This course features guest lectures from faculty across the university, sharing the approaches their disciplines bring to understanding the challenge of global climate change. The course considers the impacts of climate change and the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; considers cultural and social perspectives on climate change; and considers solutions proposed and created by policy makers, architects and managers.
Students learn how to assess the climate impact of a business or institution and how to assess measures to reduce emissions. The course includes a field trip to visit sustainable rebuilding and clean energy projects in the New Orleans area. The course’s final essay assignment asks students to develop a prospectus for an honors thesis project relating to climate change. By providing a multidisciplinary overview and introducing students to work underway in departments across the university, this course seeks to help students identify their own research agenda–their own response to climate change.
1. To understand how knowledge of the current and possible impacts of climate change is produced and communicated by scientists.
2. To learn basic principles in carbon accounting and conducting greenhouse gas emissions inventories.
3. To explore both technological and policy responses to the challenge of climate change.
4. To understand how different academic disciplines approach the problem of climate change, and to develop a personal plan for research and learning about climate change while at Tulane.
CONTEXT FOR USE
This course was taught as an Honors Colloquium, targeted at freshman and sophomores, at Tulane University in Fall 2010. This course is premised on the insight that students interested in addressing climate change need early help understanding what different disciplines contribute to understanding and responding to climate change-- for example, what a course in economics or the business school may offer. They need to meet the faculty who are available to them as soon as possible. The course is organized into four broad units; within those units faculty who teach keep courses related to climate change are invited to lecture on their research, give a lecture from one of their courses, or informally field questions from the class.
Schedule of Readings & Assignments
Tuesday, August 24 Course Introduction
Thursday, August 26 “Fighting for Survival: The Vulnerability of America’s Gulf Coast and the Caribbean Basin”
We will attend the 3:30-5 p.m. session of a day-long conference about preparing for the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast region. This session is titled “New Approaches for the Region,” and will feature Congressman Ahn “Joseph” Cao, the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, an Assistant Secretary from NOAA, and possibly Senator Mary Landrieu.
Reading: Thomas Homer-Dixon, “Disaster at the Top of the World” (from the NY Times this week), The Climate Solutions Consensus (CSC), Chap. 2, “Three Questions Every Citizen Should Ask” and “Louisiana: State Findings from Confronting Climate Change in the Gulf Coast Region” (2001 handout).
UNIT ONE How Do We Know What We Know? The IPCC and its Fourth Assessment Report
Week 2: Climate Scientists and Science
Tuesday, August 31 IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report
Reading: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, “Summary for Policy Makers.”
Thursday, Sept. 2 What is the IPCC? How do they work? Reading: CSC, Chap. 1, “The Dance of Mice and Elephants”; excerpts from Stephen Schneider’s Science as a Contact Sport describing the process of writing IPCC reports (pages 131-142, 148-154, and 180-197); and Stephen Schneider’s obituary.
Tuesday, Sept. 7 Climate Models
Reading: CSC, Chap. 3, “Human Carbon as the Smoking Gun; ” Stephen Schneider, excerpt from Chap. 1, “Smoke on the Horizon,” pp. 9-22; Chris Mooney, Storm World, Chapter 3, “…and Computer Models,” 44-58.
Thursday, Sept. 9 Climate Scientists in the Field and Lab
Guest Lecture: Prof. Brad Rosenheim, Earth and Environmental Sciences, speaking on paleoclimatology.
Thursday, Sept. 16 Science, Skeptics, Deniers
Reading: “Guidance Notes for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Addressing Uncertainties,” Stephen Schneider, Chapter 7, “The Media Wars: The Stories Behind Persistent Distortion,” 203-232.
Tuesday, Sept. 14 Climate Scientists in the Field and Lab
Guest visit: Prof. Dawn Wesson, Department of Tropical Medicine, Tulane University discussing the process of writing and publishing a peer-reviewed journal article.
