Earth's Changing Climate

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done! Kudos to Professor Wolfson for the thought and hard work that went into developing and delivering this excellent course. The only constructive comment I would suggest is to update the course to reflect advances in energy technologies since 2007. I would definitely add material on clean distributed energy resources and their assimilation into the new smart grid. Also, solar photovoltaic technology has progressed tremendously to the point that it is now a preferred technology for most utility companies around the world (due to national cost reduction goals being met in 2017 vs 2020). I was very happy to see the emphasis at the end of the course on the incredible roles that increased energy efficiency and energy conservation can and should play. Unfortunately, the current administration calls climate change a "hoax" and has made policy changes that has setback efforts to slow the growth in carbon emissions tremendously, including the decision to eliminate CAFE standards for vehicles (i.e., mileage requirements for new cars), which is one of the most irresponsible government decisions I've witnessed in my lifetime. Hopefully, new leaders can reverse this and other setbacks by climate deniers in years to come. Also, Professor Wolfson's concerns about the viability of carbon capture and sequestration are well founded, and were borne out by mining experts on a recent National Academies Committee. Great job by an excellent professor; I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-09-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative and balanced I learned a great deal from this course and I recommend it. Dr. Wolfson is even-handed in his presentation of the science of climate change; he's very good in clarifying what is known and how we know it. If anything, he goes a bit too far in the describing the various ways that scientists assemble and interpret data. I would have liked some more detail about the ways the climate itself is changing and how it is affecting our world and our lives. He also crams a lot of content into his lectures: I found myself taking notes, consulting the course materials, and relistening a few times. This is not a weakness of the course.
Date published: 2020-06-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit of good, and a bit of bad Only 3 stars, because there is both good and bad. So many other reviewers gave information on the good, so I will concentrate on the bad. 1. In lecture one, Wolfson notes the correlation between temperature and CO2, and concludes increases in CO2 causes higher temperatures. He relates correlation with cause and effect, which is blatantly false. 2. Also in lecture one, he describes how temperature readings are collected. He notes the well documented "urban heat island" effect, and then dismisses it as having no impact on global warming. It may not have an impact on actual warming because urban areas comprise an extremely small per cent of the earths surface, but it can have a great impact on the temperature readings you get when a high per cent of your readings are from urban areas. 3. In lecture 8, he talk about climate modeling, but fails in one extremely important area; how accurate those models have been since those models have been introduced. The only accuracy discussion was concerning the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. No mention of the accuracy of the models since they were developed in the 1980s. This should be extremely important if you are trying to predict the climate 30 years from now. 4. Lecture 11 is very dated. He mentions the very large amount of oil imports by the U.S. At the time the course was produced, hydraulic fracturing was long underway in the oil drilling industry and output was already dramatically increasing. At this time net oil imports are less than 10% of U.S. consumption. 5. He seems to want to make the Industrial Revolution the bad guy here and the U.S. the leading bad player. Without the Industrial Revolution, 95% of the world would still be living in huts, cutting down trees to warm our huts, dying from diseases at an early age, women having 8 to 10 children with most dying before reaching adulthood, and 50 years old being an old person. He failed to mention that the U.S. has been reducing it CO2 emissions pretty consistently, plus our oil consumption has remained level since 1980 despite an increasing population and increasing GDP. I give Professor Wolfson credit for his observation of the economic growth happening in China and India and their impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Date published: 2019-11-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not very informative The lecturer is constantly checking his notes and taaalking about other courses he has taught, both of which are annoying. The visuals are few and far between, and those in the first three lectures were static and not very informative.
Date published: 2019-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Scientific Foundations! Earth's Changing Climate was informative, easy to understand, and filled with charts and visuals that assisted understanding. I knew when I purchased it that the statistics included in the course would reflect the earth's situation over a decade ago. But in spite of the outdated data, the course provided clear trends and historical perspectives that have only intensified in the intervening years. I found the scientific foundations were excellent and increased my understanding of global warming, carbon emissions in the atmosphere, and the growing effects of human activity on our current climate crisis. I would recommend this course to everyone. The more people who view it and gain better understanding of climate disruption, the better chance we have of making a difference for the future.
Date published: 2019-10-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great 30 min lessons in climate change. Covers the basics of climate change. The lectures are not arrogant or lecturing. Covers many of the planetary boundaries and possible thresholds and tipping points that once breached might reach a point of no return.
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding way to learn important science ideas I got this class to understand climate science in a way that I, a non-scientist, could handle. It was fantastic for doing that. This class is more than enough to be able to explain the basics of climatology to your friends and family. Professor Wolfson was remarkably patient and tried to steer clear of politics.
Date published: 2019-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is very informative. I did not know how much research is going on. Whether you believe in global warming or not, you should listen to these lectures.
Date published: 2019-02-19
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Is Earth Warming?
1: Is Earth Warming?

