Oil and Water (Geog 7)

Catherine Gautier


University Of California Santa Barbara


Oil (energy) and water are two key strategic resources dominating the international scene and for which people have been and will continue to fight and go to war over. Energy and water play a major role in most of the main geopolitical issues of our time. As climate changes and population increases, these resources will be affected and their usage will in return affect climate. The course focuses on:
  1. energy and water resources availability, demand and usage,
  2. the two-way connection between these resources usage and Climate Change, and
  3. the solutions characteristics and possibilities and the consequent impact on energy and water policies.
This class has students analyze global energy, water and climate data sets and ponder about some of the social, economic and geopolitical ramifications of these data. It brings together important ideas in geocience, technology and global policy.

Course URL:

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is a freshman course with no prerequisite. In general, students have a broad background and varied interests and take it at varied times in their curriculum. The course is used as an opportunity to introduce students to resource availability, usage, impacts and interconnections with climate change. It guides students in thinking critically and helps them become familiar with spatial data visualization and analysis.

Course Content:

Oil and Water focuses on energy and water resources usage and demand and how climate change can exacerbate the geopolitical issues this raises. Students are exposed to a number of concepts in climate change (impact of GHG emissions, physical and biogeochemical processes, observations, modeling), energy (Peak Oil, alternative to oil, transportation) and water (cycle, distribution, resources, contamination, alternatives). It also looks at technology to augment both energy and water resources, including saving and efficiency but also new technologies. Students are introduced to basic applications of a Geographical Information System (GIS) in the lab (to be soon replaced by Google Earth), make their own maps of distribution of various energy sources (fossil fuel or alternative) or water resources and analyze their results in terms of geopolitical and policy implications.

Course Goals:

The main goals of the course are to:
  • Expose students to main issues and concepts regarding oil/energy and water resources and climate change
  • Provide students with energy and water resources distribution information 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, analyze their data and present their results in writing via mid-term and final projects
  • Introduce students to the concept of GIS (to be augmented by Google Earth) and conceptual maps and initiate them to these tools through the use of simple applications

Course Features:

Students must read material before class (a chapter from my book "Oil, Water and Climate: An Introduction" written for this course) to be prepared to participate to in class discussions. The mid-term project is the design of a realistic US energy policy for 2015 and 2025 and the final project is an analysis of the water situation and issues in Santa Barbara with an emphasis on where the water comes from, how much it costs to the various users (farmers vs. urban dwellers) and how it might be affected by climate change.

Course Philosophy:

I want students to understand the complexity of making policy decisions about energy, water and climate because of their interconnections.


Multidimensional assessments are performed. An important aspect of this course is that teaching and assessment are intertwined and assessment is used to promote and diagnose learning. It has been shown that integrated assessment effectively enhances student achievement. 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 this class is focused on, the learning outcomes were first articulated and then associated assessment measures for each instructional experience were designed and developed. The main type of assessment tool is a set of rubrics that provides students with the scoring guidelines and explains the criteria against which their work is judged. The rubrics are used by the TA and also by other students when they evaluate fellow students' work. Evaluation of written material is another component of the assessment, in the form of editorials about controversial topics and projects (mid-term and final).


Syllabus for Geog 7 "Oil and Water" (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 106kB May4 09)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Oil ,Water and Climate: An Introduction by Catherine Gautier
GIS data sets (and soon Google Maps data sets) put together specifically for this class and updated annually.