“Climate Science for Climate Activists”

I am planning to teach a course by this title online using the Zoom platform. I have a half dozen or so expressions of interest, but I wanted to put the outline up and in a place that can be accessed easily so people could have a look at it and see if they are interested. If you want to tune it, either:

Once I have this material, I’ll probably do it again. I don’t have any notion of a minimum class size, but I cannot accommodate more than 99 with my Zoom account. (Don’t think there’s much danger of that.) This is, of course, not for any kind of course credit.

The course, based upon Professor David Archer’s book and online course, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, and Professor Archer still has available a Coursera version. That course has enrollments, deadlines, etc.

The idea of the course is to introduce sufficient amounts of climate science into a UU and activist context so participants might be able to (1) discriminate among policy choices intelligently, (2) converse intelligently about the hows and whys of climate change, including being able to parry denier or warmist rhetoric, and (3) appreciate the marvel and beauty of the Earth system, with joy and awe.

Here’s an outline, one which I am continuing to develop and tweak. I have begun developing slides according to this. I still need to check those interested in the first round, but, tentatively, I’m thinking of a kickoff some time in early June 2019.

1. Overview and Why.
   1.1 "Fun and Awe"
       1.1 Continental shelf image, off Cape Cod. Our neighborhood, and a bit of history of science.
           1.1.1 Seamounts.
           1.1.2 Hotspots.
           1.1.3 Plate motion.
           1.1.4 A need for a sense of temporal scale.
       1.2 The Sverdrup as a unit of flow. 
           1.2.1 A need to be QUANTITATIVE
       1.3 The "Gulf Stream", a part of the AMOC and its flow. 
   1.2 Why _this_ course. 
       1.2.1 Now, and especially now, y'can't be an advocate for 
             climate action without understanding the science and 
             the engineering of climate change
       1.2.2 This course deals with the science. The engineering will
             need to be left to another day.
       1.2.3 It's my judgment that many climate and environmental 
             activists get the idea, however way they've gotten there, 
             but they do not have the details. This handicaps them, 
             both in being able to deal with the emotional 
             implications, and in being able to respond with judgments 
             about policy.
       1.2.4 After all, the idea of a representative democracy is
             in part that the electorate gains some understanding 
             of the problem at hand and expresses their take on 
             policy choices based upon that understanding.
       1.2.5 Climate and its science is too important to leave it 
             to others to understand, taking it on authority.
       1.2.6 I emphasize that, because if you want to go into 
             Professor Archer's course, online, or delve deeper 
             into Professor Pierrehumbert's course, I heartily 
             encourage you to do so. You can verify these things 
             for yourself, using your own calculations. That's how 
             Science works, or should work. 
   1.3 The sources and origin
       1.3.1 Prof David Archer, GLOBAL WARMING: UNDERSTANDING
             THE FORECAST
       1.3.2 Prof Ray Pierrehumbert, PRINCIPLES OF PLANETARY CLIMATE 
       1.3.3 B.S., Physics, 1974
       1.3.4 Courses in Geology and Geophysics, 1992-1994.
       1.3.5 Personal study since, lectures, online coursework, etc.
   1.4 Given talks before: https://bit.ly/2VIdGEE
   1.5 This course will be revised and will be repeated.
   1.6 I *like* the online format: Bigger reach, encouraging online 
       community, fewer greenhouse gas emissions for travel.
   1.7 Format and style is to circle around a few key ideas, diving 
       deeper on each revisit.
       1.7.1 Intended to reduce overload effect.
   1.7 HOMEWORK FOR THIS SECTION: Why are you taking the course? 
       What do you want to get from it?  
   1.8 There'll typically be some kind of Homework or Problem Set 
       given at end of each section, due by the start of the
       next.  The due date system is to give me a chance to look
