InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Regulating Carbon Emissions > Unit 3: Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy (DICE) Modeling
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Unit 3: Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy (DICE) Modeling

Primary Authors: Sandra Penny (Sage Colleges), Gautam Sethi (Bard College), and Robyn Smyth (Bard College)

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Students use a climate model to develop their understanding of the sources of uncertainty around future predictions of climate change and its impacts and to understand the Social Cost of Carbon.

Science and Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models: Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems. HS-P2.6:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models. HS-C4.2:

Systems and System Models: Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales. HS-C4.3:

Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. HS-C2.2:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Global Climate Change: Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts. HS-ESS3.D1:

Performance Expectations

Earth and Human Activity: Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity. HS-ESS3-3:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: May 30, 2017

Summary

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 their 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.

Learning Goals

At the conclusion of this unit, students will be able to:

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

Context for Use

This unit is suitable for any level or type of undergraduate class where understanding and using models is appropriate. This unit is flexible enough to be taught as a stand-alone lesson using the webDICE model and introducing students to the Social Cost of Carbon. This unit is essential for completing the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16), the major mid-module assignment that assess many of the Learning Goals of the first three units.

This unit was designed to be carried out over 2 lecture periods or one long lab period. If you need to shorten in-class activities and/or assignment, note that Task A of the webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17) is needed to do Part II of the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16) and Task B is needed to do Part III of the assignment.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Materials Required for Unit 3

  • Computer with a connection to a projector and the internet for instructor to show Unit 3 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 64.2MB May13 17) using the Unit 3 Instructor Notes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 167kB May13 17)
  • Students require in-class access to computers with internet to run webDICE. Campus computer lab or students sharing laptops will do. Ideally, there will be at least 1 computer per 2 students. The webDICE model will run on a smartphone and while not recommended for the whole class, we did have several students run webDICE successfully on smartphones during the pilot phase.

Prior to class session

Before using the model in class, students should read:

  1. Either EPA's explanation of the Social Cost of Carbon (Acrobat (PDF) 100kB Apr14 17) (reading #1 in the Student Materials). For students with some background in economics, you can assign social cost of carbon factsheet (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Aug4 16) (reading #2) 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.
  2. 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 and may also be assigned by the instructor.

For homework, students should prepare brief written answers explaining in their own words:

  1. What is the social cost of carbon?
  2. What is the webDICE model?

We recommend collecting written responses at the start of class. The computer modeling activity does not work well if students have not prepared by doing assigned reading and the homework questions are intended to encourage pre-class reading. Student responses can be scanned as a diagnostic (ungraded) assessment of their reading comprehension or simply returned in the next class period.

Instructors should review the webDICE Instructor Sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 189kB Nov8 16) to familiarize themselves with the webDICE model prior to the in-class modeling activity in Part 2.

During class (4 parts, total time: 100+ minutes)

The Unit 3 Lecture Notes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 167kB May13 17) and Unit 3 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 64.2MB May13 17) provide detailed guidance for class time.

In brief:

Part 1. Modeling climate change (30+ minute lecture & discussion):

Begin by making a system diagram of effects of carbon emissions on the Earth system. Explain how we use models to build our understanding of complex systems like the climate and the global economy.

Introduce the webDICE model and discuss the reading. Ask students:

  • What is webDICE?
  • What are some components of the webDICE model?
  • Are there situations in which webDICE's output will be of limited value or potentially misleading?

Follow step-by-step instructions in the Unit 3 webDICE Instructor sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 189kB Nov8 16) to demonstrate webDICE operation to your students.

Part 2. Predicting climate change with webDICE (25+ minute Small Group activity):

Distribute the webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17) and the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16). These files are also made available to students for download on the Student Materials page. The webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17) provides step-by-step instructions that students can follow to run the webDICE model in order to answer questions included in the webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17) and in the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16) that students will complete on on their own (or in self-organized groups) outside of class (see below).

Instruct students to work on Task A of the webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17) in class in pairs or small groups with internet-enable computers and tablets (or smartphones). Let them know that they will need the resulting Data Table to complete Part II of the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16).

After allowing them about 15 minutes to manipulate the model and complete the Data Table (more or less depending upon your class needs and time constraints), reconvene the class. Ask students:

  • What had a greater effect on temperature predictions, climate sensitivity or introducing "policy"?

Project the webDICE graph resulting from Task A as students answer. Help them interpret the graph as they respond to the question. This will help them prepare for completing webDICE Task B next.

Note that under all model scenarios, there is warming. Ask students, how much warming should concern us?

Transition discussion to the Social Cost of Carbon and the next activity.

Part 3. Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) with webDICE (25+ minute Small Group activity):

Remind the students of the SCC factsheet (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Aug4 16) they read and ask:

  • What is the social cost of carbon?

Answers will vary, but the main point is SCC is a measure, in dollar terms, of the damages that occur as a result of the impacts from climate change due to carbon emissions.

Instruct students to work on Task B of webDICE Student sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB May12 17), which will prepare them to make the graphs and answer the questions in Part III of the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16), which they will complete outside of class.

Give the students 15 minutes to setup, run, and discuss the model in small groups.

Part 4. Summarize with Systems Thinking (15+ minute Discussion):

Summarize material covered and motivate the next unit by returning to the partially developed Module System Diagram. Carbon emissions enhance the greenhouse effect and drive climate change as the Earth seeks to establish a new equilibrium temperature. webDICE shows us that emissions are costly. Ask students (hypothetically if you are running short on time)

  • Who will pay the costs of climate change?
  • What can/should we do about it as individuals? as a community? as a nation? as a global society?

The next unit explores the responsibility of the United States for global climate change and examines the first federal policy to regulate carbon emissions to address it.

After class

We recommend giving the students a week to complete the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16) and collecting it during Unit 5. Note that the assignment file includes a grading rubric to guide students in the preparation of their responses to Parts I & II.

webDICE Solution sheet


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

provides answers to the webDICE Assignment and is only available on the Instructor page.

Teaching Notes and Tips

All documents are all linked above in context. For ease of access, here are all of the files that have been developed for instructor and student use in Unit 3:

Assessment

The Learning Goals for this unit are assessed with the webDICE Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 327kB Oct23 16) and its

solution sheet


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

. This assignment also assesses the Learning Goal from Unit 2.

References and Resources

This 2017 PNAS article by Nordhaus Revisiting the social cost of carbon provides an update perspective. It is potentially suitable for upper division, economics courses.

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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 »