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InTeGrate's Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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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.
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These student materials complement the Regulating Carbon Emissions Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.

Student Materials for Regulating Carbon Emissions

Welcome Students!

Over the next few weeks, you will be learning about climate change from a scientific, economic, and legal perspective to better understand our options for addressing the societal challenge posed by climate change. Before getting started, please take this Climate Literacy assessment (Microsoft Word 103kB Aug15 16) to gauge your current understanding of climate change as well as your learning over the course of this interdisciplinary module.

Jump down to: Unit 1 | Unit 2 | Unit 3 | Unit 4 | Unit 5 | Unit 6 | Unit 7

Overview

Scientists agree, global climate change is underway and human-caused, primarily by the carbon dioxide released when burning fossil fuels. As you will see in this module, we must reduce our carbon emissions on a global scale in order to reduce the risks and damages from climate change. This is a daunting challenge considering our global energy system is dependent upon fossil fuels. In this module, you will explore the scientific evidence for anthropogenic (i.e., human-made) climate change and use a Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy model, webDICE, that couples climate change projections with economic models and enables you to estimate the cost of climate change to society. Finally, you will consider how scientific and economic analyses inform legal decisions and persuade decisions makers to enact policies to regulate and reduce carbon emissions.

To understand and find viable solutions to complex socio-environmental 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 driving the policy discourse that results in the regulation carbon emissions to curb climate change and can only be made with models founded upon systems thinking. The following diagram (or concept map) depicts climate change as socio-environmental system. Over the next few weeks, you will learn about all the components of this system so that you can make informed personal and political decisions regarding the grand societal challenge of climate change.

Specifically, the goals of this module are to enable you to

  1. Communicate accurately about the grand challenge of climate change.
  2. Describe natural, social, and economic impacts of climate change.
  3. Argue for strong policy to regulate carbon emissions to curb climate change.

This module is highly interactive and includes minimal lecturing from your instructor. To be prepared for in-class discussions and activities, it is essential that you read and watch assigned videos before class. The module is divided into 7 topical units. Below is a description of each unit with learning goals, readings and other pre-class requirements, worksheets for in-class activities, and links to assignments. A unit may or may not correspond to a single session of your course. Your instructor will advise you how to prepare for each class period. As you move through the module, consider your progress towards the specified learning goals.

Unit 1: Impacts of Climate Change

Learning goals

  • Summarize the cause and evidence for anthropogenic climate change.
  • Describe some of the impacts of climate change on people.

Before class consider,

  • what causes climate change?
  • how do you know?

Then explore the National Climate Assessment and discover some of the impacts climate change will have on the U.S. You can also download the pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 4.9MB Jan12 16) if you prefer.

Homework: Carefully read one of the following numbered sections as assigned by your instructor for an in-class activity:

  1. Widespread Impacts (Finding 4; pages 32-33 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  2. Human Health (Finding 5; pages 34-37 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  3. Infrastructure (Finding 6; pages 38-41 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  4. Water Supply (Finding 7; pages 42-45 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  5. Agriculture (Finding 8; pages 46-47 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  6. Indigenous Peoples (Finding 9; pages 48-49 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  7. Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Finding 10; pages 50-57 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  8. Oceans (Finding 11; pages 58-61 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  9. Responses to Climate Change (Finding 12; pages 62-68 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
After reading, you should be prepared to accurately summarize the climate change impacts to your assigned topical area as well as brainstorm about other climate change impacts during an in-class activity.

Unit 2: The Climate System

Learning goal

  • Utilize systems thinking to examine how emissions and feedbacks within the climate system influence global equilibrium temperature.

Homework: Before class, watch this Animated PowerPoint (MP4 Video 147.6MB Aug30 16) about the greenhouse effect and climate modeling and prepare brief written answers to the following questions to hand in at the start of class:

  1. What is another way that we could improve this simple model?
  2. List 3 things that can modify the temperature of the planet. Of these three which (if any) are caused by humans?

For discussion in class, also consider these questions (written responses not required)

  • What is equilibrium? What does it mean to have an equilibrium temperature?
  • What are we doing to change Earth's Equilibrium temperature? (main point you should lead them to: emitting carbon)
  • What is a model? How can we use it to make predictions about the future? How do we distinguish model inputs and outputs?

In class, you will work on this Feedbacks activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 103kB Nov7 16) in pairs or small groups and turn it in to your instructor. Your instructor may evaluate your responses based upon this Feedbacks rubric (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 52kB Nov7 16).

The main take home points of this unit are

  • Equilibrium climate sensitivity - the amount of warming we expect if we double CO2 and then wait for the world to come back into equilibrium - is a positive number! Earth's feedback is positive. It responds to a warming (forced by GHGs) with additional warming (through feedbacks).
  • If we double CO2 concentrations, then the planet will warm in response to that forcing. The amount that we will warm is called the planet's equilibrium climate sensitivity. The most likely value is 3.2°C of warming for a doubling of CO2, and likely range is between 1.6°C and 4.4°C.
  • There is a range of possible values because there is uncertainty in the strength of Earth's feedbacks. The warming, however, is unequivocal.

