Freshman Seminar - Predicting the Future Climate - Life in the Greenhouse

Professor David E. Henderson - Chemistry Department

Office Clement 129 - 10:00-11:00 every day or 1:30-3:00 W are the best times to find me

Contact by e-mail is recommended david.henderson

Office phone 2514 - please do not leave a message, if I am not in my office, use e-mail

DO NOT CALL AT HOME!!! E-mail will reach me anywhere that I am available.

Mentor - Yolanda Flamino

This seminar will examine the science of climate, the impact of human activity on climate and the effects of climate on human society. Students will address the impact of global warming on the biosphere, agriculture, population patterns, and disease. The seminar will also consider the impact of personal and political choices on the future of our climate and the technologies available to change the future.

The seminar divides into three parts which will operate in different manners. During the first part, we will explore the texts below and learn a lot about how the global ecosystem works. This knowledge is necessary to be able to understand the science behind global warming and to be able to make reasonable choices and predictions. You are expected to have read carefully and thoroughly the assigned readings before you come to class. This is not a lecture course, and I do not want to spend most of class time lecturing. I will, however, take as much time as needed to answer technical questions about the material in the reading assignments. You may also be given short quizzes on the material to insure you have learned it.

The second part of the seminar will look at specific consequences related to global warming and to predictions about the future of our climate and our society. Every student will be responsible for researching the topic of each session. Two or three students will then take this research and develop a position paper on the topic based on the research and the class discussion. Position papers which are well done will be posted to a Web site. Also, during the second part, the class as a whole will make a presentation to the Migrations series on the predicted effects of global warming on migration of people. The details of how this will be structured will be decided in class discussion.


Part three of the course will examine what actions can be taken to minimize the amount of global warming which will occur. It will be organized much like the second part.

There are really two things which successful students must master to succeed in this course. First, you must develop a rudimentary understanding of the ecosystem and the ability to read non-technical material on the environment with good understanding of the concepts involved. Second, you must learn to analyze arguments made by writers for flaws and to write good arguments to support your opinions on global warming and, by extension, on any other topic. The writing component of this course will focus almost exclusively on writing arguments.


Global Environmental Change: Past, Present, and Future - Karl K. Turekian, ISBN 013303447x

Return to Sodom and Gomorrah - Charles Pellegrino - ISBN 0380726335

Earth in the Balance - Al Gore - ISBN 0-452-26935-0

For those of you who are interested, there is an interesting novel which deals with rising sea levels and govenrment incompetence. It is currently out of print, but you may be able to find a copy. It is an interesting look at life in a greenhouse world. Drowning Towers - George Turner ISBN 038078601X

Survival Skills

1. Always read the assigned material before you come to class. You may need to read it again after class to pick up things you have missed, but you will not be able to contribute in class without preparation.

2. All writing assignments should be typed on a word processor, spell checked, and read by the author and, if possible, another student. Major papers should be read by another student and by the mentor and revised before submission.

3. Arrive in class enough before 1:15 so that you are in your seat and ready to go at 1:15. Have your beverages and rest stops completed before the start of class.

4. Except in emergencies, do not leave (or start to get ready to leave) until the professor has dismissed the class.

Writing Folder

No papers assigned for grading will be accepted without a complete writing folder. The Writing Folder is a place that you keep all papers and notes which are produced in the process of writing a paper. The following items should all be placed in your folder and handed in with the finished paper.

1. All drafts of the paper - Note date on each when you print it. It is assumed that drafts will get marked up. They do not need to be neat.

2. All notes and correspondence with peer reviewers, the mentor, and the professor.

3. All source materials duplicated for preparing the paper. If you make photocopies of printouts, they go in the folder.

4. All note cards used in writing the paper.

5. The finished copy of the paper.


Part I - Global Warming - What is the problem? How does the ecosystem work?

