The strange paradox of the world energy question

Polimi Open Knowledge


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A multidimensional and systemic thinking about the world energy challenge. A continuous flow of energy crosses our whole life. The food we eat, the car we drive, lights that illuminate our cities or the radio that plays our favorite songs, are all manifestations of energy. Our biological life can be explained in terms of energy and even our emotions and feelings to a certain extent.

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What you'll learn on the course

Earth Sciences

Course programme

Ever since humankind has walked the Earth, we have constantly changed ourselves and the world we live in. In the contemporary era, we have learned more on the laws of nature achieving admirable results in the field of science, technology, agriculture and health and we have learned how to use energy for satisfying societal needs. On the other side, we are more and more contributing to medium term natural changes with a deadly cocktail of greenhouse effect, local pollution and plundering of ecosystems. The uneven distribution and access to energy resources hinders social inclusion and equity.

The world energy challenge goes right to the heart of this paradoxical question. On the one hand, it is undeniable that the achievements of modern civilization are linked with the capability of humankind to handle energy resources. Nonetheless, energy production at current rates, and with the current mix of resources, results in serious and irreversible environmental changes, while determining socio-economic inequalities and triggering geopolitical tensions.

The world energy challenge deals also with our psychological and cultural aptitude: the willingness to progress at all costs that often make us no longer able to set the path toward an authentic human and social progress. In doing so, the contemporary energy crisis goes along with a civilization crisis.

The transition of the energy system toward a more equitable, green and fair asset with rational energy use is also urgent in the broader context of the Agenda 2030 and the new sustainable development paradigm just launched by the United Nations organization.

In this regards, the energy transition is not an end in itself but rather a means to achieve human prosperity: people are at the center of this transition.

The course is organized in four main modules:

  • “Energy: the secret driver of life” is the module in which we will discover how energy transformations are essential in the Universe and for life evolution on Earth, the way complex societies flourished through the control and harvesting of progressively higher and denser energy flows;
  • “Impact of energy uses in twenty-first century” will address and analyze the main dimensions of the contemporary “energy question” including environmental issues and social challenges;
  • “Global energy outlook” will survey the latest data about world primary energy supply and final consumption and the required global and individual commitment to tackle the transition of our energy system;
  • “Energy transition” is the module where the main challenges and objectives of the next energy transition toward a world with minor impact in ecosystems, a fair distribution of resources and a reduced carbon lock-in of our economy are addressed. The role of science, technology, education and responsibility is discussed as well.