My first year seminar course, PMU199 Climate Change: Software, Science and Society is up and running again this term. The course looks at the role of computational models in both the science and the societal decision-making around climate change. The students taking the course come from many different departments across arts and science, and we get to explore key concepts in a small group setting, while developing our communication skills.

As an initial exercise, this year’s cohort of students have written their first posts for the course blog (assignment: write a blog post on any aspect of climate change that interests you). Feel free to comment on their posts, but please keep it constructive – the students get a chance to revise their posts before we grade them (and if you’re curious, here’s the rubric).

Incidentally, for the course this year, I’ve adopted Andrew Dessler’s new book, Introduction to Modern Climate Change as the course text. The book was just published earlier this year, and I must say, it’s by far the best introductory book on climate science that I’ve seen. My students tell me they really like the book (despite the price), as it explains concepts simply and clearly, and they especially like the fact that it covers policy and society issues as well as the science. I really like the discussion in chapter 1 on who to believe, in which the author explains that readers ought to be skeptical of anyone writing on this topic (including himself), and then lays out some suggestions for how to decide who to believe. Oh, and I love the fact that there’s an entire chapter later in the book devoted to the idea of exponential growth.


  1. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, October 14, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  2. Random question: have you also used/read Houghton’s Global Warming: the Complete Briefing? I’m looking to get one good textbook but not sure of how this might differ from Dessler’s. (I’d want something that leans more towards helping with toy climate models…)

  3. @Dan Olner : I have Houghton on the shelf, but have never used it as a course text. It basically consists of highlights of the 2007 IPCC report. It does a better job of explaining stuff than the IPCC reports, but that’s not saying much…
    I haven’t found a book that’s a good primer for toy models – writing such a book is on my to do list.

  4. Hey Steve, what do you mean by ‘toy models’?

  5. @James The models used in climate science are incredibly complex. So by toy model, I mean models that are useful in teaching, because they are simple enough for students to understand and do simple experiments with, but would not be useful for research. John Baez gives some examples here:
    Any of the models he lists as zero-dimension I would consider to be ‘toy’.

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