A Free-Market Energy Blog

“Energy and Society” Course (Part I: Introduction, Concepts, and the Big Picture)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 27, 2019

Pierre Desrochers’ course at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Energy and Society, might just be the single best introduction to its subject in North America.

The students get both sides in impressive depth. As such, this course provides a study guide for anyone interested in the multi-faceted issues around the master resource.

Part I today presents the course description as well as the videos and readings from the first two weeks of the class. Part II tomorrow will cover the readings for carbon-based energies (oil, natural gas, coal).


The development of new energy sources has had a major impact on the development of both human societies and the environment. This course will provide a broad survey of past and current achievements, along with failures and controversies, regarding the use of various forms of energy. Understanding of technical terms, physical principles, creation of resources and trade-offs will be emphasized as a basis for discussions about energy options. The local and global dimensions of the economics and politics surrounding the world’s energy resources will be recurring concerns in this course.

Five objectives of Energy and Society are to:

1) Cover the basic physical, technical and economic issues related to energy use; 
2) Cover broadly the history of energy development and use; 
3) Introduce students to past debates and current controversies;
4) Memorize and use, without aids, the basic terminology with which professionals in relevant disciplines communicate their work and their research findings;
5) Apply a wide range of academic skills in active listening, note-taking, studying, reading, and test-taking to upper-level university courses.

Week 1: Introduction


The Guardian. 2015. Why Fossil Fuels need to Stay in the Ground – A Video Explainer.

Simplifilm. 2014. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein Official Book Trailer.

GatesNotes. 2014. Bjorn Lomborg: Fighting Poverty with Fossil Fuels (June 25).

Norberg, Johan. 2015. Power to the People. Free to Choose Network (available here or here).

Readings (Conflicting Visions)

– Restrictionists/Green

Monbiot, George. 2011. “Let’s face it: none of our environmental fixes break the planet-wrecking project.” The Guardian, May 3.

McKibben, Bill. 2012. “Global Warming Terrifying New Math.” Rolling Stone (July 19).

The Leap Manifesto

Le Billon, Philippe and Berit Kristoffersen. 2018. “Climate Change Talks Need to Address Fossil Fuel Supplies.” Policy Options (December 12).

Montgomery, L. Scott. 2018. “Cheap Oil is Blocking Progress on Climate Change.” The Conversation (December 12).

– Expansionists/Free-Market

Bradley Jr, Robert. 2010. “A Free Market Energy Vision.” MasterResource, July 16.

O’Neill, Brendan (2014/2009). “Hands off the Human Footprint!” Spiked! (December 17).

Epstein, Alex. 2015. “Carbon Week: The G7’s Immoral No-carbon Pledge.” National Post (June 16).

Green, Kenneth. 2014. “Anti-Energy Activists Don’t Want to Talk About Energy Poverty.” Huffington Post (July 30).

– Middle Ground

Smil, V. 2011. “Global Energy: The Latest Infatuations.” American Scientist 99:212-219.

Week 2: Concepts and the Big Picture


American Museum of Natural History. 2016. Human Population Through Time.

International Energy Agency. 2017. Energy Access 2017.

British Pathé – Power: Constructing a Car Engine (1930-1939).

Readings: Big Picture

Zhang, Sarah. 2017. “A Grand New Theory of Life’s Evolution on Earth. A series of energy revolutions – some natural, some technological – built upon one another to give us our rich, diverse biosphere.” The Atlantic (May 19) 2017 (original essay here).

BP 2018. BP Statistical Review of World EnergyA Year in World Energy Markets.

Exxon Mobil. 2016. “ExxonMobil’s Energy Outlook Projects Population, Economic Growth to Drive Energy Demand.” (December 16).

Plumer, Brad. 2014. “11 Maps that Explain the US Energy System.” Vox.

Montreal Economic Institute. 2014. Canada’s Energy Profile in 40 Questions.

Readings: Basic Concepts

Canadian Geographic. Energy IQ. Canada’s Energy Education Resource (Browse).

Bradley, Robert L and Richard W. Fulmer. Energy: The Master Resource, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2004, Chapter 1: The Basics and Chapter 3: Efficiency – Technical and Economic.

Huber, Peter. 2004. “The Virtue Of Waste.” Forbes, December 13.

Huber, Peter. 2005. “Thermodynamics and Money.” Forbes, May 31.

Readings: Energy Transitions

EIA. 2013. “Energy Sources have Changed throughout the History of the United States.” Today in Energy (July 3).

Bryce, Robert. 2010. “Wood to Coal to Oil to Natural Gas and Nuclear: The Slow Pace of Energy Transitions.” Energy Tribune, August 16.

Wrigley, Tony. 2011. “Opening Pandora’s box: A new look at the industrial revolution. ” VOX, 22 July.

Forbes, Viv. 2015. “Climate Alarmists Turn Back the Clock.” American Thinker (January 6).

Ausubel, Jesse. 2000. “Where is Energy Going?,” The Industrial Physicist 6(1): 16-19.

Smil, Vaclav. 2016. “Examining Energy Transitions: A dozen insights based on performance.” Energy Research & Social Science 22: 194-197.

Connelly, Quinn. 2018. “Energy Transitions? Not So Fast.” Real Clear Energy (April 18).

Paunio, Mikko. 2018. Kicking Away the Energy Ladder. How environmentalism destroys hope for the poorest. Global Warming Policy Foundation. GWPF Briefing 30 (Read Executive Summary).

Berkow, Jameson. 2012. “Transportation fuel shift stuck in slow lane.” National Post (April 2).

Readings: Forecasting

Bailey, Ronald. 2018. “Master Resource Reprises My Takedown of the National Academy of Sciences’ Energy Projections – How is America’s Energy Future looking nine years after I first panned it? Not so good.” Reason (January 19).

Mills, Mark P. 2018. “Can’t See For Miles. The perils of technology forecasting, particularly regarding energy.” City Journal (May 6).

Part II tomorrow will present the syllabus of the next three weeks of the course, Carbon Based Civilizations.