Teach the Earth > Complex Systems > Courses > Oil, Water and Climate

Oil, Water and Climate

Catherine Gautier,
Author Profile


Oil and water are two key strategic resources dominating the international scene. This class provides an overview of global distributions of oil and water resources and analyzes some of the social, economic, and geopolitical ramifications of these distributions and their connections with and evolution as a result of global warming and climate change. The complex connections between all the elements of the system energy/water/climate are emphasized in each lecture and discussed in class. The course uses my book: Oil, Water and Climate: An Introduction , 2008, C. Gautier, Cambridge U. Press.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. Typically students take this course because they are interested in these very timely issues. This course has a lab component in which students learn how to use a GIS at the basic level and apply their learning to analyzing the importance of geographical distribution of resources and interconnection issues.

Course Content:

Oil, Water and Climate focuses on the interactive system of immense complexity that they form together with population. Oil, water, climate and population are strongly coupled and can be considered as factors of a system in which all components are interconnected and interact among one another in multiple ways . Neither oil, water, or climate security problems can fully be understood in isolation; nor can they be considered independently from demographic perspectives. Their various interconnections and dependencies are outlined when discussing the evolution of energy, population, climate, and water.

Course Goals:

The course general objectives are to:
Intended Learning Outcomes

Course Features:

The course has two projects in which they apply the concepts they have learn and critically think about the issues. The first one involves designing the Energy Strategy for the US for 2025 and 2050. The second one has to do with the opportunities for conflict or cooperation around a shared water basin (basin selected by student).

In addition, students must rad a chapter of the book and submit some material prior to class as well and write three editorial essays regarding some timely and sometimes controversial issues (e.g., Peak Oil, Clean energy and Three-Gorges dam)

Course Philosophy:

I integrate complex systems in all my courses since I teach about climate change and it has connections with everything. I have been interested by complex systems for several decades and my teaching goals are to help my students make sense of the world and be critical thinkers.


An important aspect of this course is that teaching and assessment are intertwined and assessment is used to promote and diagnose learning. Assessment is employed primarily to give students continuous feedback they can use to improve their performance and learning.

Assessment plays an important role in the design of the class activities. In order to ensure that assessment is integrated into the course structure and appropriate for observing and evaluating the types of learning we are focusing on, I first articulated the course intended learning outcomes (see above) and then designed and developed associated assessment measures for each instructional experience. The main type of assessment tool is the rubric that both provides students with the scoring guidelines and explains the criteria against which their work is judged. They can be used by the graduate student teaching assistants, but also by other students who may be evaluating fellow students' work.


References and Notes:

Oil, Water and Climate: An Introduction , by Catherine Gautier, Cambridge University Press, 2008

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