Controversies in the Earth Sciences

Climate Change in the Holocene


Reading assignment

As we begin Lesson 5, first read the following article, located through Library Reserves:

  • Kolbert, E. (2005). The Climate of Man—II; Annals of Science. The New Yorker, 81(11), 064.

This article appeared in The New Yorker in 2005 and was written for a general audience. I think it gives a good introduction to the topic of climate change for two reasons. Firstly, it gives a brief overview of how global climate models work and what kinds of measurements climate scientists make. Secondly, the interesting link between catastrophic climate change and the fall of ancient civilizations is explored. This is a topic that all intelligent and scientifically literate people of the world today would do well to think about.

As you read, contemplate the following questions:

  1. What are the first-order effects and second-order effects of global warming mentioned in this article? What's the difference in general between a first-order effect and a second-order effect?
  2. What is the approximate magnitude of the time lag involved with today's anthropogenic climate forcing (i.e., when human activity increases CO2 levels by some amount, how long does it take the global climate system to equilibrate)? What does this time lag mean for people and policy-makers?
  3. Do you think today's societies are better or worse-equipped to deal with disastrous climate change compared to the ancient societies discussed in this article?