This spring, students will have a chance to learn about the looming challenges of energy and the environment for the new century.
Humanities 161, an interdisciplinary course aimed at engaging students in selected current events, covers various topics from year to year. For the spring 2005 semester, Professors David Jon Furbish and Jonathan Gilligan, and at least one additional, but not yet unidentified, faculty member will be leading "New Global Crisis: Earth's Energy and Water Resources in the 21st Century," open to all undergraduate students.
"Every year the school provides funding for faculty to pull together a course around a topical current issue. Energy is beginning to loom large in our everyday lives. When we talk about energy, it pulls in both hard and social science, politics, economics, and more. A whole host of subjects have a bearing on this issue," said Furbish, chair of the earth and environmental sciences department.
"Part of the goal of the course is to expose expertise from outside an academic perspective. So, we will bring in guest speakers from the local, state, and national levels and from all walks of life -- scientists, politicians, economists, and people involved with law and policy," Furbish said. "Some will be, if not household names, nationally well known in their area."
"We will bring people up to speed on the science and technology of the issue. We will give them the essential ingredients without having it be a heavy science course. Also, a large part of the course will be history-based," Furbish said.
"If we look at the full time range of human history, our use of petroleum only spans a trivial portion, but now it is a fundamental part of our societal structure," said Furbish.
"We are beginning to pull together the reading list. One book we definitely will be reading is Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth Deffeyes." Furbish said.
M. King Hubbert predicted the U.S.'s peak oil production in the 1970's. Deffeyes took
Hubbert's methods, applied them globally, and found that the world is currently at its peak oil production.
"Naturally, this is very controversial," Furbish said.
"We are certainly dependent on petroleum for transportation and heating. Also, a significant amount of stuff is made from petrochemicals. About half the stuff in a person's home is made of petrochemicals," Furbish said.
"Obviously, if petroleum is in decline, we require some very critical thinking in this century regarding where our fuel is coming from. In the course we will examine the consequences of petroleum-based society, the negative impacts of fossil fuels, and we will also look at the risks with alternatives such as nuclear and wind power," Furbish said.
"Alternatives are not always as straight-forward as we would wish. With wind, for example, some research has stated that too many windmills may slow down the wind, resulting in a global effect on climate. We need to find a balance with alternative fuel sources, if there is a balance," Furbish said.
"During our lifetime there will be significant changes in the structure of our society because petroleum is ultimately a finite resource. This course will provide a primer on the topic and then bring in speakers to expand on the issue. It should be a lot of fun," Furbish said.