Climate Change

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Course Date: 11 August 2014 to 10 November 2014 (13 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

This course develops an interdisciplinary understanding of the social, political, economic and scientific perspectives on climate change.

Estimated Workload: 6-8 hours/week

Course Instructors

Jon Barnett

Prof Jon Barnett is a political geographer who investigates the impacts of and responses to climate change on social systems, with a focus on risks to human insecurity, hunger, violent conflict and water stress. He has done extensive field-work in the South Pacific, China and East Timor. Jon is convenor of the Australian national research network on the social, economic and institutional dimensions of climate change, which is part of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and is a Lead Author for the forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He is Executive Editor of the adaptation domain of Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change.

John Freebairn

Prof John Freebairn holds the Ritchie chair in economics at the University of Melbourne. He is an applied microeconomist and economic policy analyst with current interests in taxation reform and environmental economics. John has a distinguished academic career, serving as a professor of economics in faculties of economics at a number of universities, including the Australian National University, LaTrobe and Monash universities. He has held the positions of Head of Department and Dean at Monash University and the University of Melbourne, respectively. John has also served as a senior economist with the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, Deputy Director of the Centre of Policy Studies, Research Director at the Business Council of Australia and Director of the Melbourne Institute.

Maurizio Toscano

Dr Maurizio Toscano is a Lecturer in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education with an interest in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and communicating climate change. Maurizio’s approach to climate change is informed by the breadth of his academic experiences: his doctoral training was in astrophysics; he has undertaken and supervised research into the role of aesthetics and the scientific imagination in science education; he has explored the relationship between art and science through collaborations with artists (eg the Syzygy project) and more recently has been examining perspectives on environmental and science education that draw upon the works of philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Cavell.

Rachel Webster

Professor Rachel Webster is an astrophysicist with an active interest in climate change and in particular the development of large-scale renewable energy projects. She has led a study to investigate the potential of geothermal energy in Victoria, Australia. Her main research program is in extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, where she researches black holes and the first stars in the universe. She has a PhD from Cambridge University, UK and undertook her postdoctoral positions at the University of Toronto.

David Karoly

David Karoly is a Professor of Atmospheric Science in the School of Earth Sciences and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of Melbourne. He is an internationally recognised expert in climate change and climate variability.  He was heavily involved in preparation of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 2007, in several different roles. Professor Karoly provides advice to the Australian government on responding to climate change, including targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He has held the Williams Chair in the School of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. During 2001-2002, he was Professor of Meteorology and Head of the School of Mathematical Sciences at Monash University.  

Course Description

What is Climate Change? How should we respond to Climate Change? These questions are complex, not least because the responses available to us depend upon who is providing the answers and the particular perspective they take. The economist sees the economic challenges and opportunities of Climate Change; the scientist sees the need to describe and explain Climate Change; the policy-maker and social scientist see Climate Change as a social problem. Therefore, the first step to understanding Climate Change and what we do about it is to see how experts from different disciplines engage with the issue. The second step is to appreciate how our response to Climate Change depends upon the interplay between these different approaches.

This course offers you an introduction to different disciplinary perspectives on Climate Change to help you think about how Climate Change affects you as an individual, as a member of your local community, as a citizen of your country and as a member of the global community. We have designed the presentations, discussions, activities and assessment tasks in this course to help you understand what Climate Change is and what you – and we – should do about it.


  • What resources will I need for this class?

    There are three kinds of resources you will find useful in this subject. 

    Firstly, there are the collection of readings that have been chosen by each of the instructors in this subject to help support your discussions and assignment work. These will be made available to you electronically.

    Secondly, there are the resources available to you in the many and varied texts on climate change in the public domain (social media, news sources, periodicals, literature, film, works of art, etc.). Although these should be examined critically before being incorporated into the arguments you make, they do give you access to information about current and rapidly changing events.

    Finally, there are your own experiences and interests. Draw upon these in your discussions, debates and assignments. 

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

    You will learn that the issue of Climate Change is incredibly complex, however it can also be very accessible if you can see it from different perspectives and approach it with an open mind and a willingness to engage in discussion and action along with others.

    • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    A Statement of Accomplishment will be offered to those students who successfully pass the assessments as laid out in the syllabus. A verified Statement of Accomplishment will be offered to those students who enroll in the course using Signature Track and who successfully pass the assessments.


The overall aim of this subject is to provide an introduction to the socio-political, scientific, and economic aspects of the phenomenon known as Climate Change. In doing so it is hoped that the student will emerge with an enhanced ability to analyse claims both about the science itself and the responses that can be made by humanity at present and for the future, based on current scientific data and its predictions over the next decades. 

You will emerge with a broad understanding of the science underpinning the claim that human activity has played a role in causing the current rise in global temperature. You will also develop an awareness of the present and future impact on global communities, the political response to such impacts, and consider basic economic concepts and models that describe a framework in which changes to our use of resources can occur. 


This course will run for 9 weeks comprising of short video lectures, quiz questions, discussion groups and additional short assignments. 

Suggested Reading

A collection of readings pertinent to each topic will be made available online.

Course Workload

6-8 hours/week

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