The course begins with a look at Earth's average temperature over the past century and a half, which shows an overall warming trend. How do scientists take Earth's temperature, and how do they interpret the pattern of variation?

32 min
Butterflies, Glaciers, and Hurricanes
2: Butterflies, Glaciers, and Hurricanes

This lecture looks at more subtle indicators of climate change and shows how statistical analysis reveals clear "fingerprints" of change on a host of natural systems.

30 min
Ice Ages and Beyond
3: Ice Ages and Beyond

Thermometer-based temperature rec­ords go back only 150 years. This lecture explores techniques that scientists use to push the global temperature record back millions, even billions of years.

30 min
In the Greenhouse
4: In the Greenhouse

Stable climate entails a balance between incoming sunlight and outgoing infrared radiation. Infrared-absorbing greenhouse gases in a planet's atmosphere alter the details of this balance, causing the planet's surface to warm.

30 min
A Tale of Three Planets
5: A Tale of Three Planets

How do we know that greenhouse gases such as water vapor and carbon dioxide are associated with the warming of Earth's surface? Nature provides a climate "experiment" on neighbor planets Venus and Mars.

30 min
Global Recycling
6: Global Recycling

Cycling of materials plays a role in climate, with the most important cycles being those of water and carbon. Carbon added to the system stays for centuries to millennia and adds to the atmospheric carbon content, enhancing the greenhouse effect.

30 min
The Human Factor
7: The Human Factor

Fossil fuel burning by humans has in­creased the concentration of carbon di­ox­ide in the atmosphere by nearly 40 per­cent since the start of the Industrial Revolution—to levels the planet has not seen in at least a million years.

30 min
Computing the Future
8: Computing the Future

Climate models are mathematical descriptions, exploring how climate be­haves in response to human-induced changes and natural factors. Most models pro­ject a global temperature rise of several de­grees Celsius over the next century.

30 min
Impacts of Climate Change
9: Impacts of Climate Change

A temperature rise of only a few degrees will have significant effects. The rise will be more substantial particularly in the polar regions and over almost all land.

31 min
Energy and Climate
10: Energy and Climate

Energy use is the dominant reason for our increasing influence on Earth's climate. Per capita energy consumption in the United States is more than 100 times our own bodies' energy output, meaning that we have the equivalent of about 100 "energy servants" each.

30 min
Energy—Resources and Alternatives
11: Energy—Resources and Alternatives

The fossil fuels that supply most of the world's energy have many deleterious environmental impacts, one of which is the emission of climate-changing greenhouse gases. This lecture surveys alternative energy resources.

31 min
Sustainable Futures?
12: Sustainable Futures?

Avoiding disruptive climate change in the future probably means keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide to at most a doubling of its preindustrial level. This final lecture discusses several possible paths to a stable climate.

33 min
Richard Wolfson

Physics explains the workings of the universe at the deepest level, the everyday natural phenomena that are all around us, and the technologies that enable modern society. It's an essential liberal art.


Dartmouth College


Middlebury College

About Richard Wolfson

Dr. Richard Wolfson is the Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics at Middlebury College, where he also teaches Climate Change in Middlebury's Environmental Studies Program. He completed his undergraduate work at MIT and Swarthmore College, graduating from Swarthmore with a double major in Physics and Philosophy. He holds a master's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Physics from Dartmouth.

Professor Wolfson's published work encompasses diverse fields such as medical physics, plasma physics, solar energy engineering, electronic circuit design, observational astronomy, theoretical astrophysics, nuclear issues, and climate change. His current research involves the eruptive behavior of the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, as well as terrestrial climate change and the sun-Earth connection.

Professor Wolfson is the author of several books, including the college textbooks Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Essential University Physics,and Energy, Environment, and Climate. He is also an interpreter of science for the nonspecialist, a contributor to Scientific American, and author of the books Nuclear Choices: A Citizen's Guide to Nuclear Technology and Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified.

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