InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Section 3: Social Science of Water > Module 8.2: Future climate change, population growth, and water issues
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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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Module 8.2: Future climate change, population growth, and water issues

Patrick Belmont, Utah State University
Initial Publication Date: March 31, 2017 | Reviewed: January 20, 2015

Summary

What does the future hold? How, when and where might the legacy of our past decisions cause us severe problems in the future? What new problems might we anticipate as a result of climate change and population growth? Will technology save us? Or will more ecosystem-focused planning provide a more resilient water future for humans? How much of Earth's water should humans feel entitled to? How much should be left for nature? These are some of the questions we'll address in Part 2 of this module.

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Learning Goals

The goal of Module 8.2, Cities in Peril: Dealing with Water Scarcity, is to get students thinking in more detail about future issues regarding water allocation and water resource management. This module recapitulates some key points from earlier modules, especially Modules 1 and 2, draws from the physical hydrology modules, and sets the stage for the following two modules and the capstone project. After completing the module, students will be able to:
  • argue one of the many viewpoints on climate change;
  • identify the causes of global warming and climate change over the past ~250 years, including anthropogenic and natural influences;
  • assess whether mathematical models are a sound basis for making policy decisions;
  • evaluate the implications of climate change on future water resources for specific locations in the United States;
  • devise a water plan for Phoenix, AZ, projecting forward from 1915.

Context for Use

Overall, this one-week module is intended for use as a stand-alone lesson or as part of an online or blended general education or introductory-level course that would satisfy a science distribution requirement. The module would be appropriate for non-majors and undeclared students looking for a major. There are two formats: (1) blended where the students meet at least once to perform the activities in teams; and (2) 100% online. As a general guideline, the delivery of content and assessment of learning goals/objectives have been designed to accommodate the logistics of large class sizes where students are expected to work approximately three hours per week covering lecture content with an additional six hours per week of additional reading and work on assessments. Note that some students will require more or less time to meet the goals and objectives of the module.

Description and Teaching Materials

All materials for students are available online using the Student Materials link below. These can be implemented entirely in the context of distance learning, with students completing any discussion questions in the form of a blog or discussion group. In a traditional or blended classroom setting, students can complete the online unit as homework, using class time to address the discussion questions and for student presentations of Water Journal Projects.

Teachers can find documentation of the activities as well as rubrics for students at this location. Rubrics for teachers are compiled under Assessment on this site. Suggestions for teaching and a list of the assessments are found below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

What works best for the module?

This module provides a brief review of some of the population growth, water demand, and water distribution information provided in earlier modules, as well as a brief overview of global warming and climate change. It is helpful for instructors to build further on the climate change material, drawing information from IPCC reports and other resources that relate specifically to the area of most interest to the students. Students also greatly benefit from some in-depth discussion of how science works and how we know what we know (i.e., basics of measurement and monitoring networks, analysis and synthesis, peer review and constructive criticism). Instructors may also want to directly discuss differences between skepticism (applying reason and critical thinking to substantively question the evidence supporting a given conclusion, rather than just believing everything you are told), which is a hallmark of science, and simply declining to accept empirical observations (e.g., the climate deniers). It is critical that the instructor make the link between the global/regional climate trends and more local water issues of interest to your particular class. The Module 8.2 Summative Assessment, which asks students to consider the predictions for and implications of climate change in their hometowns, is particularly effective in an online class or larger university where students come from different parts of the country or world. Instructors may wish to turn this exercise into a discussion (either in person or online) so students can share their concerns and experiences for the different places in which they live. In a smaller college where students all come from the same area, instructors might wish to adapt this "hometown" exercise to "a place you'd like to visit" in order to increase variability in responses.

What students found difficult

Students typically did not encounter major difficulties in this module. Perhaps the greatest challenge is getting students to recognize their preconceptions about climate change, including both students who deny that it is happening or that humans play a role in it, as well as the students who have simply "believed" that climate change is happening without ever actually reviewing the supporting evidence. Depending on the political climate at your university, it may be necessary to use some care to promote thought-provoking, scientifically sound conversation on the topic of climate change without causing students with unpopular opinions to feel insulted or outcast. Discussions should be built around facts and observations, not "beliefs". All three formative assessments were straightforward, if a bit open-ended. They serve as good primers for the Capstone Project.

Reflections

Module 8.2 provides much of the content for getting students to think about the implications of future changes in climate, population and water demand for management of water resources. Therefore, it serves as an important foundation for the Capstone Project.


Assessment

Formative Assessments

Summative Assessment

References and Resources

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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 »