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Syllabus: CLIMATE DISRUPTION Science, Sustainability, Solutions


Prerequisite: optimism and pragmatic idealism

The science of climate change is rapidly evolving into a science of climate disruption. While most forecasts of the magnitude of climate forcing impacts have not changed dramatically in the past decade, the observed rate of change has surpassed earlier forecasts, sometimes with alarming speed. Despite the growing consensus about the fundamentals of climate warming, scientific understanding of the complex interactions of ocean, land, clouds, and atmosphere remains highly uncertain, particularly with respect to environmental, social, and economic disruptions affecting human societies. Even if the precise extent and speed of the threats become clear to scientists, efforts by government and business to respond in a timely fashion are uncertain, and likely to encounter widespread public skepticism and organized denial. Time is short and change is slow! But what if the warnings of widespread disruption are wrong or premature? What if the “cure is worse than the disease?”

This course will examine the dilemmas we face in climate science, politics, economics, management, and ethics – all with an eye to the implications for global and regional sustainability. But we will also examine solutions and things we can do to minimize or adapt to climate impacts. We will investigate the strategies and tactics ranging from green innovations in energy technology to climate-friendly changes in human values and behavior. We will try to avoid both understatement and overstatement in examining the risks and opportunities. Throughout the course we will endeavor to strike a balance between problems and solutions; fears and hopes.


LEARNING OBJECTIVES Anthropogenic changes in climate may affect both human and nonhuman communities in profound ways. Understanding the nature of these changes, the causal factors and biogeochemical processes that give rise to them, and the practical steps that can be taken to prevent, mitigate, or adapt to them, is a growing part of the essential knowledge needed to achieve a globally sustainable society. Sharply reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing climate forcing conditions may be the single most important environmental goal of our time. Upon completion of this course, every student should have the ability to:

  1. explain the basics of how the climate system works and its major interactions with human and natural systems;
  2. describe how climate issues have emerged as central environmental concerns and how and why they are likely to influence the lives of this and future generations;
  3. integrate disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to climate challenges, and recognize the roles and limitations of science, policy, management, and ethics in framing climate issues;
  4. compare and contrast leading proposed climate solutions and response strategies, and relate them to evaluation criteria for deciding which approaches are most promising, over different scales of time and space;
  5. integrate thinking about climate challenges with sustainability concepts and ideals
  6. engage in research, analysis, and synthesis of climate information for the dual purposes of lifelong learning and contributing to informed public debate.


Course material is divided into four parts:

  1. Climate Science & Impacts,
  2. Policy &Market Issues,
  3. Climate Solutions,
  4. Future Directions.

In each part we will include information about the promise and limitations of sustainability ideas and practices for dealing with climate threats. Class debates and case studies will be employed to illustrate the nature of climate controversies and to understand the positions of various stakeholders. A major objective will be to forge an interdisciplinary understanding of climate interactions with human and natural systems.

Although the course includes good historical information about climate change, most of our time will be focused on the present and future, particularly with respect to proposed policy, technology, and management actions. Students are expected to pay close attention to current coverage of the climate debate, as it unfolds both within the U.S. and California, and across the international stage of post- Kyoto and post-Copenhagen negotiations.

Course Requirements

( 1) “Take a Stand.”

Each student will be asked to participate in a friendly and informal classroom debate. Each debate will involve 4 students, total. Possible topics will be discussed in class (e.g., carbon taxes vs. emissions trading, solar vs. nuclear, technology vs. behavior change). A sample of general debate topics is provided below. One team of 2 students will argue for a particular change in policy, markets, technology, human behavior, or management practices, and another team of 2 students will give arguments opposing the proposed change (defending the status quo).

The debate should last 20-25 minutes and will consist of five parts:

  1. Issue background;
  2. “Pro” argument;
  3. “Con” argument;
  4. “Pro” rebuttal; and
  5. “Con” rebuttal.

One presenter from each team will be given about 2 minutes, each, to present the background for the case, with the “pro” person introducing the issue, the “con” person identifying the principle stakeholders, and both presenters providing their team’s definition of the problem (framing the issue). Each team should prepare a one page summary, outline, or Powerpoint slide for informing the class. The class will then discuss (with respect and courtesy for all) the merits of the respective arguments. (Scheduled beginning in February) EVST 260, Climate Disruption, , Prof. Hempel, Spring 2011

