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Global Warming: Here and Now, Then and There

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This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Brian Fagan is an emeritus professor of anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara who has written several books about past climate change and its effect on the course of European history. His latest book, "The Great Warming," focuses on the Medieval Warm Period (circa 10th to 14th centuries) during which the North Atlantic region experienced an unusually warm climate, and discusses historical events and trends that can be correlated with this climatic change. This assignment uses this book, along with student-retrieved newspaper articles, as the basis for a research paper that addresses the issue of global warming, its effect on past civilizations and its anticipated effect on the future of the citizens of New York City.

Based primarily on "The Great Warming", students address the following questions in a 5 page paper:

  • What methods and data sources do scientists use to determine climates of the past? How reliable are these various approaches?
  • How was European climate different during the Medieval Warm Period, and how did this climate affect the lives of people in Europe?
  • How was climate different during the Medieval Warm Period for one other region of personal interest, and how did this climate affect the lives of people who lived in that region?

Using information from "The Great Warming" and three to six articles from past issues of a major newspaper, such as the New York Times, students determine probable effects of global warming to the future populations of either their home city, or of the region for which they documented past climate change.

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