Foto: Matthias Friel
Moodle key: CETP2021/22 (for the first class: after the participant list is finalised, I will change it)
Overview and setting of the course
Climate change is one of the big challenges of our time, touching all aspects of the environment and of society. There is broad recognition that governments must do something about it: the implication of the Paris Agreement and its 1.5 and 2 degrees targets is the complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from the energy system within the next 30 to 40 years.
This is a very complicated problem. Fundamentally this is because it means doing something that humanity has never really tried before at a planetary scale: deliberately altering the ways we produce, convert, and consume energy. Modern society grew up on fossil fuels, and the huge benefits they offered in terms of energy that was inexpensive, easy and safe to transport, store and consume. How to manage a non-fossil world with 8 or 10 billion people, all aspiring to the Western living standards, is a question for which there is no easy answer.
From a technical perspective, there are many answers, typically relying on a bouquet of solutions, from wind power to nuclear power, from solar heat to passive housing without any heat demand at all. The technical side of decarbonisation is difficult, but possible.
The real nut to crack, however, is about the strategies and governance for how to achieve such a complete transformation: the policy side of climate and energy. Arguably a government could simply pass a law that forbids people from using fossil fuels. But politically this is simply unrealistic, at least while so many people depend on fossil fuels in their daily lives. And even worse, it is not certain that it would work, because the technological alternatives may not be available and implementable overnight. What is to be done? For this, one needs to turn to various ideas about what a government can and should do, whether and how it should influence and steer society. On the one hand are ideas suggesting that government should play a very limited role relative to private actors and should step in only to correct “market failures”, with “market-based” interventions designed specifically around that failure. On the other hand are ideas suggesting that government (meaning all of us, working together through a democratic process) needs to guide the transition more directly, including through public investments or radical reforms, designed to support the solutions determined to be the ones we want. And on the third hand, if such a hand exists, are ideas posing that the problem is our own consumption patterns and that these, and economic growth in general, are entirely incompatible with climate protection: only consuming radically less will help. Such fundamental issues come to the fore in climate and energy policy discussions and debates. This course is about all that.
The goal is to give students the ability to evaluate energy and climate policy arguments made by politicians, experts, and academics with a critical eye, informed by knowledge of history, an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings and the empirically observed effects of different strategies. Students successfully finishing the course are able to understand and deconstruct the energy and climate policy debate that is currently raging in Germany, Europe and internationally, and create their own solutions. Thereby, she or he will be able to step into a research institute, an NGO or government agency involved in energy policy, policy analysis or political advocacy, and immediately be able to make an informed and creative contribution.
The course will meet once per week, with a reading before each class. Typically this will be 1-3 articles, book chapters or reports on a topic related to the topic of the class, making the reading essential for the class. We will read two entire books, which will form the foundation for the seminar series, and each of the books will be the basis for essays to be written and handed in during the semester.
All material and information will be placed on the course’s Moodle page. Only students registered for the course will have access to the Moodle page and material after the second week. Not registered students will not have access to the contents.
Each class will take place in a discussion format, often structured around an input from the lecturer (about 60 minutes), including discussion about the important or critical aspects and/or other interactive formats to be carried out in varying breakout groups in class (about 30 minutes).
Due to the persisting Corona situation, plans are uncertain. Current plans are that teaching will take place on site in Griebnitzsee, but this may change in the coming months or it may change during the semester. All information about where each class will take place will be posted on the course’s Moodle page, so please stay updated there. Importantly, because no sneezing persons will be let into the classroom, if I get a cold or some other illness, the class may need to shift online on short notice.
I will uphold the hygiene rules of the university and will adhere to the strictest permissible interpretation of the 3G rules – or 2G rules if they are implemented – in class. There will be no compromises or negotiation space. The university will update us on the rules as the semester draws nearer, and I will post the relevant info for our course on the Moodle page in due time.
Course requirements and grading
Students are expected to attend all classes, actively participate and prepare by reading all readings, to allow for informed discussions and creative work in class.
All students, regardless of whether they opt for a graded or a pass/fail Schein (Teilnahme), will in addition write and submit two short essays (max. 1000 words), discussing the policy implications of two books (Nordhaus: Climate Casino; Patt: Transforming Energy). These essays will be graded, and a pass grade on both is required for a pass grade for the course. You will receive written feedback on your essays, as a critical step for learning and improving your writing. The essays will be the preparation for two discussion classes (7 and 11) in which we will be critically examining and discussing the hypotheses put forth in these books and the articles we have read for the single classes. The deadlines are 8.00 a.m. before each discussion class.
Students who opt for the graded Schein will additionally write a semester thesis (15-20 pages, incl. literature), to be handed in before the end of the semester (31 March 2022). There will be a list of recommended topics to choose from, but students are free to either adapt the suggested questions or to propose questions of their own. If they go for the latter option, a 1-page proposal is required, to ensure consistency with the course and manageability. The semester thesis must be written in English. I will offer a final out-of-schedule seminar about how to write a semester thesis after the last class, likely during the last week of the semester (week of 14 February 2022).
Please inform me within the required period which option you opt for.
The seminar is designed for max. 25 participants. If the course is oversubscribed, I will prioritise Uni Potsdam students, higher semester students, and students who cannot attend courses in German (in this order). Because we cannot have a too large number of students in the classroom, I will make this decision in the first week of the semester so that the participant list is set for the second seminar. My selection is final.
Course outline and schedule
According to current plans, all seminars will take place in Griebnitzsee, each Monday 8.15-9.45. If the course is strongly overbooked, we will hold the introductory seminar in Zoom, as we cannot have more than 25 students in the seminar room. There will be information about this on the Moodle page in due time.
Introduction to the course: why we need to change, how far, how fast
Discourses: problem framing and how it affects the solution space
It’s a political problem! The technocratic solution
It’s a political problem! Events, coalitions and compromises
It’s a market problem! The economics of climate change and how to fix the problem
It’s a market problem! The limits of the mainstream economic discourse
Essay deadline and discussion: Climate Casino (William Nordhaus)
It’s a transition problem! Evolutionary economics & lock-in
It’s a transition problem! Changing institutions, path dependency, and causing the next generation of problems to solve
It’s a transition problem! The Multilevel perspective on socio-technical transitions
Essay deadline and discussion of Transforming Energy (Anthony Patt)
It's an overconsumption problem! Quality of life, happiness and the Great Acceleration
It's an overconsumption problem! De-growth: what it can and cannot bring
Wrap-up: pulling everything together
Introduction to and requirements for semester theses (for those who will write a semester thesis, and whoever is interested)
All required readings will be supplied on Moodle as pdfs so as to be available for all students. Nordhaus and Patt are available as ebooks at the university library, and Dryzek as a real book. If you don’t have access to the Uni Potsdam library, please ask your classmates for help.
Books (in parallel to the Market failure (Nordhaus) and Transition (Patt) seminars, in time for the essays).
Mandatory (as input for the essays):
- William Nordhaus (2013): The Climate Casino. Risk, uncertainty, and economics of a warming world, Yale University Press, New Haven.
- Anthony Patt (2015): Transforming Energy. Solving climate change with technology policy, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Recommended (selected chapters are mandatory for classes):
- John Dryzek (2013): The politics of the Earth, OUP Oxford, Oxford.
Mandatory reading for each class
Will be provided in a separate document on the Moodle page well in advance of each class.
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