InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Regulating Carbon Emissions > Module Overview
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Regulating Carbon Emissions Module

Module Goals: The goals of this module are to communicate accurately about the challenge of addressing climate change; describe natural, social, and economic impacts of climate change; and argue for strong policy to regulate carbon emissions to curb climate change.

Summative Assessment: As a culminating assignment, students will demonstrate their integrated understanding of the science, economics, and law behind the regulation of carbon emissions with a Role, Audience, Format and Topic (RAFT) writing assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 90kB Nov8 16). The RAFT method encourages students to critically interpret and analyze the interests of diverse audiences embedded in a social network and write to a target audience with the intention of persuading them to adopt a specific position. For this capstone assignment, students are assigned a role, such as scientist, economist, political advisor, industry lobbyist, coal-mining community leader, or international humanitarian aid worker, and an audience, such as campus community, political leaders, or the general public, and asked to develop a mock Op-Ed for a local or national newspaper (format) in support of policy action on the grand challenge of climate change (topic).

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

Students develop an understanding of the climate system, the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and people, and develop an understanding of how those impacts translate into social costs. Applying legal doctrine and economic thinking, students calculate efficient emissions targets and calculate appropriate costs for carbon emissions. After understanding the policy pros and cons of common emission reduction policy proposals, they write an Op-Ed piece to argue for their proposed solution using sound scientific, economic and policy reasoning.

Module Summary

This module explores the grand challenge of climate change from a socio-environmental systems perspective. To understand and find viable solutions to complex problems like global climate change, we need to use systems thinking. In the context of climate change, this means we must consider how emissions and other human activities impact the atmosphere and climate system in order to predict the rate of warming and the associated impacts of climate change on human society. Such predictions are essential for forecasting the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of climate change. The resulting predictions drive the policy discourse from which policies to regulate carbon emissions to curb climate change emerge. The following system diagram (or concept map) depicts the material covered in this interdisciplinary and interactive module. In three or more weeks, you can guide your students through all the components of this complex socio-environmental system so that they can make informed personal and political decisions regarding the grand societal challenge of climate change.

Module Organization & Context for Use

The module is divided into 7 Units. The first 6 are topic-oriented and designed to fit into a long (~75 minute) lecture period. The final Unit which reviews and synthesizes the module and introduces the final assignment is shorter. Each Unit is sub-divided into Parts to denote a change in sub-topic and/or activity. The time estimates provided should be considered minimums. Assuming a 3 credit course will meet for approximately 150 minutes a week (e.g., 3 50-minute MWF lectures or two 75-minute TTh lectures), it will take at least 3 weeks to complete Units 1-6. This module is dense and activity-based and could easily be stretched to 4-6 weeks with thorough treatment of each topic.

Each unit includes a PowerPoint and lecture notes to guide the instructor through the class period with slide by slide descriptions and prompts to move through activities. Instructors should resist the urge to present the presentation in full at the beginning of the unit and instead use it as a supportive element alongside in-class activities. Major activities are generally described in separate documents available for download in each unit. You will be pointed to these ancillary documents in the Lecture Notes as needed. The Lecture Notes provide more details than what is given in the webspace.

The Student Materials page includes all the readings, assignments, and hand-outs the students will need to complete in-class activities as well as brief descriptions of each unit. You can opt to have students download material themselves or you can print and provide documents in class as needed.

Unit 1Evidence and Impacts of Climate Change

This unit introduces students to the geoscience behind the challenge of anthropogenic climate change. Upon completion, students will be able to explain the many impacts of climate change on society and summarize the scientific evidence that led the authors of the National Climate Assessment to conclude that the "global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels" (NCA, 2014).

Unit 2Climate Forcings

This unit uses systems thinking to explore how carbon emissions effect the global climate system. It includes an introduction to the greenhouse effect and climate modeling. Students engage in a small group activity in class where they demonstrate their understanding of equilibrium, forcings, feedbacks, and climate sensitivity.

Unit 3Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy (DICE) Modeling

After an opening discussion of systems thinking and models, student use webDICE, an online Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy model developed by Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Chicago. Students will manipulate input parameters and interpret output in small groups in-class and individually out of class to complete the major mid-module assignment. The goal is to develop students' understanding of the sources of uncertainty around future predictions of climate change and its impacts. Students are also introduced to the concept of Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) which is central to subsequent units in this module.

Unit 4Towards Climate Change Policy in the U.S.

This unit examines the social cost of carbon (introduced in Unit 3) within the legal doctrine of "common but differentiated responsibility" (CBDR). CBDR acknowledges global climate change as a common threat while recognizing differences among nations in their historic contribution to the problem (i.e. carbon emissions) and their capacities to abate it. Students will use the doctrine of CBDR as a touchstone for examining the legal and political foundations of the regulation of carbon emissions in the United States based upon Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. This unit provides an opportunity for students to discover how scientific evidence and economic analysis inform and support the creation of policy to reduce emissions and highlights the interdependencies and feedbacks that exist among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government in the United States.

Unit 5Abating Carbon Emissions

Students evaluate and EPA's Clean Power Plan in the context of common but differentiated responsibility. This unit also introduces students to the idea that there are costs and benefits associated with the abatement of carbon pollution to curb climate change. Student explore how economists conduct cost benefit analysis to develop efficient emissions targets and set an emissions price that is designed to help achieve that target.

Unit 6Carbon Emissions Game

In this unit, students play a game, a variation on the "Pollution Game" (Corrigan 2011), to develop an appreciation of the pros and cons of the commonly discussed policy options for carbon abatement (e.g., carbon tax, emissions trading).

Unit 7Climate Change from the Socio-Environmental Systems Perspective

This unit summarizes and synthesizes the previous six units by inviting students to reflect on their experiences throughout the module, identify key learning moments and consider how these events influenced their knowledge and altered their assumptions about the challenge of addressing climate change. Students explore the value of the systems lens as a tool for analyzing grand socio-environmental challenges and are introduced to the final summative assignment, an Op-Ed arguing for the regulation of carbon emissions to curb the costly impacts of climate change using sound scientific and economic reasoning.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »