Confronting Climate Change: A Foundation in Science, Technology and Policy (at FAS)

This course will consider the challenge of climate change and what to do about it.   Students will be introduced to the basic science of climate change, including the radiation budget of the Earth, the carbon cycle, and the physics and chemistry of the oceans and atmosphere.  We will look at reconstructions of climate change through Earth history to provide a context for thinking about present and future changes.  We will take a critical look at climate models used to predict climate change in the future, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses, evaluating which forecasts of climate change impacts are robust, and which are more speculative.   We will spend particular time discussing sea level rise and extreme weather (including hurricanes, heat waves, and floods).  We will look at the complex interactions between climate and human society, including climate impacts on agriculture and the relationship between climate change, migration and conflict.  We will also discuss strategies for adapting to climate change impacts, and the implications of those strategies for sub-national and international equity.  

The last half of the class will consider what to do about climate change.  First, we will review the recent history of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as various national and international efforts to limit them in the future.  We will discuss reducing carbon emissions using forestry, agriculture and land use, and then focus on how to transform the world’s energy system to eliminate CO2 emissions.  We will conclude by examining different strategies for accelerating changes in our energy systems to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The course is intended as a foundational course on climate change for students from around the university, preparing them for more specialized courses in their individual concentrations or degree programs.  No prerequisites are required; students will be encouraged to apply their different preparations and interests to the various individual and group assignments.  The course emphasizes the scientific and technological aspects of climate change (including the clean energy transition), but in the context of current issues in public policy, business, design and public health.