Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Global Warming Paradox


This seminar will focus on the complex climate challenges posed by the substantial benefits of energy consumption. Well-being varies strongly with energy consumption, resulting in an enormous gap between low- and high-consuming populations. This energy poverty creates tremendous exposure to climate-related stresses such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and intense storms. The fact that pathways for closing the energy gap are likely to result in substantial climate changes, via the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), also creates critical tensions between development priorities and climate policies. For example, one paradox is that apparently the most attainable means for an impoverished individual or country to decrease its aggregate climate stress is to increase the release of GHGs to the atmosphere. Our discussions will be focused on exploration of what is currently known and not known about Earth's climate system and its interactions with human activities, including Earth's energy balance; detection and attribution of climate change; impacts of climate change on natural and human systems; and proposed methods for curbing further climate change. These topics cut across a broad range of traditional disciplines. Our primary format will be facilitated discussion and shared writing, supplemented by reading and presentation of recent articles as well as current research results. Breaking media coverage of relevant papers will also be dissected.

EARTHSYS 41N is offered for 3 units


Meet the Instructor(s)

Noah Diffenbaugh

Teaching an Introductory Seminar is one of my favorite parts of being a Stanford professor. I am an associate professor in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. I am a “climate scientist," which means that I study how Earth’s climate works. I am particularly interested in how humans interact with the climate system. This means that I spend a lot of time thinking about the kinds of extreme events that we hear so much about in the news, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, and thunderstorms. It also means that I think about what kinds of policies could help us reduce the stress that we experience from the climate system, and how we can manage the amount of climate change that we experience while also providing the energy, food, and water that are required for billions of people to thrive on Planet Earth. I have been honored to be part of international scientific efforts like the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and to have the opportunity to provide testimony and scientific expertise to the White House, the Governors of California and Indiana, and U.S. Congressional offices. I have also enjoyed getting to engage with the public through the media, and as a Google Science Communication Fellow (where I was one of the original adoptors of Google’s “Hangouts on Air” live streaming technology).