Climate change (EEB 5370: Spring 2011)

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EEB 5370

Topic: Climate Change and Conservation Biology

Credits: 1

Instructor: David Wagner and John Silander (contact: david.wagner[AT]

Meeting time: Friday @ 2

Location: Bamford Conference Room, TLS 171B

This semester we will focus on aspects of climate change relevant to conservation and biodiversity. Principal themes will include collecting and evaluating biological evidence for climate change, predicting consequences of climate change, conservation planning, and climate adaptation. Approximately one-third of the class meetings will be committed to issues surrounding communication, disinformation, and public perception regarding climate change. We may view Randy Olsen’s “Sizzle” and other topical media. There will be no assigned text. Prior to or over first half of the semester students are encouraged to read relevant sections of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007. Dr. Bruce Kahn, Senior Investment Analyst for Climate Change, Deutsche Bank, an EEB UConn alumnus will lead our discussion on 18 February. On 28 April we will hear from Adam Whelchel (The Nature Conservancy) and Bill Hyatt (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection) on climate change adaptation and conservation planning for the state of Connecticut.

The course is required for students in the EEB BS/MS program, but is open to all graduate students. A few senior (and occasionally junior) undergraduates also take the course every year. Post-docs, adjuncts, and (even) faculty are welcome to join in the fun.


This semester's schedule is posted below. Two students will lead the discussion each week (see next section for tips on leading effectively). If you have EEBedia editing rights (i.e., if you are an EEB graduate student) you can go in yourself and add readings/links for your seminar. If you do not, email David Wagner the links, pdfs, or other material that you would like to see posted.

Week Who Topic Readings Notes
Jan 28 John & Wagner IPCC Executive summary for policy makers.
Feb 4 Summer & Kelly Physical evidence for climate change; Read PNAS. Skim the other document, but make sure to read pages 6 and 7.
Feb 11 Yingying & Allie Paleo-records of climate change; Two other ancillary links:;

Feb 18 Dr. Bruce Kahn Climate change and financial risk management read executive summary and highlights of; skim - optional links: carbon counter -;; watch
Feb 25 Brigette & Jenica Biological evidence for climate change
Mar 4 Sarah R & Johanna Greenhouse gasses: sources, sinks and dynamics
Mar 18 Adam & Purbita Climate modeling and predictions of future changes Read: IPCC AR4 FAQ8.1: How Reliable Are the Models Used to Make Projections of Future Climate Change? and a poster by N.L. Rogers. Then we'll discuss a recent paper in Nature about attributing precipitation extremes. Then a response to this paper by a blog We'll discuss 1) climate models and 2) attributing change to anthropogenic activities. Like previous classes, we want to include some resources from 'climate sceptics' to keep the conversation interesting and highlight how it can be difficult to evaluate different sources of information. There are 3 (very short) required readings and 1 optional blog to read.
Mar 25 Rachel & Marilyn Climate change feedback on: oceans, atmospheric water vapor, etc.
Apr 1 Colin & Manette Climate change biotic impacts
Apr 8 Sarah B & Ben Climate change skeptics, critics and deniers
Apr 15 Kasey & Sam Climate change: economics and politics
Apr 22 Guillermo & Graz Climate change mitigation: science and policy
Apr 29 Adam Whelchel and Bill Hyatt Climate change adaptation and conservation planning

Logistical Matters

We will read papers or have presentations and discuss them in class each week. Most discussions will be led by two students.

Seminar Leaders: Prepare a seven to ten-minute overview of the subject matter. We recommend a brief PowerPoint presentation but such is not necessary. Other media are welcome as well, but again not necessary. Time your presentations beforehand so they don’t go over 10-12 minutes. Your presentations need not be exhaustive or comprehensive—-just introduce the class to major data sources, helpful graphics, or touch on matters that you think are likely to generate discussion. Feel free to return to the graphics and data in the IPCC documents and other previously visited papers and resources.

Enrolled students: John and I will work with each team of presenters to make sure that (out-of-class) reading assignments are can be completed in about 90-120 minutes. Come to class prepared to speak and contribute to each week’s discussion. Part of that preparation may mean looking over some ancillary website, reference, or engaging in other activity that will give you a unique perspective or opinion on a given subject.

Attendance: If you know that you are going to miss a class meeting, send me an email—if you miss two seminars there will be a make-up assignment.

LCD Projector: We will have an LCD projector checked out for the semester and available in the EEB office by 1:30 PM. Otherwise it will be delivered to Bamford about 5 minutes before class. If you do not have a laptop, let me know and I will bring mine.