Samples of General Topics for Class Debates

  • Green Cars (e.g., natural gas vs. plug-in hybrids)
  • “Fourth Generation” Nuclear Power
  • Campus Carbon Footprint
  • Carbon Taxes vs. “Cap&Trade”
  • Forestry Offsets
  • Obama’s or Congress’ Climate Initiatives
  • Food vs. Fuel Tradeoffs
  • Health Effects of Climate Change
  • Environmental/Climate Justice Issues
  • “Clean Coal” or Sequestration (CC&S)
  • Renewable Energy Incentives
  • Green Building Design Standards
  • Geo-Engineering (e.g., ocean fertilization)
  • “North” vs. “South” (G77 countries)
  • Science and Climate “Deniers”
  • California’s Climate Initiatives

(2) Exam #1

(in-class exam: no notes, books, or earphones/audio player allowed) February 16.

(3) Preparation of a “Climate Threat” Focus Paper

(approximate length: 3-4 single-spaced pages, 1.25” margins, 12 pt. font) in which you choose a specific climate threat that is of interest to you. Briefly discuss its scientific basis, social and economic significance, and future implications. Examples of major threats will be discussed in class, and many can be found in the assigned readings. Pick a narrow enough topic to permit analysis in depth, preferably a threat that has been covered by the news media or debated in public. The scope can range from local to global, but the selected topic needs to be specific (e.g., irrigation water shortages caused by changes in the Sierra snowpack, rather than just “water shortages”). Be sure to discuss critical assumptions underlying the severity or extent of the threat. Build your own argument about WHY this threat is worthy of attention (or not) and who are the people most likely to be affected by it. Due February 9 at the beginning of class.

(4) Preparation of a “Solution” paper

(approximate length: 4-5 single-spaced pages, 1.25” margins, 12 pt. font) in which you argue the case for adopting a specific climate solution (economic, political, technological, behavioral, managerial, etc.). You are free to adopt other people’s proposals and strategies, or craft your own original approach, but in either case your solution must be focused and distinguishable as a specific solution to a well-defined problem. Your solution should include a specified scale of application and a rough timetable for achieving successful outcomes (e.g., 1 million “solar rooftops” in California by 2020). You must argue WHY we should adopt your solution.

After arguing the merit of your measure or approach, provide a brief analysis of the major obstacles you would likely encounter in getting your solution adopted and implemented. Be sure to identify your key goals and objectives, and unresolved questions that your desired solution poses for future decision makers. Include a brief discussion of any major economic, social, and political factors that could contribute to adoption or rejection of your solution. Although you are asked to take an advocacy role, be sure to mention major uncertainties and potential negative consequences of implementing your solution within the next 10 years. Due April 6, at the beginning of class.

(5) Final Exam

(essay, short answer, and multiple choice (in-class exam: no notes, books, or earphones/audio players allowed) Wednesday, April 20, at 12 noon.


(percent of course grade is approximate because class participation is considered in final calculation)

Take a Stand (Debate) ………………… ~10%
Exam #1 ………………………………… ~20%
Climate Threat Paper………...………… ~20%
Climate Solution Paper....................... ~25%
Final Exam ……………………………... ~25%

Research Skills: Knowing how to use Google or some other Internet search engine to find information for use in developing your arguments is very helpful but it is NOT a substitute for genuine research, which requires that you evaluate the quality of any information sources and ideas that you discover. Many sources of web-based information are notoriously unreliable. Books and journals in the library that have withstood the quality review processes of science and professional societies are usually preferable, but even here you must be careful to separate fact and opinion, where possible, and to avoid selecting information sources entirely on the basis of your own preconceived notions of the subject being researched. Late Assignments: I deduct 1/3 of an assignment’s grade for each unexcused late assignment (1/3 grade per day). Hence, a “B” (3.0) paper that is one day late would receive a B- (2.7). EVST 260, Climate Disruption, , Prof. Hempel, Spring 2011

Class Attendance: Students are expected to attend class regularly and to arrive on time. My policy is no questions asked or demerits given for one or two unexcused absences. However, additional unexcused absences will be considered in the calculation of final grades, with point deductions based on the number of absences and any extenuating circumstances involved.

Class Discussion : I strongly encourage students to participate in asking questions, offering comments, and raising issues in class that are germane to the topic of discussion. However, discussion will usually be based on informed opinion and knowledge, which means that the amount of discussion encouraged in this class will be directly related to the amount of preparation students make in reading and thinking about the material to be discussed. The less prepared you are; the more class time will be devoted to my presentations. Do yourself a favor: prepare for class in order to prevent me from talking too much!

