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Climate Change & Society

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM33501
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Why does climate change policy, despite attracting a worldwide interest, remain a disappointment? Is it because the world is not working hard enough to implement existing climate policies, or because the issue is so difficult that no amount of good work will be sufficient to control the rising greenhouse emissions?

You will explore why climate change became the environmental and socio-economic problem of the century; why it took so long after the discovery of the greenhouse effect for politicians to become aware of its cataclysmic potential; and who brought the issue to the policy arena. 

The unit sets recent - and future - developments in the context of the historic background in which climate change affected the material life of both traditional and high-output societies. It explores the role of science, the function of politics, and the promise of industry to bring the problem under control and to the fore of public policy.

The unit further explores how climate change features in the public sphere and whether the media works to be transparent in conveying scientific knowledge.

The unit suits students of all academic backgrounds, including humanities students, who are keen to use creative approaches to think about today's environmental issues.


This unit explores why climate change has attracted so much public, political and economic attention during the last 50 years. Is climate change changing everything? Is it changing anything? The unit covers the issue from various perspectives: scientific, cultural, political, economic, advocacy and media. The unit is suited to arts, humanities and science students interested in the scientific, social and policy aspects of climate change.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Describe the scientific, economic and cultural foundation and key concepts that underlie global climate change.
  • Discuss methods used to study climate change from different historical, cultural and social perspectives.
  • Identify how climate change emerged as a social problem that requires policy measures.
  • Evaluate climate change policy and the politics of climate negotiation with reference to a wide range of stakeholders.
  • Have an informed view on the role of the public advocacy in shaping climate change action.


Content may vary from year to year in response to contemporary events and student interest, but will typically address the following broad topics:

  • The meanings of 'climate'
  • History of climate science
  • Consensus on global warming
  • Politics of climate change
  • Ethics of climate change
  • Economics of climate change
  • Climate change and security
  • Climate activism
  • Climate change in the media
  • Climate Apocalypse?

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, seminars and independent study. Online support through clinics on reading, writing and fieldwork. Occasional guest speakers.

Knowledge and understanding

Students should / will be able to:

  • Be conversant with theories, methods and skills to study climate change from different historical, cultural and social perspectives.
  • Understand the scientific foundation and key concepts that underlie global climate change.
  • Gain knowledge about the varieties of interactions between climate, science and social organisations (publics, government, private sector, indigenous communities). 
  • Analyse key elements of climate change policy and the politics of climate negotiation. 
  • Assimilate new information and integrate it into class activities and research projects. 
  • Explore the topic further through original research.

Intellectual skills

On completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Investigate in greater detail a specific problem, carry out innovative research and come up with innovative analytical methods to find out the relevant answers.
  • Become familiar with the language and knowledge-base necessary to discuss the science, history and policy of climate change with their peers.
  • To close-read and interpret the statements on climate change and policy implications. 
  • Evaluate the nature of information presented in policy documents and the media.

Practical skills

On completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Propose original research topics applicable to the unit's themes.
  • Become familiar with the vocabulary related to the policy and science of climate change.
  • Communicate orally during weekly debates and in less-structured seminar discussions.
  • Improve observational and interpretive skills during fieldwork.
  • Research and write a literature-based project, integrating scientific, historical and social viewpoints.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • The unit requires that students critically read and analyse select academic and media materials, research original topics, prepare for and participate in seminar discussions, argue opposing views.

Skills include:

  • Identifying and providing rationales for researching a particular topic.
  • Preparation and presentation of research based on critical reading of sources.
  • Writing skills: academic and for specific audiences.
  • Critical analysis of resources and presentation of research results.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
General analytical skills needed for critical study of any environmental issue.
Contextualisation skills required for lateral thinking and synthetic engagement with environmental problems.
Project management
Students will take ownership of essay/project/presentation that would allow them to assimilate the content and in-class assignments into an original, informed discussion on the subject. Coordination of project parts will be necessary to prepare for an effective debate.
Oral communication
Presentation techniques, oral expression and ad-hoc discussion points developed during debates.

Assessment methods

Essay - 25%

Expedition Photo Essay - 25%

Project - 50%

Feedback methods

Students will receive individual feedback on their essay assignments, as well as their project. 

All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments on Blackboard explaining the rationale for the marks given.

All feedback on written coursework will be given within two weeks time, unless otherwise specified.

Recommended reading

  • Mike Hulme (2009), Why We Disagree about Climate Change. Cambridge.
  • John Urry (2011) Climate Change and Society. Polity.
  • Anthony Giddens (2006). The Politics of Climate Change. Cambridge.
  • Candis Callison (2014). How Climate Change Comes to Matter: the Communal Life of Facts. Duke University Press.
  • Roger A. Pielke Jr (2011). The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't tell you About Global Warming. Basic Books.
  • Maxwell Boykoff (2011). Who Speaks for the Climate: Making Sense on Media Reporting on Climate Change. Cambridge.
  • Christian Parenti (2011). Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Nation Books.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 176

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vladimir Jankovic Unit coordinator

Additional notes

HSTM units are designed to be accessible to all undergraduate students from all disciplines. They assume not prior experience. 

The Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) offers a range of 'free choice' units, see The Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Undergraduate teaching for further information. Led by experienced researchers, our teaching explores science as part of human culture, demonstrating that history is a valuable tool for understanding the present state and possible future of science, technology and medicine.

If you are unsure whether you are able to enrol on any of the HSTM units you should contact your School Programme and Curriculum team. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a HSTM unit.

You can also contact the Academic Lead for Undergraduate teaching at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

This unit is offered in both 10-credit and 20-credit versions to meet the requirements of different programme structures across the University. Students will be able to choose the version appropriate to their programme.

10 Credit - HSTM33201

20 Credit - HSTM33501