A Free-Market Energy Blog

"Energy and Society" Course: Professor Desrochers's Model for the Academy

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 7, 2011

Pierre Desrochers is a scholar’s scholar. His prolific research, writing, and teaching facilitate our own research and learning. His reference and use of some of our work is a vindication of sorts.

I recently encountered Professor Desrochers syllabus for Energy and Society, a course that he is currently teaching at the University of Toronto Mississauga.  Wow! Lucky are his students; this course is a model for its subject for North American and far beyond.

Desrochers sets out three main objectives for this course:

• To cover the basic physical, technical and economic issues related to energy use;
• To cover broadly the history of energy development and use;
• To introduce students to past debates and current controversies.

He describes the course as follows:

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.

The lecture titles and readings follow.


Lecture 1 (September 12): Introduction
Lecture 2 (September 19): Concepts and the Big Picture
Lecture 3 (September 26): Fire and Carbon-Fueled Civilizations 1
Lecture 4 (October 3): Carbon-Fueled Civilizations 2 …
Lecture 7 (October 24): Electricity (Hydro and Nuclear)
Lecture 8 (October 31): Renewables and Alternatives
Lecture 9 (November 7): The Perennial Energy Debate
Lecture 10 (November 14): The Curse of Natural Resources
Lecture 11 (November 21): The Future of the Automobile
Lecture 12 (November 28): Ontario’s Energy Dilemma

Lectures & Readings

Lecture 1: Introduction
Challenges and trade-offs
Morriss, Andrew P. 2011. “The United States can’t afford to scrap nuclear power.” Star Telegram, April 16.
Pizer, William A. “Setting Energy Policy in the Modern Era: Tough Challenges Lie Ahead.” Resources (Navigating Energy Choices in the 21st Century), Winter 2005, Issue 156, pp. 8-10.
Smil, V. 2011. “Global Energy: The Latest Infatuations.” American Scientist 99:212-219.

Bradley Jr, Robert. 2010. “A Free Market Energy Vision.” MasterResource, July 16.
Monbiot, George. 2011. “Let’s face it: none of our environmental fixes break the planet-wrecking project.” The Guardian, May 3.

Energy Independence
Roberts, Paul. 2008. “The Seven Myths of Energy Independence.” Mother Jones, May/June Issue.
Grimes, William. 2008. “Heard the One About the Farmer’s Ethanol?The New York Times, March 7.

Forecasting in retrospect
Bailey, Ronald. 2009. “How Green Is Your Crystal Ball? The National Academy of Sciences tries to predict America’s energy future. Again.” ReasonOnline.com, August 4.

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 2: Concepts and the Big Picture

Basic concepts
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.

Energy transitions
Wrigley, Tony. 2011. “Opening Pandora’s box: A new look at the industrial revolution. ” VOX 22 July).
Ausubel, Jesse. 2000. “Where is Energy Going?,” The Industrial Physicist 6(1): 16-19.
Bryce, Robert. 2010. “Wood to Coal to Oil to Natural Gas and Nuclear: The Slow Pace of Energy Transitions.” Energy Tribune, August 16.

Global Energy Picture

US Energy Information Administration. 2011. International Energy Outlook 2011 (Executive Summary)

Suggested readings

Lecture 3: Fire and Carbon-Fueled Civilizations 1; Lecture 4; Carbon-Fueled Civilizations 2

• Fire and Deforestation
Cowen, Richard. Essays on Geology, History and People. (Under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press), Ch. 3 (“Fire and Metals“), Ch. 4 (“The Bronze Age“) and Ch. 11 (“Timber Crisis”).
Williams, Gerald W. 2001. References on the American Indian Use of Fire in Ecosystems.

• Lighting before Kerosene
Alex Epstein. “Energy at the Speed of Thought (Part 2: Individual Planning in the Pre-Petroleum Illumination Market).” Master Resource, December 21, 2010.
Whale Oil” on the Oil History Website by Samuel T. Pees.
Tragedy of the Commons,” Wikipedia.

• Fossil Fuels (General Interest)
Fossil Fuels.” Environmental Literacy Council.
Cowen, Richard. Essays on Geology, History and People. (Under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press), Ch. 11, 13.

• Coal
Coal.” Environmental Literacy Council
–, “Coal Tar.” The City of Kingston’s Website.
Bradsher, Keith. 2009. “China Outpaces US in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants.” New York Times (May 10).
Brown, Matthew. 2010. “Old-style coal plants expanding.” The Associated Press, August 17.