       them over and comment. This communication and submission
       will be written and by email or attaching files. If you'd
       prefer some other submission mechanism in addition, let
       me know.
   1.9 Technical difficulties with ZOOM: I can help a bit with any
       connection or setup problems, but Zoom has excellent help 
       resources and an online chat. They also can, I believe, "look
       over your shoulder" on the ZOOM platform to see what might
       be the problem. I cannot. 
2. Heat, Light, Energy, Blackbody Radiation, and Atmospheric Transfers.
   2.1 Let's begin at the beginning: Energy transfer through a vacuum. 
       How does it happen?
       2.1.1 "Radiation".
       2.1.2 Stars, starshine, sunshine. 
       2.1.3 Matter as ensembles of musical instruments.
   2.2 What happens when radiation interacts with matter?
       2.2.1 Rocks in Space.
       2.2.2 White rocks in Space.
       2.2.3 Black rocks in Space. 
       2.2.4 Resonance and coupling
   2.3 Looking closely at molecules.
       2.3.1 Radiation energy interacting ("hitting") a molecule.
       2.3.2 Different kinds of molecules: O2, N2, CO2, CH4.
       2.3.3 Molecules as musical strings. 
       2.3.4 Coupled vibrations.
       2.3.5 What happens to sound if you open the front doors in a 
             big music hall?
   2.4 Other kinds of energy transfer
       2.4.1 Conduction: For instance, solid Earth
       2.4.2 Convection: For instance, ocean currents
   2.5 Blackbody radiation
       2.5.1 Why don't rocks in space melt?
       2.5.2 An application of Law of Conservation of Energy: Balance of energy flows
   2.6 Observations of greenhouse gases and Earthlight.
   2.7 HOMEWORK: 
       2.7.1 What do you think the average temperature of Earth's 
             surface would be if atmosphere was all Oxygen and Nitrogen 
             without trace gases or water?
       2.7.2 Given your answer to 2.4.1, what are some physical 
             implications of your answer?
       2.7.3 What would happen if water were present? Physical
       2.7.4 Suppose there were no oceans and, somehow, water was 
             tied up in the ground and did not flow. Apart from 
             desertification, what do you think the climate of Earth 
             would be like? I don't expect a definitive answer to this: 
             Just think on what you've learned in this section, and 
             reason through what might be the effects. That said, 
             by end of course you should be able to give a definitive
       2.7.5 It's been proposed that JATROPHA CURCAS (see Wikipedia) 
             be planted in arid regions because it does well there, 
             does not require care, and produces an oil which might be 
             usable as biofuel. Given what you've learned in this 
             segment, what might happen to climate if the deserts of 
             the U.S. Southwest and Saudi Arabia were completely 
             planted with JATROPHA?
3. A Simple Climate Model.
   3.1 Why models?
   3.2 We've already seen a simple climate model: The bare rock.
       3.2.1 Models as analogies. 
       3.2.2 Models as verifiable stories. 
   3.3 Layer models of atmosphere.
       3.3.1 Single layer, and energy balances. 
       3.3.2 Suppose there are two layers?
       3.3.3 How about 4 layers? 8 layers?
       3.3.4 Towards continuity
    We'll eventually see why the atmosphere 
                     doesn't fall out the sky two sections 
                     from now.
       3.3.5 Cross-sections, mean free paths, and how far a 
             photon can travel.
   3.4 Preparatory aside: On the variety of greenhouse gases.
   3.5 HOMEWORK:
       3.5.1 Maps as models. Is a map the real world? Can maps 
             be useful? What might make a particular map more or 
             less useful for a particular application or problem 
             than others?
       3.5.2 Planets as models. Mars' atmosphere is thin, even 
             though the proportion of Carbon Dioxide it has by volume 
             is higher. Venus' atmosphere is thick and the atmosphere 
             is almost entirely Carbon Dioxide. If the they 
             were placed at the Earth's distance from the Sun, if 
             their atmospheres were transparent (*), and they were 
             initialized at the same temperature, how would their 
