Humans and the Earth System: How it Works, How We Got Here, and How to Save Our Planet


Kathleen Morrison

W 1:45-4:45pm

As our planet's climate changes, it is imperative to understand the basic structures of the earth system and our connections to these, past, present, and future. The goal of this course is to help students develop an integrated understanding of climate change, linking the fundamental science - from the microscopic to the global scale - to human actions and possible futures. This team-taught course brings together approaches from environmental science, social sciences, history, and policy. Beyond providing basic climate and environmental literacy, we will also explore current and projected impacts of change, including changes to human life and biodiversity as well as other physical and biological systems. The complexity and significance of planetary change demands new ways of thinking and new approaches that transcend traditional boundaries; for that reason the course will be co-taught by instructors from the natural sciences (Joseph Francisco), social science and humanities (Kathleen Morrison), and policy (Melissa Brown Goodall). We will use the foundation provided by the two first parts of the course to address potential responses and solutions to the current crisis. The course will be divided into three units: 1. Science: what are the chemical and physical drivers of our changing climate, and what are the biological, health and environmental implications so far. 2. Impacts: how human activity has affected environments and climate so far and how climate change is currently impacting society, nature, agriculture, health, cities, and the most vulnerable communities. 3. Solutions: the roles of policy, business, agriculture, planning, and personal choices. The course is open to undergraduate students of all disciplines. While the reading and weekly assignments will be specific to the module, students may define a capstone project that reflects their academic interests.


This course fulfills Social Science Approaches to Environmental Inquiry or Natural Science Approaches to Environmental Inquiry elective.

Spring 2022