Courtesy: Turn off cellphones when in class. Do not use laptop computers for anything other than notetaking. Always try to arrive on time. Avoid distracting behavior – e.g., avoid private conversations during class, walking in or out of class during presentations, or “packing up” several minutes before the class ends. Never monopolize the precious time of the instructor and other students. Treat everyone with respect, regardless of how much you may disagree with what others say in class.

Academic Integrity: Cheating on an exam and plagiarism of a paper are serious offenses, as stated in the University of Redlands policy on academic honesty (see relevant section in the current Catalog). Plagiarism is the portrayal of someone else’s work as your own. An example would be presenting a specific statement or idea you copied from another person without giving them credit, or copying text verbatim without using quotation marks and without noting the source. In papers for this course, you should avoid quoting more than a few sentences at a time directly from your sources. Any statements you use directly must be in quotation marks and referenced, including web sites. Most descriptions, themes, and arguments should be developed in your own words, but even then remember to reference any studies from which you have extracted or developed specific ideas, approaches, data and results.

Physical and Learning Disabilities: I am committed to helping any student with verified disabilities to succeed in my classes by providing reasonable accommodations for class meetings, assignments, communications outside of class, and exams.


A personal note about your instructor: you will discover that I have serious concerns about climate disruption and strong views about some of the science and sustainability issues involved. However, I do not expect my students to share my perspective or viewpoint; only to examine critically the material presented in the course and then draw their own conclusions. While students may not, and need not, agree with me that climate challenges are big and growing, they are expected to understand the scientific basis for IPCC climate assessments presented in class. They should also understand why most climate scientists agree that the risks of unabated climate forcing are unacceptably large, even if the probability of severe consequences is low. Learning how to determine what is an acceptable risk to you may be an important side-benefit of this course. Equally important will be learning why different people use different criteria for determining what is acceptable


Work hard to improve your writing in this course. Critically read – and proof read – your papers!


(Use this guide to prepare papers and to review drafts before submitting final papers)

“A” papers are characterized by the following:

  1. Originality of thought and effectiveness of expression (creative and easy to follow)
  2. Logical development of a central idea, with a strong blend of analysis and synthesis.
  3. Effective organization of the paper, including section-&-subheadings, where needed.
  4. Use of evidence and support for central idea is clear, concise, and compelling, with very effective use of examples, illustrations, and, if needed, background trends (graphs, tables, diagrams, etc.).
  5. Sentences and paragraphs are well crafted in construction and efficient in rhetorical impact.
  6. No major deficiencies in spelling, punctuation, structure and usage.

“B+/A-“ papers are characterized by the following:

  1. Logical development of a central idea, with some flashes of insight and creativity.
  2. Effective organization of the paper, including section-&-subheadings, where needed.
  3. Good support of central idea, with appropriate examples and background context.
  4. Sentences and paragraphs logically constructed and organized.
  5. Diction (choice of words) is appropriate and lively.
  6. No major deficiencies in spelling, punctuation, structure, and usage.

“B” papers are characterized by the following:

  1. Develops a central idea with adequate support.
  2. Organization of the whole paper is acceptable, but not very clear, despite headings.
  3. Sentences and paragraphs satisfactorily constructed and organized.
  4. Diction is mostly appropriate and effective.
  5. Gross errors in spelling, punctuation, structure, and usage are not excessive.
  6. May lack originality in content and expression but is informative and shows research.

“C” papers are characterized by the following:

  1. Acceptable development of a central idea, but not always logical or effective.
  2. Fair to poor organization of paper and main arguments.
  3. Does not demonstrate careful research or extensive thought (mostly descriptive).
  4. Lack of logic and clarity in sentence structure and paragraph organization.
  5. Diction is sometimes lame and ineffective.
  6. Gross errors in spelling, punctuation, structure, and usage. (Non-native English writers given special consideration).

“D/F” papers are characterized by the following:

  1. Failure to develop a central idea (paper often shows no evidence of serious effort).
  2. Organization of paper and arguments is poor to unacceptable.
  3. Sentences and paragraphs are poorly constructed and organized.
  4. Diction is inappropriate and ineffective.
  5. Excessive errors in spelling, punctuation, structure, and usage. (Non-native English writers given consideration).

Adapted from Frank J. D'Angelo, Process and Thought in Composition, Teacher's Manual, (Winthrop Publishers, 1976), pp. 10-11.

