This is the study programme for 2019/2020. It is subject to change.

This course aims at studying the overlap of energy and environmental politics from a comparative perspective. In a first step, the links between human economic activity and the world's ecological systems will be analyzed. On this basis, the limits of the world's ecosystem to sustain today's levels of productivity, output and growth will be discussed. The characteristics of today's energy systems play a central part in this context, and will, therefore, serve as the focal point of the course: the different policy challenges associated with governing the energy transition will be studied, and the uncertainties and challenges for decision-makers with regard to the development of new, less environmentally harmful energy systems will be discussed. So as to develop an understanding of the similarities and differences across various contexts, the course will also discuss the politics of environment and energy on the local, national, international level.

Learning outcome

It is expected that the students after completing the course will have the following knowledge, skills and general competencies:
In terms of knowledge, students will have:
  • an understanding of the linkages between ecosystems and human economic activity
  • an understanding of the functioning of today's energy systems
  • knowledge of environmental and energy policy in Norway and in a number of European and non-European countries, in the EU and on the global level
  • insights into the various challenges related to a transition towards renewables
  • knowledge of various energy controversies related to the on-going transition towards renewables

In terms of skills, students should:
  • be capable of explaining the linkages between economic activity and the world's ecological systems
  • be able to apply a comparative perspective to various challenges with regard to energy and the environment, and to assess the conditions for an energy transformation depending on the various circumstances on the local, national, and international context
  • be able to critically assess and evaluate different energy- and environment-related policy measures from a comparative perspective
  • be able to demonstrate an understanding of the range and substance of political and policy issues related to energy politics and policy

In terms of general competences, students should:
  • be able to express knowledge about environmental problems associated with today's energy system, and to formulate and communicate challenges associated bringing energy systems in alignment with ecological limits
  • have acquired an understanding of complex concepts and theories related to the subject of the course.
  • be able to communicate the knowledge gained during the course, and to apply it in other contexts.
  • be able to process quantitative as well as qualitative data
  • capable of making effective oral and written presentations
  • show an increased capacity for independent learning


Energy represents the universal currency of our planet (Smil, 2017): Its availability and conversion, e.g. from solar to chemical energy, or from chemical energy to heat and light, represent vital elements both of ecological and economic processes. The development of technologies to extract and exploit fossil forms of primary energy enabled to greatly expanded the limits of economic activity, thus leading to growth rates and a level of productivity unseen before the second half of the 19th century. However, the energy systems of the modern economy remain connected with the planet's ecosystem(s) in many ways; and despite ideas of unlimited economic expansion, nature's biophysical system still defines the boundaries of human activity.
Where these limits are crossed, natural ecological cycles within the planet's biosphere are disturbed or even interrupted, leading to environmental problems of varying degrees, e.g. overfertilization of soils or changing climatic conditions. Many - if not most - of these environmental issues can be traced back to today's forms of energy production and use. Hence, if our energy systems cannot be brought back into alignment with the natural processes on our planet, it seems likely that seemingly unlimited growth will further expand the economy towards the limits biophysical economy (Hall and Klittgard, 2012), thereby compromising the integrity of the earth's ecosystem(s).
This course will analyze the interrelation between ecosystems and the human economic activity in more detail. Particularly, the functioning of manmade energy systems, their role in the economic system as well as their influence on self-sustaining natural systems will be studied. The course will, therefore, provide a basic understanding of ecosystems and their entanglement with human economic activity; based on the concept of the biophysical economy, the course will discuss the limits of growth provided by the planet's biosphere. On this basis, measures to adapt the exchange relations between nature and the economy will be introduced, with activities to develop new, less environmentally harmful energy systems representing a central subject of the course.
Particularly, the course will analyze attempts to develop energy systems that function more or less in harmony with nature, for example through a low consumption of resources and by using renewable instead of fossil and nuclear primary energy. Moreover, the course will pay special attention to a variety of policy problems and current controversies relating to energy policy - energy sources, sectors, and options - in a comparative manner. This includes controversies related to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), energy efficiency or the idea of establishing a bioeconomy. In addition, different levels of the political system are included. For example, the energy policy of Norway is analyzed as well as that of various neighboring countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It will also examine the European Union's energy policy and global environmental regimes.

Required prerequisite knowledge



Written essay and oral exam
Weight Duration Marks Aid
Written essay7/10 A - F
Oral exam3/10 A - F

Coursework requirements

Student assignments

Course teacher(s)

Course teacher
Thomas Michael Sattich , Oluf Langhelle
Course coordinator
Bettina Bluemling

Method of work

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Student assignments (group work, presentations, written assignments)
  • Guest speakers
  • Field trips

Open to

Energy, Environment and Society - masterstudium
Exchange programme at Faculty of Social Sciences

Course assessment

Student evaluation will be carried out in accordance with the Faculty of Social Science evaluation system.


Link to Reading List

This is the study programme for 2019/2020. It is subject to change.

Sist oppdatert: 25.01.2020