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A New Year's Resolution for Boosting Your Climate Knowledge

Firm up your understanding of climate science, technology and policy by taking one of several free online courses described below.

Dec 31, 2013

Credit: Chris Gardner, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District public affairs

If you're casting about for a New Year's resolution that has nothing to do with how much you eat or how often you exercise, here's a suggestion: Firm up your understanding of climate change science, technology and policy by taking one of several free online courses being offered by various academic or public policy institutions.

Here are four that have come to our attention, all starting in the coming weeks and each offering its own perspective. (If readers know of more, please let us know.)

All courses are of the type that's come to be known as Massive Open Online Courses. They're offered on various virtual school platforms. More details are available via the web links provide here for each course.

The first to get underway, and perhaps the broadest of the curricula, is offered beginning on January 7 by the University of California at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Climate Change in Four Dimensions" deals with the problem from the standpoints of the natural sciences, social sciences, technology and the humanities.

Lasting 10 weeks, it includes 19 video lectures, interactive presentations and live online discussions, weekly assignments, a mid-term and a final exam. It's expected to take participants five to seven hours a week of work.

All the faculty come from UCSD—Charles Kennel, Naomi Oreskes, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Richard Somerville and David G. Victor. Their academic backgrounds are diverse: physics, science history, oceans and atmosphere, meteorology and modeling, international relations.

The presentations focus partly on basic science, partly on policy options, partly on what may lie ahead—a tour d’horizon that might be especially useful for someone just starting out in this complex field.

A somewhat similar offering, from the University of Exeter, is pitched toward those just starting their college educations. It's said to call for about three hours a week of work—a bit less than the others.

Called "Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions," it starts on Jan. 13 and lasts eight weeks.

The course is produced by eight professors led by Tim Lenton, professor of Climate Change and Earth System Science. "We have assembled an inter-disciplinary team of geographers, mathematicians, biologists, marine biologists, meteorologists and glacierologists from both the University of Exeter and our partners at the UK Met Office," the course announcement says.

The World Bank offers its first venture into this kind of on-line course with a four-week session called "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4-degree C. Warmer World Must Be Avoided." It starts on Jan. 27.

According to the course synopsis: "It is now becoming clear that without necessary climate action, the world may become 4°C warmer by the end of this century. As this threatens to roll back decades of development progress, this is a 'make or break' point. This course presents the most recent scientific evidence as well as some of the opportunities for urgent action."

The instructors, Kana Kumari Rigaud, Pablo Benitez and Susan Tambi Matambo, are all World Bank specialists on climate economics and policies, and their course is plainly aimed at engaging people in further actions to confront the problems of climate change head-on—with an emphasis on action.

Its four "modules" address the outlook for the 21st century's climate, impacts of climate change on human society, the risks of large-scale disruption and "what we can do about it."

Participants will divide along two tracks, one emphasizing individual action ("climate champions") and one oriented more toward the public sector ("policy and leadership").

From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there's "Global Warming Science," a 12-week course starting on Feb. 19 that should take up about 8 hours a week of your time.

This course deals strictly with the science of climate change. There will be no discussion of policies relating to mitigation or adaptation, nor of the politics surrounding the issue. Rather, it will deal with the fundamentals of the energy balance in climate systems, the role of greenhouse gases, geophysical processes that shape climate and the use of models.

Some college level math and physics is required.

The faculty are Kerry Emanuel, Dan Cziczo and David McGee, all atmospheric scientists.