• Oil
Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies.” Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century. National Academy of Engineering. 2000.
Petroleum.” Environmental Literacy Council.
Sweet and Sour Crude.” Econbrowser, August 21, 2005.
Anderson, Terry. 2010. “Why It’s Safer to Drill in the ‘Backyard’.” The Wall Street Journal, June 25.
Casselman, Ben. 2010. “Oil Industry Booms – in North Dakota.” The Wall Street Journal, January 26.
Featherstone, Charles H. 2005. “Peak Oil?.” LewRockwell.com, January 6.
Green, Kenneth P., &  Steven F. Hayward. 2010. “The Dangers of Overreacting to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.” AEI Online (June).
Green, Kenneth P. 2006. “Bringing Down Gasoline and Oil Prices.” Brief Analysis No. 557, National Center for Policy Analysis, June 8.
Reynolds, Alan. 2005. “Oil Prices: Cause and Effect.” Cato Institute, June 27.
Vargas Llosa, Alvaro. 2008. “Oil Prices—Who Are the Culprits?” The Independent Institute, June 11.

Natural and Shale Gas
Natural Gas.” Environmental Literacy Council.
Myers Jaffe , Amy. 2010. “How Shale Gas Is Going to Rock the World.” The Wall Street Journal, May 10.
Stevens, Paul. 2010. “The ‘Shale Gas Revolution’: Hype and Reality.” Chatham House Report, September (Executive Summary).
Biello, David. 2010. “What the Frack? Natural Gas from Subterranean Shale Promises U.S. Energy Independence – With Environmental Costs.” Scientific American, March 30.
McCarthy, Shawn. 2010. “Canada not ready for shale gas boom.” The Globe and Mail, October 14.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy: Europe’s New Gas Deposits May Alter Geopolitical Balance.” PRNewswire, September 23, 2010.
Frequently Asked Questions About LNG.” California Energy Commission.

Survey of Energy Resources Interim Update 2009 – Oil Shale.” World Energy Council.
Oil shale retort.” Econbrowser.com, September 27, 2005.
Survey of Energy Resources Interim Update 2009 – Natural Bitument and Extra-Heavy Oil.” World Energy Council.
Abiotic Theory of Oil Formation.” Environmental Literacy Council.
Bailey, Ronald. 2010. “Oil Without Dinos? New energy sources.” Reason, January Issue.
Dymond, W. A. 2010. “Oil sands emissions dwarfed by coal.” Financial Post, July 27.

Mandatory videos
Oklahoma’s Oil & Natural Gas Producers and Royalty Owners (2007) Educational Animations
Drilling Rig Animation
Horizontal Drilling Animation
Multi-stage Vertical Drilling
Well Frac Animation
Seismic Line Animation
Seismic Survey Animation

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 7: Electricity (Hydro and Nuclear)

Electrification.” Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century. National Academy of Engineering. 2000.
Bradley, Robert L and Richard W. Fulmer. Energy: The Master Resource, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2004, Chapter 2: Using Energy, pp. 19-20, 25-29, 30-31, 45-48.
Environmental Literacy Council Website.
Electric Current and Power Transmission.”
Electric Power Grids and Blackouts.”
Energy Facts & Statistics Maps: Canada, Ontario.” Centre for Energy™.

Portney, Paul R. “Nuclear Power: Clean, Costly, and Controversial.” Resources (Navigating Energy Choices in the 21st Century), Winter 2005, Issue 156, pp. 28-30.
Bailey, Ronald. 2011. “Nuclear Disaster in Japan Does it show a way forward for nuclear power?Reason Magazine, March 15.
Fumento, Michael. 2005. “So What Really Happened After Chernobyl?Tech Central Station, September 19.
Brown, Anthony. 2002. “‘Myth’ of Chernobyl suffering exposed.” The Observer, January 6.
Chernobyl Death Toll Grossly Underestimated.” Greenpeace, April 18, 2006.