Reading: CSC, Chapter 5; Articles co-authored by Dr. Wesson on West Nile virus and Chagas post-Katrina.
UNIT TWO Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Reductions
Week 5 What’s your “Carbon Footprint?” Quantifying an Entity’s Climate Impact
Tuesday, Sept. 21 Field Trip to Local Green Schools
Guide: Anisa Baldwin Metzger, U.S. Green Building Council
Essay #1 Due
Thursday, Sept. 23 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting
Activity: Meet in computer lab, review principles of estimating emissions, enter energy data into greenhouse gas emissions inventory spreadsheet.
Reading: CSC, Chapter 6, “The Cheapest Carbon”; The Climate Registry, General Reporting Protocol, Version 1.1, Part I “Introduction” ( 1-4), Chapter 1, “Introduction” (5-10), and Chapter 5, “Operational Boundaries” (32-37); White House News Release on reductions at Federal Facilities; Tulane Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory.
Week 6 Current Climate Action in the U.S.
Tuesday, Sept. 28 Climate Change & U.S. Environmental Law
Guest Lecture: Prof. Amy Stein, Tulane School of Law Reading: Press Release & Press Conference on Endangerment Finding (Watch the video of Administrator Lisa Jackson’s remarks, up to the Q & A session.); U.S. EPA, Endangerment Findings FAQs.
Thursday, Sept. 30 Stabilization Wedges
Reading: S. Pacala and R. Socolow, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies.” Science 305 (13 August 2004) 968-972; CSC, Chap. 7, “No Silver Bullet, Many Silver Wedges.”
Tuesday, October 5 Achieving the Next Levels of Energy Efficiency
Reading: McKinsey & Company, Executive Summary, “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the Global Economy;” Richard Conniff, “Energy Sleuths in Search of a Truly Green Building”
Thursday, October 7 Assessing Potential Wedges
Reading: CSC, Chap. 8, “Energy in the Life Cycle of Materials and Chapter 9, “Multiple Intensity Disorder;” Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover.”
Tuesday, October 12 Mid Term
Thursday, October 14 FALL BREAK
UNIT THREE Climate Justice, Treaties and Policies
Week 9 Environmental and Climate Justice
Tuesday, October 19 International Treaties
Guest Lecture: Prof. Dana Zartner, Political Science
Reading: CSC, Chap. 14, “Scaling Up Amidst the Curse of Knowledge” and Chap. 15, “All of the Above! Solutions in Perspective.”
Thursday, October 21 Environmental Justice, Climate Justice
Reading: Congressional Black Caucus, “African Americans and Climate Change: An Unequal Burden”; and J. Timmons Roberts, “Globalizing Environmental Justice.”
Tuesday, October 26 Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives on Climate Change
Guest Lecture: Professor Bill Balee, Anthropology
Thursday, October 28
Reading: Copenhagen Accord; and World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth April 22nd, Cochabamba, Bolivia , “PEOPLES AGREEMENT.”
Week 11: Future Directions for U.S. Policy
Tuesday, November 2 Multidisciplinary Research & Action
Activity: Library Research training session.
Reading: CSC, Part IV, “Thirty-Five Immediate Climate Actions,” 243-276.
Thursday, November 4 University Lecture
Gib Metcalf, Tufts University, a political economist and one of the country's leading experts on the economics of climate policy, is speaking 4 to 5 pm. His talk is titled "Climate Change Policy and Oil Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico: What's the Connection?"
Essay #2 due.
Tuesday, November 9
Reading: Chapter 10, “Carbon Meets Wall Street” and Reuven S. Avi-Yonah and David M. Uhlmann, “Combating Global Climate Change: Why a Carbon Tax Is a Better Response to Global Warming Than Cap and Trade” (Read beginning-p. 8, then p. 28- end)
Thursday, November 11
Guest Lecture: Professor Jay Shimshack, Department of Economics, speaking about how economists contribute to understanding and responding to climate change.
