April 28-30, 2005

s the Earth heating up? Scientists have argued that, over the last century alone, the temperature of the Earth’s surface rose by 1 degree Fahrenheit and their research indicates that further temperature elevation is imminent. They claim that, already, global warming has initiated a drastic alteration in the atmospheric and natural makeup of the planet. The Arctic glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, and severe weather conditions are increasingly more frequent and are leading to more floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires. Yet, despite the scientific evidence, there are many who deny that global warming even exists. These persons claim that the recent changes in the climate are part of a natural phenomenon. This position they support with evidence of similar climate variations in the distant past such as the climate warming of the middle ages and the “Little Ice Age” of the 17th century.

The debate over global warming has become one of the foremost issues in international policy of recent years. Central to the debate is the question of what has caused this change in the climate and what our responsibility is to combat it. A large majority of scientists, including the recent committee of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, have attributed the global warming to human causes, particularly through the growing addition of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. They claim that, unless limits on the emission of these gases are enacted, climate change is likely to accelerate, though to what extent and how quickly is unknown. To combat further damage to the atmosphere, these scientists advocate governmental policy changes that would seek to limit environmentally damaging aspects of industry and to hasten the rate of development of clean technologies. But those who deny that global warming exists also deny that humans have had a negative impact on our climate. They therefore see no need to change the law and resist changes to environmental policy.

The United States’ government has been criticized increasingly for resisting participation in international efforts to combat global warming. Since the US refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty—the agreement committing industrialized nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases—the international community has placed pressure on America to acknowledge its role as the leading producer of emissions and the world’s largest energy consumer. European countries, such as Holland, Germany, France, and the UK, have already formulated environmental policies to help combat global warming, and they have urged the US to follow their example. In response, the US has consistently argued that the proposed reduction in emissions unfairly hampers its economy, while emissions in developing economies, such as China’s, remain unregulated. The Climate Stewardship Act, currently under consideration in the Senate and House, seeks to offer one step toward the practical reduction of greenhouse gas pollution in the US, while at the same time encouraging an effective plan for making the US economy more energy efficient. Undergirding these conflicts over policy, the debate on whether and why our climate is changing continues and complicates progress toward collective action.

This seminar will study the current debate on global warming from practical and theoretical points of view. What are the fundamental claims ‘on the table’ regarding global warming and to what extent are they provisional? What is at stake for those who deny the validity of the scientific data? What are the respective roles currently being played by government, industry and science in addressing the dilemma and its resolution? Is it reasonable to base significant policy changes on scientific research that remains open to debate? Speakers will include: David Archer (Geophysical Sciences), Gidon Eshel (Geophysical Sciences), Demetria Giannisis (The Chicago Manufacturing Center), Raymond Pierrehumbert (Geophysical Sciences), Richard Posner (Law School) and N. Marcia Jimenez (Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Environment).

Pre-readings

  • Gelbspan, Ross. "Introduction" in The Heat is On: the High Stakes Over Earth's Threatened Climate ( Reading, MA: Addison-weley Pub., 1997) [Download]
    • Gelbspan discusses the imminence of climate change and examines the reasons why the global waring issue continues to remain "off the public agenda" in the United States.
  • Philander, S. George. "Between the Idea and the Reality" and "Is our Planet Fragile or Robust" in Is the Temperature Rising? The Uncertain Science of Global Warming (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998 [Download] Download]
    • Philander addresses the uncertainties underlying the scientific claims for global warming and attempts to distinguish between the scientific and political aspects of the problem.
  • Singer, Peter. "One Atmosphere" in One World: The Ethics of Globalization (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) [Download]
    • Singer considers the implications of climate change from an ethical viewpoint and proposes four "principles of fairness" to promote global wellfare.

Presentations