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 8: Renewables and Alternatives

General Statements
Renewable and Alternative Fuels Basics 101.” Energy Information Administration (read only the general definition).
Energy Fact Sheet – Appropriate Technology.” State the Essence!
Bryce, Robert. 2010. “Five myths about green energy.” The Washington Post, April 25.
Economist Debates: Natural gas The Economist.
Ball, Jeffrey. 2010. “Clean Energy Sources: Sun, Wind and Subsidies.” The Wall Street Journal, January 8.
Bullis, Kevin. 2011. “Venture Capitalists Back Away from Clean Energy.” Technology Review, August 11.
Love, Shannon. 2010. “Why Alternative Power Is and Will Remain Useless.” Chicago Boyz, February 28th.


Editorial: Stop ‘Big Corn’.” The Washington Times, April 5, 2010.
Editorial: Administration caves to Big Corn – EPA burns your money with ethanol.” The Washington Times, October 18, 2010.
Chakrabortty, Aditya. 2008. “Secret Report: Biofuel Caused Food Crisis – Internal World Bank Study Delivers Blow to Plant Energy Drive.” The Guardian, July 4.
Green, Kenneth P. 2010. “Score Another Win for Big Corn!The Enterprise Blog, October 13.
Kiesling, Lynne. 2007. “Proprietary, Sweeter Tomates: Another Unintended Consequence of Ethanol Subsidies.” Knowledge Problem, Oct. 2.
Runge, C. Ford. 2010. “The Case Against Biofuels: Probing Ethanol’s Hidden Costs.” Yale Environment 360, March 11.

Runge, C. Ford, and Benjamin Senauer. 2008. “How Ethanol Fuels the Food Crisis.” Foreign Affairs, May 28.
Wynn, Gerard. 2010. “U.S. corn ethanol “was not a good policy”-Gore.” Energy & Oil | Reuters, November 22.


Sills, Ben. 2010. “Spain’s Solar Deals on Edge of Bankruptcy as Subsidies Founder.” Bloomberg Markets Magazine, October 18.

Bryce, Robert. 2011. “The Party’s Over for Big Wind.” The Huffington Post (August 12).
Bryce, Robert. 2010. “Wind Power Won’t Cool Down the Planet.” The Wall Street Journal, August 24.
Bryce, Robert. 2010. “IEA: Nuclear Power is Cheap, Wind Energy Is Expensive.” Energy Tribune, March 25.
“Executive summary” of “Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources” by Gabriel Calzada Álvarez PhD., Raquel Merino Jara, Juan Ramón Rallo Julián Technical & José Ignacio García Bielsa. Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, March 2009.
Rose, Tony, and Michael J. Economides. 2010. “Wind Energy: The Truth Blows.” Energy Tribune, Oct. 20, 2010
Schleede, Glenn (Guest Blogger). 2010. “Understanding the Limits of Wind Power: Key Industry Terms.” MasterResource – A free-market energy blog, March 14.
Sickinger, Ted. 2010. “Too much of a good thing: Growth in wind power makes life difficult for grid managers.” The Oregonian, July 17.

Ontario Renewable Energy Policy

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 9: The Perennial Energy Debate

Survey of the issue

Anonymous. 1998. “Reserves Growth: What Does it Mean for Oil Supply?International Petroleum Encyclopedia.
Deffeyes, Kenneth, & Peter Huber. 2005. “It’s the End of Oil / Oil Is Here to Stay.” Time, October 23.
Geddes, Pete. 2007. “Running Out of Resources? Tech Central Station, August 9.
Jevons Paradox.” Encyclopedia of Earth.
Stott, Philip. 2008. “The Jevons’ Paradox.” Global Warming Politics, February 12.

Bardi, Ugo. 2008. “Crude Oil: how high can it go? (19th century whaling as a model for oil depletion and price volatility).” The Oil Drum: Europe, May 15.
Campbell, Colin C. and Jean Laherrère. 1998. “The End of Cheap Oil.” Scientific American (March): 78-83.
Goodstein, David. 2004. “The End of the Age of Oil.” CalTech News, Vol. 38, no.2
Hubbert Peak” on Wikipedia.
McGahan, Anita. 2009. “The End of Oil.” Rotman Magazine, Winter.
Pearce, Fred. 2010. “The overpopulation myth.” Prospect Magazine, March 8.
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (Tertullian). Approximately 203 AD. “On the Soul.” Chapter 30.

