Oil, Water and Climate

Catherine Gautier,


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:
  • Expose students to main issues and concepts regarding oil and water resources and climate change
  • Provide students with opportunities to discover the complex relationships between oil and water resources and the resulting ramifications for geopolitical, economic social and environmental issues
  • Provide students with opportunities to examine the influence of spatial distribution on a host of issues and to explore spatial relationships between different parameters
  • Help students learn how to perform research on the web
  • Introduce students to the concept of GIS and conceptual maps and initiate them to these tools through the use of simple applications
Intended Learning Outcomes
  • Students will be able to synthesize acquired knowledge about oil and water and apply it to the context of their chosen subject on which they will focus for their final project
  • Students will be able to apply received knowledge and own experience about oil and water and develop their own perspective
  • Students will learn about themselves as articulators of arguments
  • Students will be knowledgeable of basic facts and terms of oil, water and climate issues
  • Students will be knowledgeable of basic concepts of oil, water and climate issues
  • Students will be able to synthesize and integrate the information learned in class and outside
  • Students will be able to use internet for research
  • Students will be able to make powerpoint presentations (materials, tools and technology)
  • Students will learn techniques and methods to gain new knowledge regarding of oil and water issues
  • Students will learn to appreciate the importance of oil and water resources in their daily and future lives
  • Analytical skills:
    • Students will be able to analyze problems related to oil and water resources from different points of view
    • Students will be able to recognize interrelationships among problems and issues
    • Students will be able to analyze and interpret (oil and water) geographic data effectively
    • Students will be able to organize information into meaningful categories for their presentations
    • Students will be able to apply introductory GIS concepts
  • Communication skills:
    • Given their chosen topic on which they want to focus, students will be able to clearly present the main points
    • Using researched data, students will be able to come up with arguments supporting their position about the particular topic of their choice
    • Reviewing others' work (presentations or writings), students will be able to improve upon their communication skills
    • Students will learn to communicate in speaking effectively
    • Students will learn to use facts to get points across to others
    • Students will learn to use maps and graphs effectively to support points being made
  • Research skills:
    • Students will select a topic to address issues that seem important and interesting to them
    • Students will bring in information from outside sources
    • Students will use computer-based and other resources effectively
    • Students will seek information on problems from multiple sources
    • Students will demonstrate ability to formulate effective questions
    • Student will generate some potential solutions to a given problem
  • Teamwork skills:
    • Students will help reconcile differences of opinion among team members
    • Students will share credit for success with others
    • Students will cooperate with others
    • Students will encourage participation among all team members
    • Students will share information with others
    • Students will contribute his/her shares of project workload

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