MOOC discussion group synopsis, Week 1

The World Bank is offering a four-week massive open online course (MOOC) called Warmer World: Why a 4-degree C Warmer World Must be Avoided.

Participants in the course (and non-participants, too) have gathered on the MSU campus to talk about issues related to the course.

The following is a transcript of discussion from the group on 1/31/14. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems nor of the group leader, Jamie McEvoy, but rather are a synopsis of questions and ideas raised by the group. Statements transcribed below may or may not be factual.


One of the questions we discussed is the title of the MOOC -- “Why a 4-degree C warmer world must be avoided.” Where does the 4 degrees come from? And, is that the right number to use? Some say even a 2-degree change would be devastating.

We’ve already passed the worst case scenario from IPCC 1. At some point, you can’t go back!

It’s not even possible to go to zero carbon emissions. 4 is at a place where we might be able to do something about it.

But are we better off mitigating than avoiding? “We’re going to hit 4 degrees anyway; should we do something rather than put our fingers in the dike?”

There’s disparity among how the world’s countries are reacting. Russia and Canada are net energy exporters. Some countries keep power through oil. Oil money can subsidize other humanitarian programs. Countries like the U.S., New Zealand and Australia are leaders, because they have more flexibility.

And then there’s the issue of equity -- some countries have already emitted; others need to emit to grow.

Will authoritarian regimes be better able to deal with climate change than democratic societies? They can simply dictate new responses. Legislators are elected to look at near-term problems.

Are we a society run by capitalists and economists, or scientists focused on the greater good? (Mixed reactions to this question) “People follow the money.”

Example: Chicago is planning for 50 years from now when they’ll have a climate like Baton Rouge.


We discussed the challenge of how difficult it is to convey this topic as well as to get people motivated to act. Four degrees in our body is easy to understand, but 4 degrees in a global sense is too abstract. Very few people think about geologic time; they think about today. Scientists have to be careful not to attribute a single event like a fire to climate change. Kids in New York don’t even know where an egg comes from!

If people read a report, they don’t get it. But if you show them a beaker of water, then heat it up to watch it expand, they get it!

“Climate change is not likely to hurt us as a species; we’re adaptable. But it will hurt individuals and communities. And where are the vast majority of people in the world? Coastlines!

In Montana, a lot of people are enjoying the change! In Montana, a longer growing season is good! People think, It’s so nice in Montana that we don’t realize what’s happening in the Midwest. And, if you grow grain in Alberta, a warmer climate is a good thing.

But there’s less sunshine here than there used to be. We’ve had a few bad ski years. And the winds never used to come from the southeast. Pine beetles are destroying forests. BLM reports that we may need more reservoirs -- we’re starting to get more precipitation in spring than the winter and need a way to contain it.

But the elasticity of our Montana water supply is very high. We have a very low population density relative to other places around the globe.

People in Montana are not usually impacted by natural disasters: “We’re used to weather.” (Participant referenced the week’s ice storm in Atlanta)

So how do you wrap your consciousness around a global issue? “It really doesn’t matter i Montana -- the ski lines might get longer, because Taos will be dead.”

We spent a good deal of time discussing Week 1’s emphasis on the ocean as a carbon capture source. 25 years ago, we had a pretty good handle on how much carbon was burned, but we weren’t seeing it in the atmosphere. So where the heck was it? The ocean!

One participant commented that sea level estimates are very conservative, because they were developed by a committee.

We discussed some resources from the course, the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis

IPCC, 2013

Participants commented that the summary at the very end was very helpful, as was the standard deviation graph in the video. (Also used by Steve Running in talk at Montana State University Sept. 2013




We will meet each Friday through Feb. 28 at 2pm, Room 127 EPS Building. To register for the course visit



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