Sept. 3 Introduction to Global Warming - videos and opinion survey

Sept. 8 How does the 3rd rock from the sun work. KKT chapter 1

Writing Assignment I - Short paper (2 pages max.)- Based on the video and your own prior experience, write a brief description of the global warming problem and how you think it might effect you. This paper is not intended to support any specific argument but is really a summary of your understanding of the topic based on the two videos. Write this paper for the professor as the primary audience using standard English. The purpose of this paper is simply to get you started writing on the topic and to give me some understanding of your writing.

Sept. 10 Chronology of the Earth

Read: KKT Chapter 2, Pellegrino pp 3-34

Sept. 15 The vital importance of the Greenhouse effect -

Read KKT Chapter 3

Writing Assignment II - Imagine you are living on earth 2.5 billion years ago. You are a sentient bacterial mat living in the warm, pleasant ocean, who just happens to be able to write clear, grammatical English. The earth is filled with life. Mats like you are everywhere. You and your neighbors produce a constant output of the poisonous gas, oxygen, but the environment is capable of absorbing most of this pollutant. You are living at a time when the production of oxygen begins to outstrip the environments ability to absorb it due to too a population explosion of life. Pollution is building up. Write a two page letter to a neighboring mat describing the problem and what you think the consequences will be. Add a 1 page epilog, written by a paleontologist of today describing how things actually worked out for the mats and where their decedents live today.

Sept. 17 Temperature variation with Time -

Read KKT Chapter 4, Gore pp 56-163

Al Gore makes an argument in his book. What are the main points of his argument? What evidence does he offer to support his argument? Examine his arguments from the viewpoint of the argument handouts you were given at the start of the term. Can you identify any fallacies? If so, what are they?

Sept. 22 The Circulatory System of Planet Earth, Atmosphere and Oceans-

Read KKT Chapter 5

Sept. 24 Sea Level Changes -

Read KKT Chapter 6,

Writing Assignment III- What to do about rising sea levels? - You will be given a topographical map of a sea coast area near your home. Assuming a rise of sea level of 0.5 meters (1.5 feet) and 6 meters (20 feet) over the next 50 years, mark the new coastline and select a site for a beach front property you could buy now as an investment for your retirement. Approximately what fraction of the total land on your map is lost to ocean in each scenario? What are the current uses of this land? How many people live there? (This question will involve either counting houses on the topo map in the area effected or using values of population density for the urban area effected and the area actually lost. This will require some research.)

Write an argument for either protecting low lying areas from ocean encroachment or for allowing the ocean to reclaim land as it rises for your assigned area. If you want to protect land, what criteria will you use to decide what areas to protect? What will it be like to live in protected areas? If you do not want to protect land, what will you do to help people who are displaced, if anything? Try to convince the reader ( another student in this seminar) that your opinion is the correct one using facts and arguments. Assume a 3 meter rise over the next 35 years, but recognize that any plan you propose must deal with continuing rises in sea level after that point. This paper should be no longer than 4 pages. Include your map and research notes in the writing folder. You may reference the map as a figure in your paper.

Sept. 29 Tragedy of the Commons

Read - Science Vol 162, pp 1243-1244 (1968) G. Hardin and Science Vol 280, pp. 682-683. Also, find out as much as you can about the "Prisoner's Delema". There are some web sites on this which are interesting. Also, read one major news article about the Koyoto Treaty. Bring a copy of this article to class with you.

Oct. 1 Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming -

Read KKT Chapter 7

Writing Assignment IV- Argument Assignment- Examining an argument. You will each receive a document written by opponents or supporters of action on global warming. Write a short paper in which you answer the following questions:

What is the thesis of the argument?

What evidence does the author present? Is the evidence valid?

What is your opinion of the quality of the evidence presented? Support your opinion.

Write a brief outline of the paper which shows the structure of the argument.

What flaws are present in the argument?

Does the author display any bias?

What fallacies are present in the argument?

This paper will be an argument, either that the argument in the document is valid or that it is invalid. The answers to the questions above will lead you to your decision about the argument your are evaluating.

