Fossil Fuels, Energy and the Environment

Ref: C3123420

The UK's energy demand is insatiable and to satisfy it we draw heavily on our fossil fuel reserves. This beginners course highlights our energy options and how the unrestricted use of fossil fuels can cause long-term climate change.

Course aim

1. To introduce the overall potential of the UK's various energy resources especially fossil fuels; 2. To appreciate that unrestricted fossil fuel use can lead to climate change.

Who is the course for?

What topics will this course cover

1. Our nearest star - the Sun. Why the Sun shines and the potential for solar energy. The composition of the Earth's atmosphere, past and present, and its relationship to climate change. 2. Fossil Fuels - British coalfields. Origins, extraction and related environmental and economic factors governing the use of coal. 3. Fossil Fuels - North Sea oil and gas fields. Formation, exploration and extraction including onshore fracking issues. 4. Nuclear Energy. Nature of radioactivity and its use in power generation. Aspects of safety, storage and disposal of fissile materials. Potential of geothermal energy. 5. Throughout the course we will draw on good practice elsewhere in Europe and also comment on relevant issues around the world e.g. shale gas exploitation and fracking operations, oil shale exploitation past and present, and nuclear power incidents such as Chernobyl and more recently in Japan.

What will it be like?

WEA classes are friendly and supportive. You will be encouraged to work together with your fellow students and tutor. You will be asked to share your ideas and views in the class and work with the group to give and accept feedback in a supportive environment. The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you to be actively involved in your learning. You may be asked to undertake work to support your course outside of your class.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

1. Appreciate the time taken for the formation of coal, oil and natural gas and their potential lifetime as energy resources; 2. Realise the importance of restricting the use of fossil fuels in terms of future climate change; 3. Appreciate that major climate changes, including Ice Ages, have been a recurrent feature of the Earth's geological past.

How will I know I'm making progress?

Through group activities aimed at providing a practical dimension to the overall science of energy resources and by individual discussions with the tutor. Individual starting points will be ascertained prior to the first session and the course will be tailored accordingly.

What else do I need to know, do or bring?

Course members will need a notepad and pen/pencil.

Reading and information sources

It would be useful, though certainly not essential, to have seen one or more of these texts. The Little Ice Age- how climate made history 1300-1850 Fagan Perseus Books (2000) Energy Beyond Oil Mobbs Matador (2005) Frozen Earth - the once and future story of Ice Ages Macdougall University of California (2006) Earth Press & Siever Freeman 1986

What could the course lead to?

WEA course at the same level on a different/broader subject within the environmental field.

Download full course outline

Fossil Fuels, Energy and the Environment Course Outline


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2015
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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