The course is S/U and it is unusual for people to fail. But, if you hardly ever participate in the discussions, appear to have not done the readings, and/or have two unexcused absences, we will fail you.

Tips for Discussion Leaders

Your introduction should draw on the readings, but should not simply re-state what we have all read. Instead, your job as leaders is to get a discussion going. Here are some suggestions from Chris Elphick (below "I" refers to Chris).

  • Make sure that you have enough to say to keep things moving, but do not feel that you have to say everything that you have thought of or cover every idea in the readings. If the conversation is going well, just let it take its course. The worst thing that can happen is that no one says anything. The next worst thing is that the leader or just one or two students (or the two faculty) dominate the feel free to cut any off if they are talking too much.
  • In your introduction, try to synthesize the material and draw out the major points. What are the 3-5 things you'd tell your parents if you were going to explain this to them over dinner - the chances are good that these are the same things we should be focused on. Also, feel free to supplement the reading material with other information on the topic to broaden the discussion.
  • Come with a list of questions to ask (more than you think you'll need). The more specific the questions are the better, as this makes them easier for people to respond to. Consider, emailing some questions a day or two before class so that people can think about them while they are reading the materials (if you email them to Dave Wagner, he will forward them to the rest of the class).
  • Ask people what surprised them, and why. If you're not leading, think how you'd answer this question. If people complain about the readings, ask them how things could have been done better, or what needs to be done next.
  • Where possible, try to relate your topic to those we have discussed in previous weeks so that the ideas covered by the class build over the course of the semester.
  • Being purposefully provocative (even if you don't believe what you're saying) can often help to get people talking. If the material is appropriate, set the discussion up as a debate - tell half the class that they have to argue one side and the other half that they have to argue the opposite. This approach can force people to really think about the ideas and about their preconceptions. If you are going to do this, it is best to warn people ahead of time.
  • When you ask a question, give people lots of time to respond. A good rule is to (slowly) count to 10 in your head before moving on. This is because (a) it often takes people this long to formulate something to say and (b) the uncomfortable silence (and it can be excruciating) is often what it takes to get people talking. This sounds (and can feel) horrible, but it really works, and the discussions that result are much richer.
  • If no one answers a question, and there is a simple yes/no, do you agree/disagree, type answer, then ask for a show of hands - then you can focus in on individuals and ask them to explain their response.
  • Don't pick on individuals and make them comment unless you have to. But if no one says anything, then it is OK to do this. Everyone else is responsible for reading and thinking about the material too, so it should not be a surprise to them. Even though you are in charge of running things, the responsibility for maintaining a discussion lies with everyone in the room. If you think people are not engaging in the discussion enough, then it is your job to do something about it ... don't just expect us to do it for you.
  • Finally, in weeks when you are not leading, make sure that you have thought about the material enough that you can help the leader out. Come with at least 2 or 3 ideas to talk about if things get quiet. If the leader has sent out questions, actually think about them before class. And be responsible about doing the reading. If you do all this stuff, others will do the same when it's your turn to lead.

The hardest part is getting the conversation started. Once it's going, it will often run itself - and if it is doing this you should let it. I've been running seminars for a few years now, and I'm only just getting to where I realize that my job is to say as little as possible. If I talk the whole time, then I'm essentially lecturing ... and this is not a lecture format ... the goals are very different, they are to get people thinking on their feet and discussing ideas to help them learn the stuff for themselves. But, it is your job to ensure that we are not just subjected to silence.

PowerPoint: Often, it is not necessary, but sometimes it can help by putting up key talking points where everyone can see them. If there are figures that you want to ask questions about, then putting them up on a screen can be very useful. Likewise, having your questions on screen for people to refer to can help.

If you have never led a discussion in a seminar course before, or feel nervous about doing so, please talk to me beforehand. It isn't as hard as it might seem, and it's always easier if you're well prepared and know what to expect.


If you have any information related to the course (e.g., relevant news items, related web links, etc.), feel free to post it here. Please put the date first, then your name; be concise; and organize the list so that items are in reverse chronological order. For an example of the right format, check out Chris Elphick's Conservation Biology in the News site here. If you're not an EEB graduate student, then you can email items to me and I will add them, but please send them to me in the right format.

Other information

For information about EEB's Joint B.S./M.S. degree program in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology click here

For information about the Society for Conservation Biology click here

For information on jobs in conservation biology click here

For information on jobs in wildlife biology click here