Complexity, climate change and human systems
HCOL 186E SU (3 credits)

Spring 2021 Tuesdays 4:35-7:35 pm (Eastern US) (remote)
Instructor: Brian Beckage (Brian.Beckage@uvm.edu)
Office Hours (remote by appointment)



Course Description


Course Goals


Grading


Books & Media


Schedule


Stella



Course Description

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The Earth is a complex coupled human-natural system that is increasingly dominated by human activities. We will examine anthropogenic climate change as part of an integrated earth system that includes impacts on and feedbacks with human systems. We will consider the challenges and interactions between climate change and human societies by considering responses of current and past societies to climate change and environmental degradation. We will place anthropogenic climate change in the broader context of limits to growth, sustainability, and societal development. The class will emphasize readings, discussions, and construction of simple simulation models to understand the scientific and social basis of contemporary climate and sustainability. Students will use the graphical computer programming language Stella to develop a simplified model of the Earth system.


Class Structure. This class will meet once a week for 3 hours. Each meeting will be divided into three 50 minute components with a 10 minute break between components.

  1. Readings. The first 50 minutes will be a discussion of the readings for that week. Part of this time will be spent in small groups addressing assigned questions about the readings. We will come back together as a single large group to share answers to the questions and other thoughts on the readings. This will also present an opportunity to ask general questions about the readings. This will also provide a review prior to taking a short quiz on the readings that will be posted in Blackboard at the end of class each week.

  2. Videos. In the second 50 minute portion of each class, we will together watch 30 to 40 minutes of a documentary, followed by time for questions and reaction to the information presented in the video. Each student will address an assigned question in an online discussion thread outside of class.

  3. Modeling. In the third 50 minute section of class, students will work on an assigned exercise to learn system dynamics approaches to modeling using the graphical programing language Stella.


Course Goals

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  1. To have an understanding of the physical basis of climate change.
  2. To use this knowledge to contextualize the responses of current and past societies to climate change and environmental degradation.
  3. To employ a system dynamics modeling framework to synthesize climate change and resource use within the limitations of the Earth system

Achieving these goals will require:


Grading

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Student grades will be based on the following four components:

  1. A research project on some aspect of the coupled climate and human system. This paper will include development of and results from a simulation model built in Stella. This paper and model will be due at the end of the semester. (20% of final grade). Here is an example of a Stella model, final paper, and presentation from previous classes.
  2. A corresponding class presentation on your research project  during the final week of class. (5% of final grade)
  3. In-class evaluations (quizzes) based on assigned readings. These will be approximately weekly. (35% of final grade).
  4. Homework assignments. These may be short essays or programming assignments in Stella. (20% of final grade).
  5. Student participation in online discussion boards. Students are expected to fully participate in and contribute to online discussions. (15% of final grade)
  6. Student attendance and participation in class discussions and activities. Students are expected to attend class and fully participate in class activities and live discussions. (5% of final grade)
  7. Assignments that are turned in late will be assessed a 10% penalty for each day late.

Books and Media

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This will be a reading-intensive, seminar-style course consisting of in-class discussions and  activities rather than lectures, and students are expected to participate actively in class. Students will also be assigned readings from the following set of books (below) as well as from the popular press and the scientific literature.


These books will be required for this class and are available in the university bookstore:

  1. Emanuel, K., 2018. What we know about climate change. MIT Press. ISBN: 9780262535915 Link to book.
  2. Meadows, D.H., 2008. Thinking in systems: A primer. Chelsea Green Publishing. ISBN: 9781603580557. Link to book on Amazon.
  3. Jared M. Diamond. 2011. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed: Revised edition. Penguin. 608p. ISBN-10: 0143117009; ISBN-13: 978-0143117001 Link to book.
  4. Krauss, Lawrence M. 2021. The Physics of Climate Change. Kindle version available on 26 Jan 2021; hardcopy available in early Feb. Link to book on Amazon.

We will also watch a variety of documentaries and other videos inside or outside of class: These include 1) An Inconvenient Truth (97 mins),  2) The Great Global Warming Swindle (74 mins), 3) A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (83 mins) and 4) Planet of the Humans (100 mins).


Stella

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We will build system dynamics models in the graphical programming language Stella created by ISEE Systems. This will require a semester student license for the Stella software. ISEE Systems has made semester student licenses free this semester because of Covid19. You should receive an email from ISEE with instructions for accessing Stella.

Stella website

Beginning with Stella

Sample models

Model exchange

Language Reference