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Carbon Societies: Risk, Consumption and Governance

Module titleCarbon Societies: Risk, Consumption and Governance
Module codeGEO3137
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Karen Bickerstaff (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module we examine the ways in which climate change, and more specifically decarbonising our society, has become a dominating political and public issue. The module analyses the historical roots of carbon excess, the rise and fall of climate anxiety, the production (and contestation) of climate ‘facts’ and the geographical challenges of governing carbon-intensive systems and lifestyles.  In doing so, the module asks questions about how we make sense, culturally, of climate risks, the social and spatial ordering of responsibilities for change and the political challenges of decarbonising places and societies. The module may also present opportunities to explore and analyse, individually and collectively, local efforts to decarbonise – including a prominent ‘low carbon’ development in East Devon and the University’s own carbon management strategies.


Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will:

  • place society’s use of carbon in a geographical and historical context, embedded in current research on risk, consumption and governance
  • demonstrate the relevance of geographical concepts and approaches in understanding and responding to our problematic relationship with carbon
  • develop a critical understanding of low carbon transitions drawing, in particular, on departmental research addressing energy system transformations and sustainable consumption.

Teaching and assessments on this module seek to develop the following graduate attributes:

  • interpersonal skills through collaborative research activities in the development of local low-carbon case studies drawing on practitioner interviews or online resources
  • team management in the planning of collaborative research and the preparation of group-based case studies
  • articulating academic concepts and evidence with confidence through enquiry-led research that links practical examples with course themes and module assessments
  • confidence in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of real-world case studies, supported through seminar and class-based activities.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Discuss the interactions between climate, society and the environment
  • 2. Analyse competing approaches to understanding and governing climate change
  • 3. Understand climate change, and the management of carbon, as a distinctly social, cultural and political issue

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Assess the role of geography and geographical approaches in analysing carbon and its governance
  • 5. Outline the interconnected relationships between physical and human systems

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently using a variety of means
  • 7. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument; identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 8. Appreciate and communicate the challenges of addressing pressing environmental policy challenges
  • 9. Apply academic concepts to the analysis of real-world case studies
  • 10. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management)
  • 11. Achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

  • Climate change, risk and catastrophism
  • Carbon excess in historical and geographical context
  • Climate science: the limits of objectivity
  • Climate publics: perceptions, culture and place
  • Governing decarbonisation: policy gaps and neoliberalism
  • The future of energy: the state and democracy
  • Low carbon transitions: understanding socio-technical change
  • Reducing demand and responsibility
  • Social practices and expectations
  • Social justice and future energy systems

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 Teaching22Lectures (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Seminars and case study workshops (2 x 2 hours, and 4 x 1 hour)
Guided Independent Study6Office drop-ins to support coursework preparation
Guided Independent Study30Coursework research and preparation
Guided Independent Study20Research, reading and preparation for seminars
Guided Independent Study64Research and reading


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group commentary based on in-class or online case studies500 wordsAllWritten

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
Essay502000 wordsAllWritten
Essay502000 wordsAllWritten


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssayAllAugust Ref/Def
EssayEssayAllAugust Ref/Def

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 or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Giddens A (2009) The Politics of Climate Change (London: Polity)
  • Hulme, M. (2009). Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity (Cambridge University Press).
  • Urry J (2011) Climate Change and Society (London: Polity)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Carbon, climate, energy policy, publics, risk

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date