EES 3310/5310

Printable syllabus

Course Description

Basic Info:


Jonathan Gilligan
Office: Stevenson 5725 (7th floor of building #5)
Office Hours: Mon. 10:10–11:00, Thu. 10:00–11:00, or by appointment

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Kelsea Best
Office: Stevenson 5703A (7th floor of building #5)
Office Hours: Wed. 3:00–4:00, Fri. 10:10–11:00, or by appointment


Class meetings: MWF 9:10–10:00, SC 1120 (Basement of the Math building)
Lab: Mon. 2:10–5:00, SC 2220 (Next to the Science Library)

Catalog Description

EES 3310/5310 Global Climate Change Scientific principles and policy applications. Earth’s past; evidence of human impact; future climate change; and economic, social, and ecological consequences. Economic, technological, and public policy responses.


Prerequisite: one of 1030, 1080, 1510, 1510, CHEM 1601, ECON 1010, ES 1401 or PHYS 1501, 1601, 1901. [4] (MNS)

Essentially, the pre-requisite is there to ensure that you are comfortable with quantitative methods in natural or social science or engineering. I expect you to be comfortable with using algebra to solve problems and that you are familiar with basic statistics.

The course does not expect calculus or advanced math.

If you believe that you have these skills, but have not taken one of the pre-requisites, please see me and I will be happy to make an exception.

Repeat Credit

Repeat credit for 2110. Students who have earned credit for 2110 will earn only one credit hour for this course.

Narrative Description

This course will study earth’s climate and the way it has changed throughout our planet’s history. We will study:

  • Determinants of climate: What factors affect climate, how do we know this, and how certain are we?
  • Scientific evidence about past climates: What do we know, how do we know it, and how certain are we?
  • Natural climate change in earth’s history.
  • Effects of human activity on global climate in the last 200 years.
  • What do we know about future climate change and how will it affect the quality of people’s lives?
  • How do economists and political scientists assess the costs of climate change and the value of policies to limit it?
  • What can we do to mitigate future global climate change or adapt to life in a different climate?
  • What is happening politically, both in the U.S. and internationally, to respond to climate change?

Goals for the Course

My goals for this course are that at the end of the semester:

  • You will have a solid quantitative understanding of the basic physical and chemical principles that control the system and be able to apply that knowledge to reasoning about the climate system and its response to disturbances.
  • You will have working familiarity with a variety of computer models that simulate various aspects of the climate system and be able to use those models to explore the implications of scientific principles that are too complex to calculate with pencil and paper.
  • You will have a solid scientific understanding of what scientists know, what they don’t know, and how they know what they know about how climate works, how and why it has changed in the past, and how it may change in the future.
  • You will be able to evaluate the evidence for and against the idea that human activity is warming the planet and assess for yourself whether the evidence is persuasive.
  • You will be familiar with the ways economists and policy analysts approach the problem of climate change and public policies that respond to it.
  • You will understand the history of scientific and political concern and activity around global warming, the principal policy measures being considered to address climate change, and their major strengths and weaknesses.
  • You will have the tools and knowledge to make informed decisions about what climate policies you support or oppose.
  • In the laboratory, you will learn to:
    • Use simple climate models to explore the dynamics of the climate system.
    • Use open-source statistical tools to download and analyze real climate data.
    • Follow established reproducible research practices.

When you leave this course, you will not be qualified to work as a climate scientist, but you will be able to follow and critically evaluate news reporting about climate change and climate policy, debate intelligently and knowledgeably, and be an informed voter.

I do not care whether you agree with me politically. I respect people who think for themselves. What counts is whether you can present your own position clearly and support it with solid evidence and reasoned argument.

Structure of the Course:

I divide the semester into two parts:

  1. Scientific Principles of Climate: For the first half of the semester, we will focus on the scientific principles of climate and natural climate change in earth’s past. This will be very mathematical, using basic algebra. We do not use calculus or other advanced math in this class, but you should be comfortable with simple algebraic equations. We will then look at climate change in the last two centuries and what might happen over the next several centuries. We will emphasize examining the scientific evidence to understand what it can and cannot tell us.
  2. Human Dimensions of Climate Change: Politics, Economics, etc.: For the second half of the semester, we will focus on the political, economic, and social aspects of climate change and possible public policy and technological responses.