Adelman, M. A. 2004. “The Real Oil Problem.” Regulation (Spring): 16-21.
Ausubel, Jesse. 1999/2000. “Resources are Elastic,” Earth Matters (Winter): 46-47.
Baumol, William J. and Sue Anne Batey Blackman. “Natural Resources,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
Bailey, Ronald. 2004. “Are We Out of Gas Yet? The Continuing ‘Oil Crisis’ Crisis.” ReasonOnline, March 18.
George, Henry. 1912/1879. Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth, The Remedy. Book II: Population and Subsistence. Chapter III: Inferences from Analogy.
Jaffe, Amy Myers. 2011. “The Americas, Not the Middle East, Will be the World Capital of Energy.” Foreign Policy (September-October).
Lind, Michael. 2011. “Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong – War Room.” Salon.com, May 31.
Lynch, Michael. 2009. “‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy.” The New York Times, August 24.
Smil, Vaclav. 2007. “Peak performance.” Tech Central Station, February 23
Smil, Vaclav. 2006. “Peak Oil: A Catastrophist Cult and Complex Realities.” World Watch 19: 22-24.
Smil, Vaclav. 2005. “Peak Curiosity.” Tech Central Station, December 2.

Recent News
Agence France-Presse. 2007. “Brazil Discovers Huge Oil Reserves.” News.com.au, November 09.
Bailey, Ronald. 2011. “What Energy Crisis? Natural Gas Supplies Could Last 250 Years.” Reason, January 20, 2011.
Krauss, Clifford. 2010. “There Will Be Fuel.” NYTimes.com, November 16.
Maykuth, Andrew. 2011. “U.S. revises amount of Marcellus gas higher, much higher.” Philly.com (August 24).

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 10: The Curse of Natural Resources

We will watch The Devil’s Footpath, written and presented by June Arunga. More background and a talk by the authoron her documentary.

A Kremlin Cassandra.” The Boston Globe, January 1, 2006.
Adams, Patricia. 2002. “The Doctrine of Odious Debts: Using the Law to Cancel Illegitimate Debts.” Probe International, June 21.
Bailey, Ronald. 2007. “Political Peak Oil – One Thing Stands in the Way of Secure and Abundant Supplies of Oil: Government. ” ReasonOnline, January 5.
Bergevin, Philippe. 2006. “Energy Resources: Boon or Curse for the Canadian Economy?” Economics Division, Parliamentary Information and Research Service (PIRS) of the Library of Parliament  31 March.
Birdsall, Nancy and Arvind Subramanian. 2004. “Saving Iraq from its Oil,” Foreign Affairs, July, pp. 77-89.
Llosa, Alvaro Vargas. 2006. “A Natural Fit.” Tech Central Station, March 17.
Martinez, Ibsen. 2005. “The Curse of the Petro-State: The Example of Venezuela.” The Library of Economics and Liberty, September 5.
Mitchell, Paul. 2003. “The ‘Resource Curse’ is Overstated (PDF document) .” Financial Times, Nov. 18.
Palda, Filip. 2003. “The High Price of Natural Wealth.” Fraser Forum, January, 30-31.
Palley, Thomas I. 2003. “Lifting the Natural Resource Curse.” Foreign Service Journal, December.
Ryan, Kieron E. 2010. “Blood Diamonds Farce.” LewRockwell.com, August 11.
Stevens, Paul J. 2002. “‘Resource Curse’ and Investment in Oil and Gas Projects: The New Challenge.” Internet Journal (The Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy) June. (later published as “Resource Impact: curse or blessing? A literature survey.” Journal of Energy Literature Vol IX No 1 June 2003 Pp. 3-42)
Tupy, Marian L. 2006. “Sir John Cowperthwaite: A Personal Tribute.” The Cato Institute, February 3.

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 11: The Future of the Automobile

We will watch “Nova: Car of the Future.” (The program can be watched online here)

Before the Car

The Horse and the Urban Environment” on the Environmental Literacy Council’s Webpage.
Avery, Dennis T. 2000. “Earth Day celebrate the gas-powered tractor.” The Des Moines Register, April 2.
Gordon, Peter. 2007 “Horse Manure.” Peter Gordon’s Blog, August 27.

• Historical Perspective
Bradley, Robert L and Richard W. Fulmer. Energy: The Master Resource, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2004, Chapter 2: Using Energy, pp. 48-55.

