeit in a simple way).
During the course you also get the opportunity to elaborate on three topics of your own choice:
1. Your News Item where you work in a couple to give a short powerpoint presentation on what struck you in the news related to sustainability and/or energy.
2. A Poster Session where you summarize a topic of your choice on a poster and present it to your fellow students and the teachers.
3. The concluding Project where students form small teams to discuss and present (in a powerpoint and an essay) different aspects of energy technology, sustainability and /or the background of climate change (applying the basic scientific concepts taught before.) This could e.g. include renewable and non-renewable energy sources, the impending world oil shortage, green chemistry or other aspects related to the sustainability of our present and future society.
This course serves as a science breadth requirement and is a preferred prerequisite for the interdepartmental course UCINTSUS21 Sustainability. It is particularly useful for students without a science background.
In each week there are 2 x 2 hours of class room meetings plus 6 to 8 hours spent on reading, studying and home assignments. Class room meetings are dedicated to lectures and discussions (based on advance reading of textbook chapters or handout materials), problem solving sessions, and oral presentations. Students will work in pairs and choose a relevant recent news item, write a summary on it, and present it in class. You will make a poster on an issue related to the course material and present this in the final meeting before the mid-term break. In the concluding Project students will work in small teams covering aspects of a particular chosen topic and produce a group essay and presentation on this.