The laboratory section of this course is very important. In the first half of the semester, you will use interactive computer models of the climate system to explore the implications of principles that we cover in class and in the reading, practice downloading and analyzing real climate data, and learning about best practices for reproducible research in order to make your work reliable, reproducible, and trustworthy. In the second half, you will use computational tools to explore the challenges of replacing fossil fuels with clean energy (renewable or nuclear), conduct quantitative economic analyses of different kinds of climate policies, and engage in role-playing exercises to simulate the way different climate policies work in practice.

To make the laboratory sessions effective, it is essential that you show up on time and prepared for the labs.

Reading Material

There are three required textbooks. Supplementary reading on the Internet or in handouts will also be assigned during the term and posted on the course web site.

Required Reading Materials

There is a companion web site to Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast at, which includes interactive online computer models that we will use for some exercises in the book.

Overview of Reading Materials

I will give out detailed reading that give specific pages to read for each class and notes on important things you should understand. I expect you to complete the reading before you come to class on the day for which the reading is assigned, so you can participate in discussions of the assigned material and ask questions if there are things you don’t understand.

While science aims to give correct answers to scientific questions, there are not right or wrong answers to questions of what is the best economic model with which to assess the costs of climate change or the best policy with which to respond to climate change, so I have chosen books and other reading material that present different points of view on the political and economic aspects.

Class Web Site

In addition to the Brightspace web site, I have set up a server at , where I post the web versions of class slides and interactive web-based applications to that can be useful for working with data output from agent-based modeling experiments.

Computer Software

For the laboratory, we will use four principal software tools:

  • R is a powerful tool for statistical analysis.
  • RStudio provides an interactive environment for working with R. Using RStudio makes R much more user-friendly and easy to work with.
  • git is a tool that helps you manage your work by keeping track of the changes you make as you write and edit text and analysis code, and it also helps you easily back up your work and synchronize it across multiple computers, including coordinating working together with a partner.

    git integrates into RStudio, which makes it easier to use.

    We will also use a web-based service called GitHub , which lets you easily save your work in the cloud (useful for backing it up in case something happens to your computer). GitHub is free for open-source software projects, and students can also get a free account for class work and personal projects.

  • LaTeX is a powerful typesetting tool. You won’t use this directly, but RMarkdown uses it behind the scenes to produce PDF documents. RMarkdown also allows you to produce web pages, and Word documents so using LaTeX will be optional for this course.

Details about the software and how to install it are included in the documentation for the first laboratory session.

Part of the assignment for the first lab is to install the necessary software (R , RStudio , and git ) on your computer before the first lab, so please read the lab instructions and get an early start on this.


Overview of reading assignments

I will give out detailed reading that give specific pages to read for each class and notes on important things you should understand. I expect you to complete the reading before you come to class on the day for which the reading is assigned, so you can participate in discussions of the assigned material and ask questions if there are things you don’t understand.

Lab Assignments

Lab assignments have two parts: First, there will be reading and sometimes some simple exercises or activities to do before you come to lab and then there will be a write-up due after the lab (typically, it will be due on the Monday morning one week after your lab session).

The instructions for the lab will be posted on the class web site a week before the lab, and an assignment will be posted on GitHub . The instructions explain the lab and tell you how to prepare for it. The assignment tells you what to do and provides an RMarkdown template for your write-up.

Tests and Examinations

There will be a fifty-minute closed-book midterm exam on Wednesday Oct 3 , which will focus on your understanding of the science of climate and climate change, and an open-book take-home essay final exam at the end of the semester that will be due on Thursday Dec 13

Basis for Grading

Class participation 5%
Midterm Exam 30%
Laboratory & Homework 33%
Final Exam 32%

Final Note:

I have made every effort to plan a busy, exciting, and instructive semester. I may find during the term that I need to revise the syllabus to give more time to some subjects or to pass more quickly over others rather than covering them in depth. Thus, while I will attempt to follow this syllabus as closely as I can, you should realize that it is subject to change during the semester.