Electric Car
Investor’s Business Daily: Volt Fraud At Government Motors.” Investors’ Business Daily Inc., October 19, 2010.
Foster, Peter. 2010. “The Voltswagen: The people’s car the people pay for.” Financial Post, July 28.
Jenkins, Holman W. 2008. “What Is GM Thinking?The Wall Street Journal, July 2.
Kinney Bennett, Ralph. 2006. “Who Killed the Electric Car?Tech Central Station, June 29.
Lane, Charles. 2010. “Unaffordable at Any Speed – President Obama’s electric car subsidies are snobby and foolish.” Slate, July 30.
Wickstrom, Doug. 2006. “Who Killed the Electric Car?rec.arts.sf.fandom Google Group, July 14.

–, “Most Hybrid Vehicles Not as Cost-Effective as They Seem, Reports Edmunds.com.” Edmunds.com, June 1, 2005.
Elton, Robert. 2004. “The Truth About Hybrids.” The Truth about Cars. November 12.

Bullis, Kevin. 2006. “The Methanol Economy.” Technology Review, March 02.
Friedemann, Alice. 2005. “The Hydrogen Economy – Energy and Economic Black Hole.” Energy Pulse, February 25.
Zubrin, Robert. “The Hydrogen Hoax.” The New Atlantis, Number 15, Winter 2007, pp. 9-20.

Related topics
Omi, Koji. 2009. “Alternative Energy for Transportation.” Issues in Science and Technology 25 (4), Summer.

Suggested readings
Suggested links

Lecture 12: Ontario’s Energy Dilemma

• Statistics and History
Energy Facts & Statistics Maps: Canada, Ontario.” Centre for Energy™.
–, “Supply Overview.” Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

• Policy Framework
Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (Ontario).
Ontario’s Green Energy Act
– “Ontario Makes it Easier, Faster to Grow Green Energy” Sept. 24, 2009.
D’Aliesio, Renata. 2011. “In Ontario, gloomy skies for solar power.” The Globe and Mail, August 10.
Gallant, Parker. 2010. “Ontario’s Power Trip: Power without the people.” Financial Post, August 17.
Green Energy Act Alliance

• Debates
Pros Green Energy Act

Hudak in the Dark on Power.” Toronto Star (May 12).
Weis, Tim and P. J. Partington. 2011. Behind the Switch. Pricing Ontario’s Electricity Options. Pembina Institute (Executive Summary) http://www.pembina.org/pub/2238
Butler, Don. 2011. “Science doesn’t back ‘campaign of fear’ on wind power, Sierra Club argues.” Ottawa Citizen (June 9).
(Not mandatory reading , but for full report see Sierra Club Canada. 2011. The Real Truth about Wind Power. A Literature Review on Wind Turbines in Ontario (Conclusion).
Environmental Defense and Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. 2011. Blowing Smoke. Correcting Anti-Wind Myths in Ontario.
Stewart, Keith. 2011. “Conservatives Energy Plan would Nuke Ontario’s Green Energy Future.” Greenpeace Canada (May 12).
Suzuki, David. 2011. “When it comes to health, wind power blows away the alternative.” David Suzuki Foundation (July 6) (Blogs – Science Matters).

Opponents to Green Energy Act
Corcoran, Terence. 2010. “Power failure.” National Post, October 7 (Not mandatory reading, but for full report see Aegent Energy Advisors report “You’re Approaching an Electricity Cost Iceberg – What Should You Do?” April 2010)
Solomon, Lawrence. 2011. “McGuinty’s reality.” Financial Post, March 12.
Solomon, Lawrence. 2010. “Green collapse.” Financial Post, December 3.
Solomon, Lawrence. 2010. “Ontario Power Lesson.” National Post, October 12.
Wente, Margaret. 2010. “When it comes to power in Ontario, we’re in the dark.” The Globe and Mail, October 12.
Wood, Joel. 2010. ““Feed-in” tariffs in Ontario: UnFIT energy policy.” Fraser Forum, December 22.

Suggested readings
Suggested links


  1. Jon Boone  

    Desrochers should consider a discussion about how energy relates to power, as well as the importance of effective or firm capacity to modernity. In fact, he could define the nature of modernity, and how its machines differ from the premodern, in the process allowing widespread convergence in time and place. Finally, part of his discussion might range over the relationship between energy and power densities–and discuss how these affect productivity, at many different levels.

    All this would be grist for demonstrating how modern power converted from high energy density is the basis of modern market economies–and contemporary notions of life, liberty, and happiness.


  2. "Population Bombed": Interview with Pierre Desrochers (new book out today) - Master Resource  

    […] I remember MasterResource featured your “Energy and Society” syllabus a few years […]


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