Introduction

The climate of our planet is changing at a rate unprecedented in human history. Primarily responsible is the build-up of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, most notably carbon dioxide emitted in conjunction with the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas.  Concentrations in the atmosphere of CO2 are higher now than at any time over at least the past 850,000 years, higher arguably than at any time since dinosaurs roamed the planet 50 million years ago. The course provides a perspective on what we may expect in the way of future climate change if we fail to take action—more violent storms, extremes of precipitation, heat waves, pressures on food production, and an inexorable rise in sea level. It surveys the energy choices available should we elect to take action to minimize future damage to the climate system. Special attention is directed to the challenges and opportunities confronting China and the US, the world's two largest current emitters. The overall goal is to develop a vision for a more sustainable environmental future, one in which energy is supplied not by climate-altering fossil fuels but rather by zero carbon alternatives such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, tidal, and nuclear.

Related Certificates and Degrees

This course may apply toward one of the following graduate certificates or degrees at Harvard Extension School:

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Meet The Author

Michael B.  McElroy

Michael B. McElroy

Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, Harvard University

PhD Queen's University, Northern Ireland

Xinyu Chen

Xinyu Chen

Lecturer on Environmental Science and Public Policy, Harvard University

Chen holds a PhD from Tsinghua University.

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