Earth 104 Syllabus (Spring 2023)


Earth 104 Syllabus (Spring 2023)

Energy, the Environment, and Our Future

This syllabus is divided into several sections, as follows. 

  • Instructor
  • Course Overview
  • Course Objectives
  • Required Course Materials
  • Assignments and Grading
  • Course Schedule
  • Course Policies


David Yoxtheimer, Ph.D., P.G.

Office Phone: 814-865-1587
Office Hours: Please contact the instructor if you need to meet.

NOTE: I will make an effort to read and respond to your emails within a 24 hr period M-F, but things might be delayed over the weekends.

Course Overview

This course presents the past, present, and possible future response of Earth’s climate to human energy use. This course will explore the impact of a growing population, economic growth, and finite fossil fuel resources on our current energy supply system. The combination of these factors requires reduced emissions via conversion of energy system to non-fossil fuel sources.

Course Objectives

When you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:

  • Explain how the combination of a growing population, economic growth, and finite fossil fuel resources means that our current energy supply system is not sustainable
  • Use a simple model to show that carbon emissions must decrease dramatically if we are to avoid a dangerous level of global warming.
  • Explain how the combined costs associated with the reducing emissions and climate-related damages demonstrate that the smart move is to act quickly to shift our energy system to non-fossil fuel sources.


On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.

We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different from a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me as well as with your fellow students.

Specific learning objectives for each module and project are detailed within each module.

Online content

All materials needed for this course are presented online. In each module, we provide citations for additional reading.

There are no required materials for this course.

This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

  • Weekly quizzes multiple-choice
  • Summative Assessment Labs for five of the modules (described in the course materials)
  • Discussion post and comments for the modules without Summative Assessments 
  • Self-Assessments for 3 modules without Summative Assessments or Discussions

It is important that your work is submitted in the proper format by the designated due date. We strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete these assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You'll learn more, do better...and be happier!

Due dates for all assignments are posted in the syllabus below. Please make sure you are aware of the weekly deadlines.


Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.
Assignment Percent of Grade
Quizzes (12) 35%
Summative Assessment Activities (4) 30%
Discussion posts and comments (5) 10%
Self-Assessments (3) 10%
Capstone Project (1) 15%

Your scores for all assignments will be kept current in Canvas.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - 92.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9%
C+ 77 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 76.9 %
D 60 - 69.9 %
F < 60 %
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Late Policy

We only accept late work in exceptional circumstances, but you must contact us immediately if you need an exception. The earlier you contact us to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered on a case by case basis. If you miss a quiz that will count as your dropped score. Late summative assessments will be assessed a penalty of 10% per day.

Earth 104 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Earth 104 Weekly Schedule

Weekly schedule for the course
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Summative Assessments are due Tuesday of week following Module* Discussion posts are due by Midnight

Discussion comments are due by Midnight

Quizzes are due by Midnight

Unit Self-Assessment are due by Midnight the week the Unit ends

* For example, Summative Assessment for Module 3 is due on Tuesday of Week 4.

Earth 104 Module Schedule

Do not use this list for Readings or Assignments, use the Module Road Maps at the beginning of each module for these.

Week 1: Course Orientation
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Meet the Instructor
  • The Learning Environment
  • Assignments
  • Technical Requirements
  • Refreshers and Tutorials
  • How to Succeed in this Course
  • Course Communication
  • Getting to Know You
  • Course Introduction
  • Modern Earth Science Principle
  • None
  • Perform tasks outlined in course orientation to become familiar with the course and the course environment
  • Post a self-introduction to the Discussion
  • Complete the Initial Course Survey (Professors will give you more information)
Week 2: Module 1 Why Energy Matters
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Unfriending Fossil Fuels
  • Dealing with Drought
  • Running Out of Trees
  • Running Out of Whales
  • See Module Road Map
  • Module 1 Discussion Post
  • Module 1 Discussion Comments
  • Quiz 1
Week 3: Module 2 What is Energy?
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Three Examples
  • Powering the Big Units
  • Energy and the US Economy
  • See Module Road Map
  • Module 2 Discussion Post
  • Module 2 Discussion Comments
  • Quiz 2
Week 4: Module 3 Oil, Coal & Natural Gas | Drilling, Fracking & Reserves
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • The Formation and Future of Fossil Fuels
  • Origins of Oil, Coal, and Gas
  • How Nature Makes Coal, Oil, and Gas
  • Reserves and Resources
  • Future of Fossil Fuels
  • See Module Road Map
  • Summative Assessment
  • Quiz 3
Week 5: Module 4 - Global Warming - Physics
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • The Unavoidable Warmness of Burning
  • The Warming from the So-Far-Unavoidable Burning
  • See Module Road Map
  • Summative Assessment
  • Quiz 4
Week 6: Module 5 - Global Warming - History
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Who Did Start the Fire?
  • The Projection Project
  • See Module Road Map
  • Quiz 5
  • Unit 1 Self-Assessment
Week 7: Module 6 - Solar and Wind Power
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Solar Energy
  • Wind Energy
  • See Module Road Map
  • Discussion Post
  • Discussion Comments
  • Quiz 6
Week 8: Module 7 - Geothermal, Hydroelectric & Nuclear
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Geothermal
  • Hydroelectricity (Waves & Tides)
  • Nuclear Energy
  • See Module Road Map
  • Discussion Post
  • Discussion Comment
  • Quiz 7
Week 9: Module 8 - Conservation
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Global Conservation Potential
  • Inefficient Use of Energy
  • Options and Opportunities for Energy Conservation
  • Achieving the Potential of Conservation
  • See Module Road Map
  • Summative Assessment
  • Quiz 8
Week 10: Module 9 - Geoengineering
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • The Geoengineering Taxonomy
  • Albedo Modification within the Earth’s Atmosphere\
  • Albedo Modification from Space
  • Terrestrial Sequestration
  • Geologic Sequestration in Unmineable Coal Seams
  • Geologic Sequestration in Deep Saline Aquifers
  • See Module Road Map
  • Quiz 9
  • Unit 2 Self-Assessment
Week 11: Module 10 - Economics
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Paying the Piper
  • Interesting Discounts
  • Forever, and Ever
  • All Together Now... Integrated Assessment
  • Fees to Flush
  • Dithering with the Discount Rate
  • Getting What You Measure
  • See Module Road Map
  • Summative Assessment
  • Quiz 10
Week 12: Module 11 - Policy Options
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Policy Options and Regulations
  • Tax and What?
  • Harmonious Taxes
  • Policy Pile-On
  • The Present Policy Position
  • See Module Road Map
  • Discussion Post
  • Discussion Comment
  • Quiz 11
Week 13: Module 12 - Ethical Issues
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
  • Wanting What We Do
  • Libertarians for Government Intervention?
  • Environmentalists for Economic Growth?
  • Sharing the Jump Ramp Fairly?
  • Pure Rate of Time Preference
  • Extinction Is Forever
  • Resource Curse
  • Risking It
  • See Module Road Map
  • Module Quiz 12
  • Unit 3 Self-Assessment
  • Begin Capstone Project — not due until finals week
Capstone Project
Dates Please refer to the Course Calendar and Canvas Syllabus page for due dates.
Topics N/A
Readings N/A

Course Policies

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.