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Topic Overview
In the first week of the course we examined some key reasons why it is useful to study geology.
Among these reasons was to develop an operator’s manual for planet earth. Many earth
scientists study the complex and interacting systems of the planet (the geosphere, atmosphere,
hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere). Understanding how these systems interact to sustain
life on earth is critical if human society is going to use our resources wisely and inhabit the
planet in a long-term sustainable way.
Earth’s climate changes in response to shifts in response to many mechanisms. Changes in
earth’s orbit, the amount of ice on the planet, the amount of particulate matter in the
atmosphere, and the composition of gasses in the atmosphere all influence climate. Humans
have been changing the composition of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and
natural gas) thereby increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is a
greenhouse gas, which means it traps heat and keeps the atmosphere warm. Increasing
concentrations of CO2 trap more heat and cause global temperatures to rise.
In this section of the course we will consider the natural and human-caused sources of climate
change and compare recent warming to climatic changed that have occurred in the geologic
Read the assigned chapter of the textbook (available for free at Opengeology.org/textbook) and
watch the supplemental videos before completing the assignments and discussions. This
week’s readings and videos focus on human-caused global climate change. Chapter 15 in your
textbook is the main reading for this week and covers global climate change.
Textbook Readings
An Introduction to Geology: chapter 15
The following video is a supplement to the textbook chapter. It explains the scientific evidence
for human-caused climate change (6:50 min. in length, CC available):
You should also watch the following video from the outstanding climate change video
series Global Weirding. This video addresses the difference between weather and climate (8:03
min. in length, CC available):
To understand the impacts of anthropogenic climate change you should watch one of the
following videos from the same series. These videos discuss the impacts of climate change in
different regions of North America:
The Arctic (7:22 min. in length, CC available)
Canada (9:23 min. in length, CC available)
The Pacific Northwest and Alaska (13:53 min. in length, CC available)
The Eastern United States (9:23 min. in length, CC not available)
The Midwest and Northern Great Plains (9:21 min. in length, CC available)
The Southern Great Plains and Southwest (10:19 in length, CC available)
Assignment 1: Discussion- Carbon Footprint
Individual or Collective Action on Climate Change?
A lot of information about mitigating anthropogenic climate change involves the idea of a
personal carbon footprint—the amount of carbon emissions produced through the activities of
one person during their daily life. There are numerous online calculators and many books and
articles about reducing individual carbon emissions. An individual can take many actions to
reduce their carbon emissions through their buying habits. For example, eating less meat,
avoiding air travel, driving a smaller vehicle, or driving fewer miles.
However, some climate change advocates have argued that the personal carbon footprint
concept and the focus on personal behavior is often used in a cynical way by big polluters like
fossil fuel companies to avoid responsibility for carbon emissions and climate change. These
critics of personal action contend that carbon emissions must be reduced by policymakers and
regulations. They argue that consumers cannot make big reductions in their carbon footprints
unless they have more options (e.g., vehicles with lower emissions, access to public
transportation), and that those options will only be possible through policy change.
In this discussion post compose an evaluation of the utility of the concept of a carbon footprint.
Is the carbon footprint and personal responsibility for emissions useful in reducing climate
change, or does it stifle debate and delay action? Use evidence to substantiate your position.
In addition to making your own post, please post a short response to one of you classmates’
Classmate’s posts:
Week 7 Discusison
Larry Moore posted Apr 19, 2021 9:41 AM
The carbon footprint of a country refers to the flow of CO2 emissions caused by domestic
absorption (i.e., consumption and investment) activities. British Petroleum, which is the
second-largest non-state-owned oil company in the world promoted the term “carbon
footprint” and emphasized how the majority of carbon emission can be reduced on
individuals. By doing this, BP indirectly blamed the carbon pollution issue on the individual
of a country rather than the real emitters, which was BP and other carbon fuel-producing
agencies. Soon after this, BP cleverly launched their “carbon footprint calculator” that was
used to calculate individual carbon emissions. These tactical moves that BP used ended up
building an idea in people’s minds that they are really the ones who are responsible for the
carbon-related pollution. Benjamin Franta, who researches law and history of science, as a
J.D.-Ph.D. Students at Stanford Law School, stated: “This is one of the most successful and
deceptive PR campaigns ever,” (Kaufman, n.d.).
However, this ingenious propaganda is and always has been a sham. This has been proven by
the recently hit coronavirus that agitated the entire world and its activities. The evidence,
unfortunately, comes in the form of the worst pandemic to hit humanity in a century. We were
confined. We were quarantined, and in many places still are. Forced by an insidious parasite,
many of us dramatically slashed our individual carbon footprints by not driving to work and
flying on planes. Yet, critically, the true number global warming cares about — the amount of
heat-trapping carbon dioxide saturating the atmosphere — won’t be impacted much by an
unprecedented drop in carbon emissions in 2020 (a drop the International Energy Agency
estimates at nearly eight percent compared to 2019). This means bounties of carbon from
civilization’s cars, power plants, and industries will still be added (like a bank deposit) to a
swelling atmospheric bank account of carbon dioxide. But 2020’s deposit will just be slightly
less than last year’s. In fact, the levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere peaked at an
all-time high in May — because we’re still making big carbon deposits.
Kaufman, M. (n.d.). The carbon footprint sham. Mashable. Retrieved from
Matthew Gaffney Week 7
Contains unread posts
Matthew Gaffney posted Apr 19, 2021 9:37 AM
The concept of a carbon footprint is a tricky one. While an individuals everyday
actions certainly do have an effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere,
this impact is likely negligible. The entity to blame for climate change and most
emissions is the big corporations. A 2017 study shows that 100 corporations are
responsible for 71% of climate change (Riley, 2017). This means that given just
these 100 companies, the absolute maximum impact that individuals could have
is 29%. The model of a climate footprint is flawed because it shifts the blame
towards individuals when that simply isn’t the case. This culture of corporatism
and consumerism is so omnipresent in our lives that people accept that they are
at fault. While reducing personal emissions definitely won’t hurt, it’s going to
take a much larger and more institutional push to even slightly curb climate
change. The real focus should be on regulations and policy. The main concern is
that it might already be too late. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
by 55% by 2030. 2030 is the cutoff for doing irreversible damage to “fragile
ecosystems”, so time is running out (The European Commission, 2020). A
massive worldwide push and focus on the climate is necessary for the continued
survival of the human race. Individual action is not enough.
Riley, T. (2017, July 10). Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global
emissions, study says. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainablebusiness/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change.
The European Commission. (2020, September 17). 2030 Climate Target Plan.
Climate Action – European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/euclimate-action/2030_ctp_en.
Assignment 2: Application Exercise- Geoengineering
Task: Watch the following video (9:36 min. in length, CC available) and complete the questions
in the Geoengineering assignment document.

Assignment 3: Quiz
Task: After reading the textbook chapter and watching the videos, take the quiz on climate
Delivery: This quiz can be found within the Quizzes tab, week 7.
SCI 205e: Physical Geology
Answer the following questions after watching the video on geoengineering. Write your answers below or in a
separate document. Write in complete sentences and organize your thoughts in paragraph form.
1. What is geoengineering, and why is it discussed so much in relation to climate change?
2. What is albedo, and how is it related to solar radiation management?
3. Provide an example of solar radiation management. How does it work?
4. What are some of the potential problems or negative effects of geoengineering?
5. Would you support a planetary-scale geoengineering effort to counteract the effects of climate change? Why
or why not?

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