Oct. 6 Migrations and Environmental Change - How fast do maple trees migrate?

Read KKT Chapter 10, Pellegrino pp 37-108, Genesis

Oct. 8 Natural Catastrophes -

Read KKT Chapter 11, Pellegrino pp 113-231

During this class we will discuss the Global Change Game

Oct. 15 Field Trip - Required - the class will go to Groton CT for a boat trip on Long Island Sound with Project Oceanology. During the trip we will examine the various chemical characteristics of the sound and also the diversity of animal life in the sound. It may be cool on the water, so dress appropriately for the day, including rain gear if the weather is bad.

Part II - Predicting the effects of Global Warming

For the next three weeks, the course will examine various proposed impacts and problems due to global warming. For each of the next six classes, each student should find one or two written reports on the day's topic and prepare a brief analysis of the arguments and predictions made in the paper (one page). These papers will be collected and evaluated by the students assigned to the topic. At the end of the class, two or three students will be assigned to write detailed reports on the topic.

Writing Assignment V - Effects of Global Warming. On the topic assigned to you, write a research report (6-8 pages) in which you make an argument about the effects of global warming on the specific aspect of the problem you are assigned. You may choose to argue that predicted warming will have a serious negative or positive impact or that there will be no significant change. Your argument should be based on published literature. In some cases, you may find that the impact will be positive in some areas and negative in others. In this case, you need to identify the range of impacts and who they will effect. These papers are due one week after the topic is discussed in class.

Oct. 20 Global Warming and Weather - Hotter and Colder, Wetter and Drier

Oct. 22 Global Warming and Agriculture - Who will get to eat dinner? (Biology types can look at C3 and C4 plants)

Oct. 27 Global Warming and Disease - Pass the Anti-malarials?

Oct. 29 Migrations due to Global Warming - Jobs in Dallas, anyone?

Nov. 3 Global Warming and Biodiversity - Where have all the Flowers Gone?

Nov. 5 Other Problems of a Greenhouse World? Water supply. Distribution of energy use for heating and cooling.

Nov. 10 Global warming and Future Migration - Each student should prepare a 2 page paper in which you predict the impact of global warming on migration. All of the effects of global warming discussed in the past three weeks can be taken into account, but focus your attention on the effects of the topic on which you wrote the summary paper. During class we will discuss your papers and prepare for the presentations on November 12.

Nov. 12 - 4:00 Oral presentations to Migrations Series "Global Warming and Future Migrations"

Part III - Solutions

As in part II, Each class will involve a short paper on one or two recent articles on the topic. Two or three students will then take all of the articles and write a longer report.

Writing Assignment VI - Solutions to Global Warming. On the topic assigned to you, write a research report in which you make an argument for some government policy to deal with global warming. If you suggest a policy, it must be within the nature of government regulation to create such a policy. (Eg. You can tax and regulate new products) If you argue that nothing should be done, recognize that is also a policy and must be supported by careful argument. Your argument should be supported by published literature. Consider the impact of your policy on the economy and on individuals. These papers are due one week after the topic is discussed in class.

Nov. 17 What can be done - Energy Utilization Efficiency - Conservation of energy, how far can we go?

Nov. 19 What can be done - Energy Generation Efficiency - What about the 60% we throw away?

Nov. 24 What can be done - Trash to treasure - energy cost of materials

Dec. 1 What can be done - Transportation

Dec. 3 What can be done - Cars and Global Warming

Dec. 8 Koyoto Treaty "Oh, the games people play"

Dec. 10 Wrap up- ( Questionnaire 2)


The class is required to participate in the Global Change Game. This is being schedules for three hours in the evening sometime in November or December. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Participation is required for all students.


The final seminar grade will be based on papers, quizes, and class participation. The following weighting is planned:

2 6-8 page papers (V-VI) 30%

4 short papers (I - IV) 24%

10 1 page analysis of articles papers 10%

Quizes 10%

Class Participation 16%

Oral Presentation 10%