Skip to main content


Global Issues in Environmental Science

Module titleGlobal Issues in Environmental Science
Module codeGEO1408B
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Stephan Harrison (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The search for knowledge about the impact of humans on the global environment has grown in importance as population growth intensifies the demand for resources such as energy and water. A growing body of scientific evidence is highlighting the fragile future of biodiversity, water resources, food security, and natural carbon stocks under global climate change. Our changing environment presents a fascinating and urgent set of challenges and opportunities for today’s practitioners, policy makers and researchers. This module will introduce you to the concept of the “grand challenges” in environmental science by providing a thought provoking overview of the main issues facing environmental scientists today. The module requires you to have an interest in environmental issues and sustainability. It is suitable for specialists and non-specialists alike. It is a highly interdisciplinary module that can be taken by any student at the Penryn Campus.

Module aims - intentions of the module

At the beginning of this millennium, eight “grand challenges” for environmental scientists were highlighted by the US National Science Foundation. These eight areas were chosen because they offer the potential for a timely, major scientific breakthrough of practical importance to benefit humankind. The challenges are:

  • Understanding global biogeochemical cycles (C, N, O, H, S, P)
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, to include evaluation of ecosystem goods and services
  • Climate variability over varying timescales
  • Hydrological forecasting related to freshwater provision and hydrological hazards
  • Infectious disease and epidemiological risk
  • Natural resource use: from international treaties to local policies
  • Land use dynamics and changes in global land cover
  • Life cycles of materials in the environment (e.g. pesticides): sustainable use of such resources

This module will address all of these grand challenges through delivery of an innovative and truly interdisciplinary series of lectures that is aimed at giving you an understanding of environmental science issues with truly global importance. You will have the opportunity to take part in a debate on a key subject of relevance to the discipline.

Research-Inspired and Inquiry-Led Learning: This module is team taught, with several members of staff contributing to both lectures and seminars, and will involve elements of research undertaking by those staff. Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the discussion sessions and will also be guided towards relevant key research papers authored by teaching staff.

Employability: This module will help you to develop and extend skills to strengthen employability potential, such as critical analytic thinking and the communication of ideas through the application to a range of contemporary global challenges.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain the major debates in Environmental Science
  • 2. Outline the underpinning science behind the debates in Environmental Science
  • 3. Illustrate how humans have impacted on natural cycles in the Earth’s system
  • 4. Assess the impacts on humans from changes in the Earth’s system
  • 5. Summarise the scientific evidence base for quantifying changes to the Earth’s system
  • 6. Discuss the various methods proposed for mitigating future change

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Describe essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of environmental science
  • 8. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples into written work
  • 9. Identify and implement, with some guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing a specific research problem in environmental science
  • 10. With guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within environmental science
  • 11. Describe and begin to evaluate approaches to our understanding of the environmental sciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 12. Develop, with guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound conclusions
  • 13. Communicate ideas, principles and theories using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 14. Collect and interpret appropriate data and undertake straightforward research tasks with guidance
  • 15. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills identified by others
  • 16. Reflect on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will comprise various sessions of 1 hour each, broadly covering the following topics:

  • Module introduction and overview – the big ideas in environmental science
  • Global climatologies – in the past and in the future – the Anthropocene
  • Biogeochemical cycles – carbon, water and other key variables
  • Global vegetation systems and land use/cover change
  • Biodiversity and Earth’s life support systems
  • The media and the environment – how the public understand environmental issues
  • Climate change and human responses to it (geoengineering, restoration and ‘let go’ responses)
  • Agri-environments, histories of pesticide use and future practices
  • Living landscapes, ecosystem valuation
  • Health and epidemiology
  • Energy policy and energy economies
  • Natural risks and hazards and their management

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching29Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching7Discussion sessions and seminars with staff – help sessions
Guided independent study114Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Structured discussion/debate1 hourAllOral
Short answer questions during lectures and seminarsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay501000 words1-9, 11-13Written
Examination5090 minutes1-9, 11-13Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-9, 11-13August Ref/Def
Essay Essay 1-9, 11-13August Def only

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Cunningham and Cunningham (2011): Environmental Science: a global concern. McGraw-Hill publishing. ISBN: 978-0071314954
  • Talent (2012): Earth and Life Global Biodiversity, Extinction Intervals and Biogeographic Perturbations Through Time. Springer, ISBN 978-9048134274
  • Ninan (2010): Conserving and valuing ecosystem services and biodiversity. Routledge, ISBN: 978-1849711739
  • Karieva et al (2011) Natural Capital: Theory and Practice of Mapping Ecosystem Services. OUP Oxford, ISBN: 978-0199589005
  • Schulze et al (2001) Global biogeochemical cycles in the climate system. Academic press, ISBN 978-0126312607
  • Carson (1967) Silent Spring. Penguin, ISBN: 978-0141184944
  • Griffiths et al (2008) Water: The Final Resource: How the Politics of Water Will Affect the World, ISBN: 978-1905641666
  • Archer (2010), The global carbon cycle, Princeton Primers in Climate, ISBN: 978-0691144146

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Environmental science, grand challenges, resources

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date