              temperatures change over time?
                    [(*) Verbal clarification during lecture.]
       3.5.3 How do you think physical laws regarding Blackbody 
             Radiation were discovered?  It was codified by the same 
             Gustav Kirchhoff who gave us the laws of electric 
             circuits which are named for him. 
             Check out an original: 
4. The Steady Atmosphere and the Historical Role of Natural 
   Greenhouse Gases.
   4.1 Where does CO2 come from and where it goes: A dead simple 
       Carbon Cycle. 
       4.1.1 Respiration, in the most general sense, including 
             decay and plants.
    CH4 + 2O2 --> CO2 + 2H2O
       4.1.2 Volcanos and seeps.
       4.1.3 Important to understand these reservoirs and time scales 
             because otherwise accounting gets done wrong.
   4.2 Carbon Cycle balances and equilibration.
       4.2.1 Sources of CO2.
       4.2.2 Temporary sinks of CO2.
    Water at surface, oceans to 1000 meters
    People and their stuff
       4.2.3 Long term sinks of CO2.
    Forests (maybe)
    Deep oceans
    Calcium Carbonate in shells
    Subducted tectonic plates
   4.3 Time scales
   4.4 Before people.
       4.4.1 Ice ages. 
       4.4.2 Causation doesn't work well as an explanatory device 
             for many coupled systems. It's not a sufficiently
             POWERFUL IDEA.
   4.5 The occasional cosmic accident.
   4.6 The occasional geologic disruption.
   4.7 But weathering of rocks by tectonics is a big driver. As 
       is the occasional redirection of major ocean flows.
       4.7.1 Who knows about tectonics?
       4.7.2 [Aside]
   4.8 There's a lot We don't know: How did life develop in a 
       world lit by a dim young Sun?
   4.9 HOMEWORK: ... (to be provided) ...
5. Perturbations of a Steady Atmosphere.
   5.1 Earth's temperature rises in proportion to the number 
       of CO2 doublings.  In other words, temperature is 
       proportional to log(CO2 concentration).
       5.1.1 Band saturation, pressure broadening, and pro-rata 
             effects of warming.
       5.1.2 Why CH4 is more potent a GHG than CO2, as long 
             as it is stable. 
   5.2 The atmospheric lifetime of CO2 (Archer; Solomon)
   5.3 Some implications and what people seem to get wrong a lot
       5.3.1 Policy implications
       5.3.2 "Energy intensity" is a meaningless measure for 
             environmental policy
       5.3.3 Presentation of why, at this point, the need for 
             some kind of CLIMATE REPAIR seems inevitable
   5.4 HOMEWORK: (Handout of problem data)  Try to calculate for 
       yourself the cost of reducing atmospheric CO2 by 100 ppm.
6. Structuring of the Atmosphere, Lapse Rate, and Energy 
   Transfers by CO2 and Water.
   6.1 Energy transfers among CO2 and other atmospheric species.
   6.2 What is the lapse rate?
   6.3 Lapse rate and the greenhouse effect.
   6.4 Surface and atmospheric water.
       6.4.1 Water as a greenhouse gas.
       6.4.2 Water as a heat transfer pump.
       6.4.3 Clausius-Clapeyron.
   6.5 HOMEWORK: Consider having a warmer atmosphere and more 
       water vapor aloft as a result of climate change. What 
       might you think are some of the implications for 
7. Atmosphere, Oceans, and Land; Weather and Climate; 
   Slow Response
   7.1 General behavior of fluids on a spinning Earth (or 
       any other spinning planet)
   7.2 The Oceans. 
       7.2.1 Why oceans flow as currents
       7.2.2 Circulation time 
8. Ice sheets.
9. The Idea of a Feedback; Examples on Earth, Such as 
   Albedo and Otherwise.
   9.1 Remember white rocks and black rocks?
10. Kinds of Carbon; Kinds of Oxygen; the Carbon Cycle.
    10.1 Evidence for human tampering.
    10.2 Carbon isotopes.
    10.3 Oxygen isotopes
    10.4 What plants do, and why. 
    10.5 What shellfish do and why.
    10.6 Shellfish and tectonic cycles.
    10.7 Carbon-14.
    10.8 Fossil Carbon.
    10.9 The Keeling Curves.
    10.10 HOMEWORK: ...(to be provided)...
11. Perturbed Carbon Cycle, and our CO2 Legacy.
    11.1 An aside about the Keeling Curve for CO2. 
    11.2 Long choices and our CO2 legacy
12. Options for Avoiding Further Impacts: Mitigation 
    and its Costs.
13. How Bad Can Things Get? How Fast? Some Reasons 
    for Optimism.
14. Choices and Options if Things All Go Wrong.
15. Personal Choices versus Collective Action.