Unit 3: Integrated Climate-Economy Modeling

Learning goals

  • Differentiate between climate sensitivity and future emissions as distinct sources of uncertainty in our projections of future climate change.
  • Quantify the social costs of climate change with a global Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy model.

In this unit you will use webDICE, an online Dynamic Integrated Climate and Economy model that simulates the complex interactions and feedbacks between our climate system and global economy. webDICE will help us understand the costs of current and future carbon emissions to society as well as the projected effects of policy initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and curb climate change. If you have a laptop or tablet, please bring it to class to run the model.

To prepare for using webDICE in class and on your own to complete a homework assignment, you should read the webDICE model documentation (Acrobat (PDF) 654kB Aug16 16), focusing on Sections 1 - 7 (6 pages). Sections 8.5, 9.0, 9.3 are also relevant to the material we will cover in class.

In class, we will use webDICE to estimate the cost of climate change to society. Your instruction will assign factsheet 1.EPA's Social Cost of Carbon (Acrobat (PDF) 100kB Apr14 17) or 2. EDF's Social Cost of Carbon (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Aug4 16) from the Cost of Carbon Pollution, a joint project of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Homework: Before class, you should prepare brief written answers to these questions using your own words:

  1. What is the webDICE model?
  2. What is the Social Cost of Carbon?

In class, your instructor will briefly demonstrate the use of the webDICE model and then you will use the model by following the steps in the webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17). The modeling results you obtain in class tomorrow will be needed to complete the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16) for homework.

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

Learning goals

  • Summarize the meaning of "social cost of carbon" and provide detailed examples of climate impacts that impose social costs to peoples around the world.
  • Elaborate on the concept of "common but differentiated responsibility" and characterize the challenge presented by global climate change through this framework.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the Clean Power Plan at addressing the U.S.'s responsibility for global climate change.

In this unit, we shift from science and quantitative analysis to policy and legal analysis. What might encourage a government or individual decision maker to launch a policy-making process to address climate change? We will use the National Climate Assessment in an activity in class.

Readings

  1. Review the social cost of carbon factsheet assigned for Unit 3.
  2. Read the Center for International Sustainable Development Law's policy brief,The Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities: origins and scope.'
  3. Read the article, US Supreme Court Hears Climate Case which provides an introduction to the court case that compelled the EPA to develop carbon emissions regulations for the U.S.
  4. Read the Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 509kB Feb26 16) to the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs. EPA, 2007. It summarizes the legal proceedings, evidence and decision from this landmark case and provides insight into the ways that the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government interact during policy making.
  5. Read the enabling language of the Clean Air Act, Section 111(d) (Acrobat (PDF) 4.7MB Feb26 16), which the EPA uses to justify the Clean Power Plan to regulate emissions. This is the legal foundation of the federal policy examined in this module.

Optional: Watch the Preview or Introduction of the Clean Power Plan by President Obama. How does President Obama describe the roles of the executive branch in shaping environmental policy?

Unit 5: Abating Carbon Emissions

Learning goals

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the Clean Power Plan at addressing the U.S.'s responsibility for global climate change.
  • Explain why and how costs and benefits of carbon abatement are calculated by economists.
  • Calculate the efficient level of global carbon abatement and the price of carbon emissions that can help achieve that target.

Readings

  1. EPA Overview of CPP (Acrobat (PDF) 629kB Feb26 16) provides a summary of the Clean Power Plan.
  2. Cost Benefit Analysis sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 730kB May13 17) explains how to conduct a CBA for carbon emission abatement.

In class you will conduct a SWOT analysis of the Clean Power Plan. SWOT refers to Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Then you will work on the Cost Benefit Analysis Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 128kB May13 17).

Unit 6: Regulating Carbon Emissions

Learning goal

  • Compare and contrast commonly-discussed policy options for mitigating carbon pollution.

In the unit, you will investigate the pros and cons of policy options to reduce carbon emissions, which include top-down regulatory policies (commonly known as command and control), carbon taxes, and emissions trading (also known as cap and trade) by playing the Carbon Emissions Game. The [file 'CBA Assignment'] and the following readings are designed to prepare you for strategic game playing!

Readings

  1. Policy Options for Regulating Emissions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 139kB Nov9 16) which provides an overview of criteria used for comparing common approaches for achieving emissions reductions.
  2. This Report (Acrobat (PDF) 90kB Sep1 16) by Peter Orszag about climate change when he was the Director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Unit 7: Climate Change as a Socio-Environmental System

In this final unit, you will review and synthesize what you have learned about the socio-environmental system of climate change and reflect upon how your understanding of the grand challenge of climate change has shifted or evolved.

Your instructor will also introduce the capstone Op-Ed Writing Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 90kB Nov8 16) which challenges you to demonstrate your integrated understanding of the science, economics, and law behind the regulation of carbon emissions


     

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 »