Assigned Reading Schedule

(Note: the instructor may substitute for some of the assigned readings, based on student expressions of interest during
class discussion and office meetings.)


Week, Date,   and Class #
To be read prior to class meeting  
Black Board Items
Other  Web Sites, Due dates, etc
Week 1
Jan. 12
Class 1
Course Overview
  • Framing the Problem

Purchase the two texts and briefly skim the content. (Also, download a pdf of Lester Brown’s book free online: index.php?/books/pb4 )

Joe Romm
Orientation Class survey
Week 2
Jan. 17&19
Class 2&3
I. Science and  Impacts
  • Climate Science
  • Signs and Signals
  • Climate History
  • Forcing Factors
  • Ecological Impacts           
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt.1: Climate Change Science Overview; Chpt. 2. Detection and Attribution
  • METZ: Chpt.1: Climate Change & Impacts
  • BROWN: Chpt. 3: Climate Change
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 3: Wild Species and Extinction; Chpt. 4: Ecosystems
Tim Flannery Inteview
Week 3
Jan. 24&26
Class 4&5
  • Science II
  • Marine Ecosystems
  • Impacts,
  • Agriculture & Forestry
  • Wildfire Impacts
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 5: Marine Ecoystems; Chpt. 6. Water; Chpt. 7: Hurricanes
  • METZ: Chpt. 2: Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • SCHNEIDER:, Chpt. 8. Wildfires; Chpt. 9.Tropical Forests of Amazonia; Chpt. 10. Global Crop Production & Food Security
James Hansen’s letter to Pres. Obama Heartland Institute         
Week 4
Jan. 31 & Feb. 2
Class 6&7
  • Science III
  • Economic Impacts
  • Risk Assessment
  • Health Impacts 
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 11. Human Health;
  • Chpt. 12. Unique and Valued Places; Chpt.13. Assessing Economic Impacts
  • METZ: Chpt. 3: Climate…sustainable limits
  • BROWN: Chpt. 1. Selling Our Future
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 14 Integrated Assessment Modeling,
  • Chpt. 15 Risk, Uncertainty; Chpt. 16. Risk Perceptions & Behavior
  • Climate Literacy Report
  • Ackermon on Climate Economics
  • Stern Review
Week 5
Feb. 7&9
Class 8&9
II. Policy, Markets, & Management
  • U.S. Initiatives
  • California
  • Urban Initiatives
  • International Sustainable Development
  • Class Debate
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 33. National Policy; Chpt. 34. Policy in California; Chpt. 35. California’s Battle for Clean Cars
  • METZ: Chpt. 4: Development First
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 36. U.S. State Climate Action
  • METZ: Chpt. 11: Policies & Measures
  • BROWN: Chpt. 6 (Cities)
  • Target CO2
  • Hansen et al.
  • Patrick Michaels
Week 6
Feb. 14&16
Class 10&11 
  • Role of Business
  • Role of the Media
  • Tipping Points
  • SCHNEIDER Chpt. 37 Policies to Stimulate Corporate Action; Chpt. 38. Corporate Initiatives; Chpt. 39. Role of the Media
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 40. Newspaper & TV Coverage;
  • Chpt. 41. Media & Public Education
  • Whitty on Tipping Points
  • EXAM # 1  Feb. 16
Week 7
Feb. 21&23
Class 12&13
  • Economic Costs
  • Green Business
  • Market Incentives
  • Class Debate 
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 17. Economic Costs of Climate Change; Chpt. 18. Cost Efficiency; Chpt. 19. Carbon Taxes,Trading, and Offsets
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 20. Cost of Reducing CO2 Emissions
  • William Nordhaus
  • McKinsey Report
Week 8  
Feb.28 - Mar. 6
  • Spring Break
( but leave a little time to read BROWN: Chpt. 2)
Week 9
March 7&9
Class 14&15
  • Population Factors
  • Poverty Factors
  • Class Debate   
  • BROWN: Chpt. 2. Population Pressure;
  • Chpt. 7. Poverty & Population Chpt. 8. Restoring the Earth
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 23. Population; Chpt. 31. India
  • EDF Facts
  • Pop!Press Articles
 Week 10
March 14&16
Class 16&17
 III. Climate Solutions
  • Energy
  • Class Debate
  • Energy Alternatives
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 21. International Treaties; Chpt. 22. EU Climate Policy; Chpt. 24. Inequalities and Imbalances
  • METZ: Chpt. 5: Energy Supply
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 25. Ethics, Rights, and Responsibilities; Chpt. 29. Climate Challenge in China; Chpt. 30. Climate Change & the New China; Chpt. 32. Australia
  • China
  • CO2 Forecast
  • Powershift
Week 11
March 21&23
  • Transportation
  • Class Debate
  • Buildings
  • METZ: Chpt. 6: Transportation
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 26. Developing Country Perspectives; Chpt. 27. CDM and Mitigation in Developing Countries; Chpt.28. Measuring the CDM’s Performance..
  • METZ: Chpt. 7: Buildings
  • BROWN: Chpt. 4. Energy Efficiency
  • Assigned in class
Week 12
March 28&30
Class 20&21
  • Industry & Waste
  • Class Debate
  • Land Use, Agriculture, and Forestry
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 42. The Road Forward; Chpt. 43. Energy Efficiency; Chpt. 44 Renewable Energy
  • METZ: Chpt. 8: Industry & Waste Mgmt.
  • BROWN: Chpt. 5. Renewable Energy
  • METZ: Chpt. 9: Land Use, Ag, Forestry
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 45. Designing Energy Supply Chains Base on Hydrogen; Chpt. 46.
  • Nuclear Energy; Chpt. 47. Coal Capture and Storage
  • Adaptation Readings
Week 13
April 4&6
Class 22&23
  • Forest Sequestratio
  • Class Debate
  • Geo-engineering Strategies
  • SCHNEIDER: Chpt. 48. Tropical Forests;
  • Chpt. 49. Engineering the Planet
  • METZ: Chpt. 10: How does it fit together?
  • Pew Adaptation Report
Week 14
April 11&13
Class 24&25
V. Future Directions
  • The Negotiating Challenges Ahead
  • Water, Food & Climate
  • Class Debate
  • METZ: Chpt. 12: International Agreements
  • BROWN: Chpt. 9. Feeding 8 Billion People Well
  • BROWN: Chpt. 10
  • Review Previously Assigned Readings
  • Assigned in class
Week 15
April 18
Class 26
  • Course Review
  • Review Notes  (Study guide will be distributed in class)
April 20 FINAL EXAM:    



