HONR 238W:
Terrestrial Energy, Resources and Policy
Spring 2013

Class Webpage: http://www.astro.umd.edu/~hamilton/HONR

HONR238W Course Description

The exponential human population growth of the 19th and 20th centuries, accompanied by dramatic improvements in our standard of living, was fueled by the abundance of a cheap concentrated energy source in the form of petroleum. As recent gas prices emphasize, demand for oil continues to skyrocket while new supplies are ever scarcer; the era of plentiful oil may soon be coming to an end. What other energy options are available to society and what are their long-term prospects? What is society doing to address today's energy issues and what should it be doing? What resources are available on planet Earth and what is the best way to go about utilizing these resources?

I have several objectives in teaching HONR238W. First, I want you all to gain a basic knowledge of the physics governing energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form into another. We will look into the physics that governs the "production" of energy, its transmission, and its consumption. We will examine the limits on different energy sources, and the cost, and environmental and societal consequences of each one. When this course ends, I want you all to have a solid understanding of the energy sources of the present and future, and a good idea of what is and is not possible.

Second, building on a solid understanding of the fundamentals, I would like you to form informed opinions on a number of energy issues. What should be America's energy priorities? Should we build more nuclear reactors? Develop our country's massive coal reserves? Invest in solar technologies? Ratify the Kyoto accords? How do we deal with the problems of energy production, from global warming to pollution and acid rain? How do we strike a balance between our modern lifestyles, enabled by the availability of plentiful inexpensive energy, and the realization that these resources are finite?

Finally, I would like you to discuss your opinions openly with others who may disagree with you. Through discussion and debate I would like you to come to consensus, both in the task forces that we will form to investigate certain aspects of energy production and as a class as we hammer out our own solution to America's energy problems. Working on a team is an important part of most modern careers, and it is not so often that you get the chance to do so in the classroom. Make the most of the opportunity! Once we have as a firm a grasp of the issues involved as possible, we will together chart our own vision for U.S. energy policy. This is our overall goal as a class.

This course is incredibly broad in scope. Our topic touches on many of the thorniest issues facing our nation and the world today. There is no way to cover in depth all of the issues that are related to our goal in a semester long course, so we will focus on primary topics covered in the reading list, with additional emphasis on those topics that of particular interest to the class. We will also respond to current events to the maximum extent possible.

Assignments and Grading

Student evaluation will be based on participation in animated discussions, debates, a group project, short homeworks, reading responses, a final group project, and a final exam.

I grade on a point scale with different assignments weighted as shown in this table.

Reading Responses
Group Project
Midterm Exam
Final Exam

This class is not designed to be an "easy A" - if you are seeking such a class, now is the time to move on. My expectation is that roughly half of you will earn As, half will earn Bs, and no one who puts in a sincere effort and keeps up with the workload will get a lower grade. The number of points required to get a given grade will depend on the class average, however, getting 90%, 80%, 68%, of the total possible points guarantees you at least an A, B, or C, respectively. You can monitor my current estimate of your grade as the semester progresses from the What's my Grade Right Now? link on the class webpage.

Laptops and Cellphones

In principle, laptops can allow you to take notes faster and access the class website. In practice, they are often used for non-class purposes. Therefore, if you use a laptop I ask that you (1) sit in the far back row, so that there are no students behind you to be distracted, and (2) turn the sound off and do not use headphones. This will minimize the potentially negative impact. Similarly, please turn off your cellphones in class.
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