The Challenge of Human Induced Climate Change: Transitioning to a Post Fossil Fuel Future (Gen Ed 1137)





What can we do now to avoid the most serious consequences of climate change, which poses an immediate problem for global society?


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Michael B. McElroy

Human induced climate change has the potential to alter the function of natural ecosystems and the lives of people on a global scale. The prospect lies not in the distant future but is imminent. Our choice is either to act immediately to change the nature of our global energy system (abandon our dependence on fossil fuels) or accept the consequences (included among which are increased incidence of violent storms, fires, floods and droughts, changes in the spatial distribution and properties of critical ecosystems, and rising sea level). The course will be designed to provide students with an understanding of relevant physical, technical and social factors including an historical perspective. In the latter half of the course, the plan will be to engage students in an interactive dialogue on possible responses recognizing explicitly differences in motivations for different constituencies - for developed as distinct from developing economies for example. We plan to explore options for a zero carbon future energy system including the challenges involved in implementing the necessary transition. If we fail to abandon our dependence on fossil fuels - and the time scale over which we must do so to realize even the minimal objectives outlined in the recent Paris climate accord is as brief as a couple of decades or even less – might we need to explore possibilities for geoengineering, for purposeful intervention in the global climate system? Arguments for and against such options will be discussed and debated. We will expect students to be actively involved in exploring, researching and debating responses to any and all of these interrelated issues.

Course poster for Gen Ed 1137 that includes brief description of course and images related to energy and the environment

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