ENVR E-103: The Challenge of Human Induced Climate Change: Transitioning to a Post Fossil Fuel Future


  • Professor: Michael B. McElroy, Shaojie Song
  • Term: Spring
  • School: Harvard Extension School
  • Course ID: 25709

Human induced climate change has the potential to alter the function of natural ecosystems and the lives of people on a global scale. The prospect lies not in the distant future but is imminent. Our choice is either to act immediately to change the nature of our global energy system (abandon our dependence on fossil fuels) or accept the consequences (included among which are increased incidence of violent storms, fires, floods and droughts, changes in the spatial distribution and properties of critical ecosystems, and rising sea levels). The course is designed to provide students with an understanding of relevant physical, technical and social factors including a historical perspective. In the latter half of the course, we engage students in an interactive dialogue on possible responses recognizing explicitly differences in motivations for different constituencies—for developed as distinct from developing economies, for example. We plan to explore options for a zero carbon future energy system including the challenges involved in implementing the necessary transition. If we fail to abandon our dependence on fossil fuels—and the time scale over which we must do so to realize even the minimal objectives outlined in the recent Paris climate accord is as brief as a couple of decades or even less—might we need to explore possibilities for geoengineering, for purposeful intervention in the global climate system? Arguments for and against such options are discussed and debated. We expect students to be actively involved in exploring, researching and debating responses to any and all of these interrelated issues.

Note: The recorded lectures are from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciencescourse General Education 1137. Registered students can ordinarily live stream the lectures Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:30-2:45 pm starting January 27 or they can watch them on demand. Videos are available within 24 hours of the lecture.

Prerequisite: High school algebra and trigonometry.