While the course will be based upon Professor Archer’s book and course, it will be less quantitative, less technical, and will touch more upon policy than his science course. However, there will be homework assigned, and I will comment upon these, even if saying I’ll “grade them” is a bit strong.

Sessions are anticipated to be an hour apiece, with 20 minutes or so for discussion and questions thereafter.  All will be done on Zoom.us. Details on that will accompany an announcement. There is already a Zoom room for general discussions, although holding a meeting requires my participation.

Number of sessions per week and duration will depend upon the class and levels of interest regarding various parts. I estimate there will be at least 10 sessions, and at most 17. I am planning to run the class if I get at least two people interested. 10-17 sessions may seem like a lot, but attending all isn’t necessary. I would recommend at least attending

  • Section 1, “Overview and Why”.
  • Section 2, “Heat, Light, Energy, Blackbody Radiation, and Atmospheric Transfers”.
  • Section 5, “Perturbations of a Steady Atmosphere”.
  • Section 8, “Ice Sheets”.
  • Section 12, “Options for Avoiding Further Impacts: Mitigation and its Costs”.

and then electing based upon interest. I will hold a session even if no one shows up, because I’ll record it and have it available for viewing later. Of course, students won’t get the benefit of interaction, and there’s only so many questions I can answer by email or at the start of the next session. On the other hand, and particularly if the class size is small, flexibility in when every session is held is something I hope we can do. It’s not like it necessarily has to be, say, Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. each week. We can talk about it in the same way that committee meetings are held.

Someone suggested a more compact course format, and I want to avoid that.

First, there are a lot of compact or “crash courses” on climate out there and, if that’s done, ultimately the student needs to take something on authority. I want to avoid that. I want students to have a deep enough understanding that they can see why certain recommendations by the IPCC or U.S. NCA or deep policy people are made.

For example, if you understand the material of Section 2 (“Heat, Light, Energy, Blackbody Radiation, and Atmospheric Transfers”) and Section 4 (“The Steady Atmosphere and the Historical Role of Natural Greenhouse Gases”), I hope you’ll understand why there’s beginning to be some talk of “Climate Repair”. As Section 12 (“Options for Avoiding Further Impacts: Mitigation and its Costs”) will explain, if greenhouse gas emissions are zeroed, deterioration in climate conditions will be arrested, but they won’t get better for hundreds of years. (Even this is a tad bit oversimplified, because climate inertia means deterioration has a lag to when emissions are done, a lag that’s typically a decade or two.)

Second, the reaction I sometimes get from the “crash course” approach is that students are overwhelmed. That’s the last thing I want to do. I want to go slow enough so people can grok the material.

Finally, as mentioned, I very much intend to do this again — this is not a one-off run — and hope that if someone is interested they’ll tune in sometime.

About ecoquant

See http://www.linkedin.com/in/deepdevelopment/ and https://667-per-cm.net/about
This entry was posted in Anthropocene, being carbon dioxide, climate, climate activism, climate change, climate disruption, climate education, David Archer, Ecology Action, global warming, Ray Pierrehumbert. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Climate Science for Climate Activists”

  1. Pingback: I am joining up to support the local Green New Deal teams | Hypergeometric

  2. bostonblorp says:

    I believe Zoom allows you to record sessions which can be posted online. It might multiply the reach of your sessions if you make them available in such a manner in addition to your regularly scheduled classes. Either way – thanks for doing this!

    • ecoquant says:

      I noted in the copy of the blog post that I intend to record each session. I have not yet decided whether or not I will share those recordings beyond those who sign up for the course, however. There are reasons not to share the recordings, such as concern that they might be used maliciously, or edited to present claims out of context.

      The recordings will be available to those registered for the course. There is no fee for the course.

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