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The Geography of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In 1988 the United Nations General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to advise the world of the seriousness of global climate change. In 1990 the group published a report summarizing the conclusions reached by climate researchers from around the world: global climate change is a serious issue that requires immediate action.

The IPCC report states that human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere. Current consensus in the climate change scientific community predicts that even if CO2 emissions were entirely eliminated today, the concentration of already-emitted greenhouse gases will lead to a significant warming of the Earth's atmosphere and cause many other climatic changes.

This module familiarizes students with the issues surrounding the IPCC; it addresses global climate change from two sides.

First, students learn the climatological/physical fundamentals of global climate and the natural and anthropogenically enhanced greenhouse effect; students gain an understanding of the relevant processes and the involved radiated, active gases (Units 1 & 2). Students examine atmospheric changes over the past 250 years through close reading of text; interpreting charts, graphs, and tables; and data analysis.

Second, students are introduced to the political and value-laden side of the global climate change problem (Units 3 & 4). At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 a number of nations signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), which has the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thus the risk of global warming. Each signing nation has prepared a climate action plan, which identifies the major sources of greenhouse gases and ways of reducing them. The Climate Convention faces many challenges, including scientific uncertainty about the impacts of global warming and a lack of information about patterns and trends in greenhouse gas emissions. There is political conflict regarding amounts of national emissions and the indices used to estimate responsibility, and countries vary in their willingness to act to reduce the risk of global warming. Students are asked to grapple with international policy making in the context of who bears responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and in the context of the uncertainties surrounding the impacts of global warming.

This module provides students with sufficient technical knowledge to understand the debates surrounding global climate change and concludes with a section on personal actions and responsibility (Unit 5). The module activities include chart preparation and interpretation, short essay questions. role playing, mapping, and keeping a log of personal energy use.


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