STS.032 Energy, Environment, and Society

Special Theme: Global Politics, Technologies, and Ecologies of the Water-Energy-Food Crises

 Spring 2018: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30pm-4:00pm

Click here for the online subject listing

3-0-9   HASS-H   CI-H

Instructor: William San Martín

With increasing public awareness of the multiple effects of global environmental change, the terms water, energy, and food crisis have become widely used in scientific and political debates on sustainable development and environmental policy. Although each of these crises has distinct drivers and consequences, providing sustainable supplies of water, energy, and food are deeply interrelated challenges and require a profound understanding of the political, socioeconomic, and cultural factors that have historically shaped these interrelations at a local and global scale.

Using case studies from Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States, this course will examine the historical role of politics, technology, and experts in shaping the complex interrelations between the water, energy, and food crises of the 20th century, and their main challenges for the 21st century.  We will pay particular attention to 1) the central place of water in current food and energy security issues, 2) the interrelations between national developments and global processes of change, and 3) the socio-political aspects of policy-making, technological innovation, and behavioral change.

Some of the main themes we will examine are:

  • Irrigation technologies and infrastructure
  • Water use for agricultural and livestock production
  • Urban water infrastructure & waste management
  • The fishing industry & ocean ecosystems
  • Ground and surface water pollution & ecosystem services
  • Hydropower, tidal power, fossil fuels, & cooling systems
  • Water law & the rise of water markets
  • International environmental policy & governance
  • Virtual water and water footprint assessment tools
  • Climate change & environmental justice movements

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. The world’s biggest single deposit of lithium in one the driest regions in Latin America. Lithium-ion batteries are critical to computers and to the growing industry of electric cars in Asia and the United States. (Photo Source:


Interested in the water-energy-food nexus?

Watch this video and try to answer these questions:

How do social, political, and cultural factors play a role in the development of technologies and policies to address the water, energy, and food crises?

How are these challenges different in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America?

How are humans, plants, and animals being affected by the global water, energy, and food crises?

What happens if we change the focus from cities to non-urban environments? How are these different ecosystems interconnected?

Using historical primary sources, a comparative and transnational perspective, and the work of interdisciplinary scholars, this class will address several of these questions and more.