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One Shields Avenue
Davis CA

Energy and the Environment 2018


  • Meeting Times | 3:10 - 5:00, Wednesdays, Spring 2018
  • Meeting Location | PES ("Plant and Environmental Science Building") 2005, UC Davis Campus
  • Units | 3 Units
  • CRNs | ESM 198 (62696), SSC 198 (80012), SSC 298 (80053)
  • Subject/Course | ESM/SSC 198, SSC 298
  • Professor | Dr. Rebecca R. Hernandez
  • Office Hours | 2:00 - 3:00, Wednesdays
  • Twitter Hashtag | #EnergyEnvironment

Course Background 

Energy and the environment are inextricably linked. The need to mitigate climate change, safeguard energy security, and increase the sustainability of human activities is prompting a rapid and global transition from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to renewable energy. For all energy systems, the manner in which an energy system is constructed, operated, and decommissioned can yield both positive and negative impacts on ecological systems beyond those directly related to energy. For example, electricity from dedicated biomass can require over 58,406 hectares (1 hectare [ha] = ~2.3 acres) of land per terawatt-hour per year (ha/TWh/y-1), creating trade-offs for allocation of land for food production and conservation. Nuclear power plant disasters can cause physiological and genetic damage to species—like those observed of the pale grass blue butterfly (Zizeeria maha) in Japan after the Fukushima accident. In western North America, active or pending oil and gas leases exist on approximately 60 million hectares of publically owned land, impacting ecological connectivity and the flow of ecosystem services that humans depend on. The optimization of the energy and Earth system is perhaps the greatest challenge of the 21st century, but one that academia, industry, government, non-governmental organizations, and students like you are poised to address. 

Course Goals

The primary goal of this course is to equip students with an introductory knowledge of energy systems and their interaction with the environment through online videos, readings, discussion, engagement, writing, and design. Additionally, this course is strategically designed to develop critical thinking skills and increase student employability in the energy and environment sectors. Specifically, this course seeks to:


  • Expand knowledge of energy systems using an ecological lens, including the ability to compare energy systems and their unique impacts on and synergies with the Earth system;
  • Foster an understanding of the various sectors and stakeholders involved where energy and the environment intersect and evaluate what skills are needed for employment in different roles;
  • Analyze the rapidly increasing literature on energy and the environment and determine critical methods that contribute towards energy-related technological progress, sustainability, and solutions;
  • Provide students with an opportunity to creatively design and lead classroom discussion of course material; and,  
  • Apply course learning towards the development of a written mini-review and information graphic on energy interactions with the Earth system to further concretize learning and education of the broader public.


Guest lecturers

Online lecturers for the course feature some of the world's leading scientists and visionaries working at the interface of energy and the environment. Lecturers (from left to right) include: Ben Elkin (SunPower), Katherine Mach (Stanford University, Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology), Greer Ryan (Center for Biological Diversity), Daniel Sanchez (Net Zero, Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology), Max Wei (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab).  Download their full biographies from the bar on the right or here

Course Outcomes

At the end of this class:

  • You will have an interdisciplinary understanding of energy systems and their relationships with various aspects of the environment, including biodiversity, policy, land, resources, food, water, sustainability, and humans across time;
  • You will have the opportunity to learn from leaders and visionaries from industry, academia, government, and NGOs working at the energy-environment nexus – not only generating disciplinary knowledge from their unique perspectives but also a first-hand understanding of individual pathways to successful careers; 
  • You will have learned how to design and lead a class discussion;
  • You will select a topic related to one specific energy-environment interaction to write a mini-review on. This topic will also be the subject for your infographic (see below). 
  • You will create an information graphic (“infographic”) related to your written assignment that combines data visualization with design to showcase and disseminate information from the topic you chose and using the articles you selected in a manner that enhances its engagement and memorability to the broader public. The infographic will be shared online and awards for the best infographic, which if you win, can be included on your resume. Awards may include: Student Science Communication Award – Student’s Choice, Expert’s Choice, and Internet’s Choice. 

Course Materials

  • Students are assigned videos to watch, which will be posted online. I recommend taking notes while you watch the videos of important take away messages. 
  • Students are assigned primary literature, reports, and book chapters to read from the Weekly Agenda and Reading List (download list from the link on the right bar).
  • All resources for assignments are web-based.
  • There are no exams or tests. 


  • All reading assignments are posted online. I highly recommend printing out each reading assignment so you can write notes in the margins, write questions/comments (e.g., words/concepts you needed to look up), and highlight important sections, as needed. If you are successful doing this type of in depth and active reading online, then this may be a suitable alternative. Bring in weekly reading materials to each class to reference for discussion. 

Digital Assignments


    One Discussion Leader Agenda from the Discussion Leaders (submit on Monday by midnight PST before your session), 10 points

  • One Infographic First Version, 5 points

  • One Infographic Final Version, 15 points

  • One list of papers (and data entered) for Mini-Review, 5 points

  • Final Mini-Review, 15 points


  • The plurality of points are earned by simply arriving at class on time and being prepared. Being prepared means that you have completed the reading assignments and watched the videos attentively and in full prior to class starting
  • Students who are late to class lose ½ point. Students will be rewarded for timeliness, attendance, and active participation.
  • For a complete break-down of points per class meeting session, see the Grading Gantt Chart.
  • Late assignments lose 5% each 24 hours late.
  • There is one opportunity to earn extra credit points on May 17th (via attendance at a Geography seminar, Dr. Dustin Mulvaney.)
  • Grading will follow a standard scale where ≥90-100% = A, ≥80-89.9% = B, ≥70-79.9% = C, ≥60-69.9% = D, and <60% = F.  Chromatic variants (+ and –) may or may not be used, but if used, they will be applied to the student’s benefit.  Students should not assume that a curve will be applied to the course grading, but if one is applied, it will be a minor adjustment to the student’s benefit.     

Grade Breakdown:

  • Attendance - 20 Points
  • Videos and Readings - 20 Points
  • Discussion Leader Agenda - 10 Points
  • Discussion Leader Execution - 10 Points
  • Mini-Review (Papers Listed, Data Entered into Database) - 5 Points
  • Mini-Review (Final Version) - 15 Points
  • Infographic (First Version) - 5 Points                    
  • Infographic (Final Version) - 15 Points
  • 100 Points Total

Additional Grading Details | Attendance comprises the bulk of points for this group study course. Missing class follows standard UCD policies including for religious holidays, official extracurricular activities, and medical reasons, and any make-up assignments are subject to the procedures and timing restrictions as outlined in the official UCD policy. If a make-up assignment is administered, it may be in a different format than typical student participation requirements in class. If there are known conflicts with class dates for a university-approved absence or medical release, please see the instructor early in the semester or at least 2 weeks before the expected absence.  Provide original, written documentation obtained from proper authorities (e.g., physician). If there is an emergency on the day of an exam (e.g., medical emergency, car accident), notify the instructor as soon as possible and provide original documentation on official letterhead (e.g., signed documentation by a physician or legal authority) justifying an absence. A make-up assignment may then be administered. Falsifying absences and documents will result in a zero for the attendance/assignment/etc and may trigger more severe academic misconduct as determined by the university.  Please be on time for all class periods out of respect for our esteemed guest lecturers. Be on time and these potential problems will be avoided. An unexcused absence will result in a loss of four points (4%).   


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    All material copyright 2018 by Dr. Rebecca R. Hernandez.