UNIT FOUR Adaptation
Tuesday, November 16 Adaptation Plans
Reading: Oxfam Briefing Paper, “Adapting to climate change,” pp. 1-16; and Florida Governor‘s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change, Florida‘s Energy and Climate Change Acton Plan, Chapter 8, “Adaptation Strategies.”
Thursday, November 18 New Orleans and the Deltaic Plain
Guest Lecture: Professor Richard Campanella, Earth & Environmental Studies and Center for Bioenvironmental Research
Readings: Blum and Roberts, “Drowning of the Mississippi Delta due to insufficient sediment supply and global sea-level rise.”
Tuesday, November 23 No Class--Finish conferences with Instructor
Thursday, November 25 THANKSGIVING
Week 15 Next Steps
Tuesday, November 30 Adaptation & Sea Level Rise
Guest: Prof. Torbjorn Tornqvist, Earth & Environmental Studies, will visit and take questions about sea level rise and climate change.
Reading: Justin Gillis, “As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas” (NY Times, Nov. 13, 2010)
Thursday, December 2 Conclusions, Review, Next Steps Reading: Tulane University Draft Climate Action Plan.
Essay #3 due.
View/Download Attached File: Full Syllabus in pdf
Beginning a course with consideration of the IPCC and its assessment reports helps students understand the institutions that have been developed to evaluate and report evolving understandings of climate change, and it gives them direct knowledge of the assessment report, which they will see cited throughout the course. For non-climate scientists teaching introductory courses in climate change, beginning a course with consideration of the IPCC and its assessment reports is a more comfortable and intellectually honest way to present climate science (compared with directly presenting physical processes and potential impacts). Ideally the course's first unit should include lectures by faculty environmental scientists on the physical and biological dimensions of climate change--lectures drawn from their courses or research--though it can be difficult to schedule faculty visits during the first few weeks of a semester.
The necessary discussions of peer review in a climate change course can be used to help students begin to identify themselves as researchers in a scholarly community and begin to develop their own plan for research related to climate change. Discussion of peer review began during discussions of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. For one class, a faculty visitor discussed the preparation of peer reviewed papers with the students—how they are written, how to decide where to submit, how revisions are negotiated. The discussion helped students understand the process behind the term “peer reviewed,” but also took them further into the daily work of researchers within a discipline. The last writing assignment asked students to draft a prospectus for an undergraduate thesis related to climate change. The assignment used guidelines for a prospectus provided by Tulane’s Honors Program and began with a library research instruction session. The assignment also asked students to identify possible advisors for their project, and included a conference with the instructor to discuss the project and possible classes, majors, advisors and experiences that would help them complete such a project at Tulane.
The course also made use of the tools of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC)—the university greenhouse gas emissions inventory and climate action plan—to introduce greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies and clean energy alternatives. Students read the reports, heard brief presentations on basic concepts, and then worked with the Clean Air-Cool Planet greenhouse gas emissions inventory calculator in a computer lab. They began with the simple task of entering recent university energy use data into the calculator (which is an enormous set of excel spreadsheets), and later used the calculator to complete simple problems estimating emission reductions of possible actions the university could implement. At colleges and universities participating in the ACUPCC, sustainability staff can assist with these classes. At schools that aren't participating, the ACUPCC website has a links to all the inventories and plans that have been submitted.
Three 4-5 page essays (20% each of final grade, for a total of 60%)
Mid-Term exam (20% of final grade)
Final exam (20% of final grade)
As part of the assignment for the third essay, there is a required conference with the instructor during the days before Thanksgiving break.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
David E. Blockstein and Leo Wiegman, The Climate Solutions Consensus: What We Know and What To Do About It. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010.
Through faculty guest lectures, this introductory, interdisciplinary course explores how different academic disciplines contribute to understanding and addressing climate change. The course introduces students to basic concepts in climate science, policy, and planning, while seeking to help students identify their own research questions and develop their own academic plan responding to the challenge of climate change.