  • Stephen Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, Michael Mastrandrea, eds., CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE AND POLICY (Island Press, 2010).
  • Bert Metz, CONTROLLING CLIMATE CHANGE (Cambridge University Press, 2010).


Course Organization
12 Introduction (overview of the course and the primary texts)
17 Climate Change Cause & Effect: Forcing Factors
19 Climate Disruption: “The Big Picture”
24 Impact Analysis: Water & Oceans
26 Impact Analysis: Food & Forests
31 Economic Impacts
2 The Economics of Regulation
7 National Strategies for Low-Cost Carbon Abatement
9 U.S.Climate Policy (Exam #1)
14 Green Business Initiatives
16 Role of the Media
21 Economic Costs
23 Carbon Taxes & Trading (Paper #1 Due)
7 International Treaties Population & Poverty Factors
9 Restoring the Earth
14 Energy
16 Energy II
21 Transportation
23 Buildings
28 Industry & Waste
30 Land Use, Agriculture & Forestry
4 Adaptation and Tropical Forest Sequestration
6 Geo-Engineering of the Earth’s Atmosphere (Paper #2 Due)
11 Feeding the World
13 Mobilizing the World to Action -- The Sustainability Challenge
18 Course Review
20 Final Exam (noon)




  • A sample of other books of possible interest for those who have time: Kerry Emanuel, What We Know About Climate Change (Boston: Boston Review/MIT Press 2007); Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press 2006), see, also, his forthcoming Here on Earth; Bill McKibben, Eaarth (NY: Times Books, 2010), David Blockstein and Leo Weigman, The Climate Solution Consensus (NCSE/Island Press 2010); Monty Hempel, Environmental Governance: The Global Challenge (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996).



In addition to reading in the texts, students will be asked to check out selected web sites for readings and information identified by the instructor in class. Many of these sites will also prove to be useful for preparing debate presentations, position papers and supplemental reading.


CLIMATE HISTORY – Data, Events, and People\





Science, Sustainability, Solutions

Environmental Studies

University of Redlands, Spring 2011




Hempel, M. (2012). Syllabus: CLIMATE DISRUPTION Science, Sustainability, Solutions. Retrieved from


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