TU Delft
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2016/2017 Civil Engineering and Geosciences Master Civiele Techniek
Climate Change: Science & Ethics
Responsible Instructor
Name E-mail
Prof.dr.ing. R. Klees    R.Klees@tudelft.nl
Name E-mail
Prof.dr.ing. R. Klees    R.Klees@tudelft.nl
Prof.dr.ir. H.W.J. Russchenberg    H.W.J.Russchenberg@tudelft.nl
Dr.ir. B. Taebi    B.Taebi@tudelft.nl
Dr. M. Vizcaino    M.Vizcaino@tudelft.nl
Contact Hours / Week x/x/x/x
Education Period
Start Education
Exam Period
Course Language
Course Contents
Climate change is one of the most profound and complex issues affecting our society and economy today. Many scientists argue that there are too many variable factors to effectively see the big picture, while other scientists who believe human activity is to blame for global warming are ready to outline specific actions to prevent more damage. Skeptics believe that climate change is part of the natural global progression and that human activity will neither worsen nor improve our situation.

Those who are in favor of a global effort to reverse climate change believe that current climate models are underestimating the magnitude of future warming and argue that the uncertainty surrounding this threat is no excuse for inaction. Skeptics in turn argue that scientists who want to attract attention to themselves, who want to attract great funding to themselves, have found a way to scare the public by making things bigger and more dangerous than they really are. Despite continuing uncertainties about the detailed linkages, extreme weather events are increasingly being attributed to human interference, and greater emphasis is emerging on the need to prevent and to adapt to climatic changes.

The course provides an introduction to the basic physics of the climate system, how climate has changed in the past and how climate will change in the future. The focus in on the energy balance of the climate system and how this balance is affected by greenhouse gases and aerosols; the physical processes in the atmosphere and oceans that shape the climate; the response of the oceans, ice sheets and glaciers to global warming; the evidence for past and present climate change; climate models and model uncertainties; climate predictions.

A second focal point of the course is the broader societal and ethical aspects of climate change. In particular, we will focus on past emissions and responsibilities, implications of global warming on human safety and security, the distribution of burdens and benefits, emission rights, international justice and intergenerational justice.


• Introduction to climate physics
• Instrumental records of the Earth’s climate
• Radiative heat transfer
• Atmospheric circulation
• Clouds, aersols, and climate
• The carbon cycle
• Forcings and feedbacks in the climate system
• Climate change and sea level rise
• Climate modeling and predictions
Study Goals
After completing of the course, the student

• has a basic understanding of climate physics
• understands how the climate responds to human activities
• knows how future climate is predicted and the role of model uncertainties
• is familiar with and understands the scientific discussions related to climate change
• can distinguish facts and myths of the climate change debate
• is aware of the social and ethical aspects related to climate change.
Education Method
• Video lectures (edx course 12.340x “Global Warming Science”)
• In-class question-and-answer and feedback sessions related to the video lectures
• In-class lectures to address specific topics not covered by the video lectures
• Climate lab
• Written exam, which accounts for 60% of your grade of the course
• Group essay and presentation on a topic related to the societal and ethical aspects related to climate change, which accounts for 40% of your grade of the course

A grade of 60% or higher for the entire course AND a "pass" for the climate lab constitutes a passing grade. Without a "pass" for the climate lab, no mark will be given.

Expected prior Knowledge
BSc diploma
Academic Skills
Critical thinking
Written and verbal communication
Ability to speak and listen
Conceptual thinking
Moral awareness & sensitivity
Judgemental skills
Debating and discussion

Literature & Study Materials
1. video lectures
2. in-class lectures
3. Kump, Kasting & Cane, The Earth System
4. Farmer & Cook, Climate Change: A modern synthesis
5. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/
6. Online material for further reading, e.g.,
US EPA homepage, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/index.html
Understanding climate change, http://www2.ucar.edu/news/backgrounders/understanding-climate-change-global-warming
NASA global climate change, https://climate.nasa.gov
Online reports of the US National Academic Press (NAP)
60% written exam on climate science
40% group essay on climate ethics, oral presentation, and defense
Climate lab (pass/fail); a "pass" is pre-requisite to get a mark for the course
Permitted Materials during Exam
Pocket calculator