I’ve been invited to give a guest seminar to the Dynamics of Global Change core course, which is being run this year by Prof Robert Vipond, of the Munk School of Global Affairs. The course is an inter-disciplinary exploration of globalization (and especially global capitalism) as a transformative change to the world we live in. (One of the core texts is Jan Aart Scholte’s Globalization: A Critical Introduction).

My guest seminar, which I’ve titled “Climate Change as a Global Challenge“, comes near the middle of the course, among a series of different aspects of globalization, including international relations, global mortality, humanitarianism, and human security. I had to provide some readings for the students, and had an interesting time whittling it down to a manageable set (they’ll only get 1 week in which to read them). Here’s what I came up with, and some rationale for why I picked them:

  1. Kartha S, Siebert CK, Mathur R, et al. A Copenhagen Prognosis: Towards a Safe Climate Future.
    I picked this as a short (12 page) overview of the latest science and policy challenges. I was going to use the much longer Copenhagen Diagnosis, but at 64 pages, I thought it was probably a bit much, and anyway, it’s missing the discussion about emissions allocations (see fig 11 of the Prognosis report), which is a nice tie in to the globalization and international politics themes of the course…
  2. Rockström J, Steffen W, Noone K, et al. A Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Nature. 2009;461(7263):472–475.
    This one’s very short (4 pages) and gives a great overview of the concept of planetary boundaries. It also connects up climate change with a set of related boundary challenges. And it’s rapidly become a classic.
  3. Müller P. Constructing climate knowledge with computer models. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change. 2010.
    A little long, but it’s one of the best overviews of the role of modeling in climate science that I’ve ever seen. As part of the aim of the course is to examine the theoretical perspectives and methodologies of different disciplines, I want to spend some time in the seminar talking about what’s in a climate model, and how they’re used. I picked Müller over and above another great paper, Moss et al on the next generation of scenarios, which is an excellent discussion of how scenarios are developed and used. However, I think Müller is a little more readable, and covers more aspects of the modeling process.
  4. Jamieson D. The Moral and Political Challenges of Climate Change. In: Moser SC, Dilling L, eds. Creating A Climate for Change. Cambridge University Press; 2006:475-482.
    Nice short, readable piece on climate ethics, as an introduction to issues of equity and international justice…

So that’s the readings. What do you all think of my choice?

I had to sacrifice another set of readings I’d picked out on Systems Thinking and Cybernetics, for which I was hoping to use at least the first chapter of Donella Meadows’ book, because it offers another perspective on how to link up global problems and our understanding of the climate system. But that will have to wait for a future seminar…


  1. Excellent choices. I was all set to leave a comment recommending the Safe Operating Space piece, but I obviously underestimated your judgment.

    Could you fit in something on the interplay between climate/energy/water/food? To me, this is where the climate situation gets very problematic, thanks to [1] the dynamical systems aspect of the interaction of these subsystems, making it much more difficult to understand than “simply” climate change or peak oil or any other component, and [2] the hesitancy by many people, largely due to [1], I suspect, to address the e/w/c/f nexus. Lester Brown has been focused on this for a while, and he connects even more dots in the chain of causality to include failed states. You might be able to pull some material from his book World on the Edge (freely available from the Earth Policy Institute’s site) to give students at least a taste of the perverse complexity, and sobering ramifications, of our environmental changes.

    (If you need/want to talk about this, pls. e-mail me directly.)

  2. Lou: Yes, absolutely – the e/w/c/f nexus (neat way of putting it!) is precisely what I want to get to, because I want to relate it to what the students are learning in the rest of the course about the politics of globalization. I’ll take a look at Lester’s book (haven’t read it yet!). I also have some notes from a talk last year by Sir David King, who also joined the dots very well (and again, more dots than I expected).

    (let’s talk when I’m back from travel in September).

  3. Just finished reading the ethics essay you listed as #4
    “The Moral and Political Challenges of Climate Change”. Cambridge University Press; 2006
    It is a nice introduction and worth including – however, I wanted it to be more current – since ethical thinking is derived from a good scientific definition of the quandary.

    In 2006 – the rates of climate change were less than we see now. The Arctic was not expected to melt, the heatwaves and fires were not as common as today. The ethical suggestion for individual mindfulness remains the same – however it seems morally questionable to keep silent, to know the science and not speak up and to tolerate the continued promotion of carbon combustion of any sort.

    It seems like civilization is on a very precarious ethical cusp – there is either time to effect change for survival – or time has run out and we are now living in a giant hospice ward – just awaiting the great fry and die. Since we do not yet know, then the most important question to address is to find the answer. Those who distract from answering this question seem to be morally corrupted – even dangerous.

    Thanks for posting this… thanks for all that you do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *