The Science and Policy of Climate Change

First Year Seminar, Fall, 2018

Thursdays, 2:00-4:30, Warren Weaver Hall 1314
Office Hours: Wednesday 2-3 pm and Thursday 1-2 pm, Warren Weaver Hall 911

Course Description

Your time in high school was an exceptional period for our planet: 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 were the four warmest years in recorded history. It is likely the hottest the Earth has ever been since the last interglacial period 125,000 years ago. The first predictions of human induced global warming were made over a century ago, but the topic remains controversial despite the fact that the world has warmed almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the intervening years. In this seminar, we will investigate observational evidence as well as the physical and mathematical foundations upon which forecasts of future climate are based. What are the key uncertainties in the predictions, and what steps are required to reduce them? We will find that it is not the science of global warming that is controversial, but rather, what to do about it.

Our personal and collective response to global warming is a “trillion dollar” question: how can we ensure the prosperity of all people on Earth, while at the same time avoid dangerous interference with our climate system? To answer this, we must weigh the costs of taking action today versus responding to potential consequences tomorrow, and come to grips with the ethical implications of the fact those who benefit from the use of fossil fuels are not the ones who will bear the costs. We must also consider other solutions: could we intervene in the climate system in other ways to offset the impact of our greenhouse gas emissions? Armed with a scientific and policy background, students will conduct a research project on the response to global warmingdelving into the details of climate engineering, alternate energy, psychology, ethics, and/or economicsgiving you a chance to enter the debate, and perhaps even contribute to the solution.

Required Textbooks

  • Archer, David: 2012, Global Warming: Understanding the forecast (2nd Edition) , John Wiley and Sons, 203 pp.

  • Frankfurt, Harry G.: 2005, On Bullshit , Princeton University Press, 67 pp.

  • Walker, Gabrielle: 2007, An Ocean of Air, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pp.