University of Notre Dame

Earth Focus

PHYS 10033: Earth Focus

The Earth Focus course develops a narrative that pieces together the history of planet Earth over the last 4.5 billion years. Its violent beginnings, the changing orbital motions and seasons, the development of an atmosphere and oceans, all combined to produce a unique evolutionary history that formed a planet habitable by millions of life forms, including humans. The course introduces the science of natural climate change, including some drastic events that might leave you wondering how life could have survived. Understanding Earth’s natural climate change is essential to analyzing and interpreting anthropogenic, i.e., human induced, climate change primarily brought about by the burning of fossil fuels over the last 150 years. The greenhouse effect will be used to explain how Earth has maintained its generally pleasant conditions, and climate models will be used to understand how small changes in CO2 levels can affect those conditions. With the ongoing consumption of fossil fuels, and the resulting addition of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere, mankind is now conducting a unique experiment, one with potentially devastating consequences.

Over the last century, the world has become highly industrialized and interconnected. The combustion of fossil fuels has played a major role in this process, and the consequences have become apparent with increasing pollution and climate issues. Earth is already beginning to react badly, e.g., a rise in ocean levels, weather extremes, ocean acidification, and extinction of species. How much the rising CO2 concentration and temperature will affect life on Earth is the question that scientists, politicians, economists, sociologists, as well as the rest of us, must consider in assessing what lies ahead. Decisions need to be made in the foreseeable future that will affect energy use, lifestyles, national economies, and international politics. Renewable and alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear are essential components of the energy discussion. A clear understanding of the science involved in the climate warming debate and potential solutions are necessary. It is up to each of us to examine the basic evidence and answer fundamental questions regarding what to do next.

The goal of the course is to provide the history, science, and an understanding of the basic energy issues that face us in the 21st century with the goal of finding effective solutions. The focus will be on the facts and the underlying science, but it is also about the options and decisions that we, individually and as a society, must make regarding the very real implications of climate change.

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November 09 Majors Night