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Causes and Implications of Global Change

Dr. Ruth DeFries, Dr. Andrew Dessler, Dr. Alan J. Kaufman, Dr. Owen Thompson

Course Type:

Earth Systems Science

Course Size:


This course embodies an integrated introduction to the broad scientific and social aspects of the global change "problem." Two large Global Change issues are discussed in terms of the science, the impacts and the responses.

Course Context:

This course is targeted at the first college years so as to establish a context for advanced disciplinary learning for students in a variety of major fields - non-scientific as well as scientific.

Course Goals:

At the end of the course students will:

  • Be familiar with scientific methodology and how it is applied in the context of the global environment.
  • Understand that the climate of Earth is the result of a complex interplay between living organisms, geologic processes, the oceans, and the atmosphere.
  • Know how Earth's climate has changed in the past, how human activities may affect climate and what some of the implications of climate change are for life on the planet
  • Be able to critically evaluate arguments made in the public debate about the global environment and to effectively express their own perspectives.
  • Understand how their personal activities may contribute to global change and what can be done by individuals and governments to lessen such impacts.

Course Content:

This course covers two different examples of global change: Stratospheric Ozone Depletion and the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect. These two examples are discussed in detail in terms of what the issue is, the science of the change, the impacts of the change and the policy responses to the change.

Teaching Materials:

The text for the class is:

MacKenzie, Fred T., 1998, Our Changing Planet: An Introduction to Earth System Science and Global Environmental Change, Prentice Hall Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 2nd Edition (ISBN 0-13-271321-7)

There is also a course packet of additional readings. Some of these are taken from the journal "Consequences: The Nature and Implications of Environmental Change".


Exam 1 - 100 points
Exam 2 - 100 points
Final Exam - 300 points
Paper #1 - 100 points
Paper #2 - 100 points
8 Study Question Assignments - 80 points
7 Pop Quizzes - 70 points
Discussion Session Participation - 150 points

Total - 1000 points

References and Notes: