Climate Literacy Module Synopses

(Total running time approx. 7 hours)

Module 1 - Climate in the Public Sphere (approx. 1 hour)

Climate change is a pervasive and challenging phenomenon that can be viewed through a multitude of lenses. A scientific lens, for instance, reveals altered ecosystems and climatic tipping points while the lens of ethics raises the question of the right to develop and influence the well-being of others while doing so. This module will introduce you to a few of the core concepts that you will need to delve deeper into the science and policy of climate change. We will explore the broad findings offered by the scientific community with regard to our influence on the climate system, the policy tools that we have developed to respond to this challenge, and the core of the climate change conversation in scientific, political, and lay communities.


Module 2 - Introduction to the Climate System (approx. 1.25 hours)

In this first module of the science section of the course, we'll look at the big picture of Earth's climate system. What are the parts? What are some of the major interactions among the parts? We'll spend some time learning about the energy-related units we'll use in this course, some basics of systems dynamics, which is one of the overarching frameworks in this course, and then we'll have a look at data showing how Earth's climate has changed over time.


Module 3 - Earth’s Energy Budget (approx. 0.75 hour)

In this module, we'll follow energy through the climate system. There are essentially three main factors to consider: incoming energy from the Sun, reflection of solar energy, and the greenhouse effect. We'll have a look at Earth's energy budget, which includes these big three plus some additional processes, and we'll have a look at balances and imbalances in energy flows. Understanding solar energy, reflection, and the greenhouse effect are crucial for designing effective mitigation efforts. Where are the possible places to intervene in the system?


Module 4 - The Carbon Cycle (approx. 0.5 hour)

In this module, we'll look at stocks and flows of carbon. The atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere all exchange carbon with one another. Some flows are large and fast; others are small and slow. Humans, particularly through deforestation and fossil fuel use, have a significant impact on the planetary carbon cycle. This module explores the natural carbon cycle, the perturbations in carbon stocks and flows from human activities, and the climate system's response to human perturbations.


Module 5 - Climate Models (approx. 0.5 hour)

Climate models are crucial tools to help people understand the complexities and dynamic interactions within Earth's climate system. Models are built on our understanding of basic physics and Earth processes, and are grounded in observations and measurements of the world around us. In this module, we'll explore different types of climate models, consider some of the choices you'd need to make as a climate modeler, and have a look at some climate model output compared to observations. Since we only have one planet, and can only run one global climate experiment in the real world, models are our only tools to help us peer into the future and ask "what if..." questions. The range of probable outcomes from possible future scenarios helps us make decisions about mitigation and adaptation.


Module 6 - Future Climate (approx. 0.25 hour)

What might the future hold? Given hypothetical future pathways, including possibilities for our own future actions (like carbon emissions) what range of temperature increases can we expect? How will future changes affect the climatic factors that are most relevant to humans and ecosystems: precipitation, circulation patterns, extreme events, melting of snow and ice, etc? In this Module, we'll look at a range of possible futures. Global projections give us estimates of what we can expect IF we embark on various emission and development paths, and offer a broad view for decision-making. The least well-known aspect of these projections is what choices we, the human community, will make in the future.


Module 7 - Climate Change Impacts (approx. 0.75 hour)

Now that you're familiar with carbon cycling, radiative forcing, energy budgets, and the intricacies of climate models, it's time to shift our focus. This module acts as a bridge between the biophysical or natural dimensions of climate change, with the human dimensions (including impacts, response options, and policies).


Module 8 - Climate Change Mitigation (approx. 1 hour)

Now that we understand the central causes of anthropogenic climate change, and the impacts that we can expect to (and already) experience, the next step is to explore the response options that are available to us. The most commonly discussed response to climate change is mitigation: tackling the causes of climate change by reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This can be done either by limiting the emission of greenhouse gases, or enhancing carbon sinks. The aim of mitigation is ultimately to limit the [negative] influence that humans are having on the planet's climate system, with potential co-benefits that include reducing dependence on fossil fuels, improving air quality, and enhancing sustainability. This module will explore the basic concept of mitigation, the core mitigation strategies that we currently have available to us, the innovative action that is being taken around the world, and leading-edge ideas with regard to tackling the roots of climate change. By the end of this module, you will be able to critique the likelihood of implementation of many of these strategies, and will have a framework through which you can learn more about greenhouse gas management, both at home and around the world.


Module 9 - Climate Change Adaptation (approx. 0.5 hour)

In contrast to the previous module, this module introduces the idea of addressing the impacts of climate change rather than its causes. In particular, we will explore the various adaptation strategies that are available to be utilized around the world, the heated debate surrounding the equity implications of adaptation, and the linkages between adaptation and mitigation. By the end of this module we will have explored the difference between proactive and reactive adaptation, and our track record with both. We will outline the most common and effective adaptation strategies, including those related to human settlements, ecosystems, and the broader issue of development. Finally, we will explore the inevitable trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation, setting us up to finish this course with the final module, focusing on climate change response policies.


Module 10 - Taking Action - Tools for Adaptation and Mitigation (approx. 0.5 hour)

Now that we're familiar with various renewable energy technologies and adaptation strategies, we are moving on to the final piece of the puzzle: policy. How do we trigger and sustain mitigation and adaptation? What's working and what isn't? These issues are particularly crucial as negotiations around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) continue, and new policy proposals emerge in the United States and elsewhere. After being introduced to the fundamentals of mitigation and adaptation policy, we'll delve deeper into global mitigation policies, activity at the national and subnational levels, and the emerging domain of adaptation policy. We'll be using examples throughout, such as the British Columbia carbon tax, adaptation planning in California, and ecosystem-based approaches in Belarus.