Spring for 2017-2018
The course will begin with a primer in climate and atmospheric science. We will cover the basics of the earth's radiation balance and the orbital basis of patterns of long-term climate change. They will also come to know the large drivers of climatic flux, such as El Nino and the North Atlantic Oscillation. It will continue with a brief account of the long history of earthly climate before the time of humans, and some quick comparisons to Mars and Venus. We also explore the various methods (and their limitations) by which climate scientists try to understand paleoclimate.

Then the course will take up the relationship of climate and humankind from human origins to the near future. Various scholars of human origins hypothesize that an important stimulus to the evolution of hominids was East African climate change millions of years ago. The emergence of larger areas of savanna habitat encouraged upright posture for example. The story of human migration out of Africa and around the world may also be connected to climate change, as (more reliably) is the story of migration across Beringia into the Americas.

We consider the origins of agriculture and its relationship to climate change, and dozens of subsequent examples of human response to climate change, from droughts in the Maya world to the experience of the Greenland Norse during the Little Ice Age (c. 1300-1800). We will also offer ideas about human impact on climate, such as the hypothesis of William Ruddiman that early agriculture beginning as long as 8,000 years ago increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and forestalled an ice age. In closer detail we will examine the last few centuries and especially the modern rise of global temperatures 1850, and the dramatic rise since 1980.

As the course approaches the present we will deal not only with impacts of and adaptations to climate change, but also the fractious international politics of the issue. The course will end with examination of various scenarios for the future, and their potential impacts on humankind, economic prospects, and international politics.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
More information
Look for this course in the schedule of classes.

The academic department web site for this program may provide other details about this course.