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Climate Change and Society

Course unit fact file
Unit code UCIL33201
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
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.


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.


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 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 successful completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • Describe the scientific, economic and cultural foundation and key concepts that underlie global climate change
  • Discuss methods that are used to study climate change from different historical, cultural and social perspectives
  • Identify how environmental issues emerge as social problems that require policy measures
  • Evaluate climate policy and the politics of climate negotiation with reference to a wide range of stakeholders

In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Research and write a literature-based review, integrating scientific, historical and social viewpoints


Topics include:

  • Climate: The greatest empire
  •  Science: Revelle's grand experiment
  •  Consensus: Science triumphant
  •  Politics of climate change
  •  Ethics of climate change
  •  Economics of climate change
  •  Climate change and security
  •  Urban climate change
  •  Climate change in the media
  •  Future climate: The Apocalypse?

Teaching and learning methods

UCIL 33201 (10credit)


11 Lectures

11 debates in groups

2 Examination

76 hours of independent study


Knowledge and understanding

Students 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 policy and the politics of climate negotiation

Assimilate new information and integrate it into class activities and research projects

Intellectual skills

Student will develop the skills 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

Think contextually: understand how environmental issues emerge as social problems that require policy measures

Evaluate the nature of information presented in policy documents and the media

Practical skills

Students will be able to develop the practical skills to:

Propose original research topics applicable to local climate governance policies from behavioral, educational or infrastructural perspectives

Develop conceptual apparatus to understand the policy, public and economic statements regarding the climate change regime

Communicate orally during their weekly debates and in less-structured seminar discussions.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

The unit requires that students critically read and analyse select academic and media materials, research original topics, prepare for oral presentations, argue opposing views in real-time. Skills include: team work in preparation and presentation of research, critical and policy-oriented thinking, skills to understand the ‘hidden’ framings of climate change statements; writing skills: academic and for specific audiences.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
General analytical skills needed for critical study of any environmental issue
Contextualization skills required for lateral thinking and synthetic engagement with environmental problems
Project management
Students will take ownership of a 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
Presentational techniques, oral expression and ad-hoc discussion points developed during debates

Assessment methods

  1. 1500 word essay (50%)
  2. Expedition Photo Essay (1000 words plus images) (50%)

Feedback methods

Students will receive to formative feedbacks during the course of the unit:

(1) individual feedback to their presentations and debate


(2) individual feedback on their essay assignment.

They will also have access to full feedback on their projects and exams.

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 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vladimir Jankovic Unit coordinator