Making Sense of Climate Change: A 6-Part Series

Bert Drake kneels beside CO2 chamber
Bert Drake kneels beside a CO2 chamber in the Global Change Research Wetland. (SERC)

Despite widespread agreement among scientists, climate change has become one of the most hotly debated and perplexing issues of our time. How has one species managed to shape the Earth’s climate, and how is climate change shaping our future in return? Join Smithsonian plant scientist Bert Drake for a free 6-part lecture series on the science and history of climate change. Discover how we got here, how we move forward, and what it could mean for our food, our coastlines and our homes.  Come for any or all of these lectures. No preregistration required. (Note: You don’t have to attend the first lectures to attend later ones. All are welcome—but do you really want to wonder what you might have found out?)

Time: Tuesdays, Jan. 31 through March 7, 11am-12pm
Place:  Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Schmidt Conference Center (directions)
Speaker: Dr. Bert Drake
Cost: Free

Bert Drake is an emeritus scientist and plant physiologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. He has spent more than 40 years tracking how plants respond to changes in temperature, water and carbon dioxide.  In 1987 he created the Global Change Research Wetland, which now houses the longest-running field experiment on plants and rising carbon dioxide in the world.

Lecture 1: "The History and Physical Science of Global Warming"
Tuesday, Jan. 31, 11am-12pm
Meet the first discoverers of human-induced climate change, and learn how greenhouse gases can cause temperature changes around the globe.
View presentation slides (PDF)


Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
Creative Commons License:

Trouble viewing? Watch directly on YouTube.

Lecture 2: "Global Warming, Rising Seas and Extreme Weather"
Tuesday, Feb. 7, 11am-12pm
Discover how rising temperatures have the power to expand seas, increase flooding, and create weather and climate extremes.
View presentation slides (Power Point)

Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
Creative Commons License:
Thumbnail Image courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Program

Trouble viewing? Watch directly on YouTube.

Lecture 3: "The Beginning of the Age of Humans: People & Climate"
Tuesday, Feb. 14, 11am-12pm
When did humans first begin to influence climate? Bert Drake looks back to humanity’s first farmers to explore the Age of the Anthropocene.
View presentation slides (PDF)

Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
Creative Commons License:

Trouble viewing? Watch directly on YouTube.

Lecture 4: "CO2, Plants and Food"
Tuesday, Feb. 21, 11am-12pm
How do plants respond to rising carbon dioxide? Learn what climate change means for the world’s food supply and its nutritional value.View presentation slides (PDF)

Lecture 5: "Controlling CO2"
Tuesday, Feb. 28, 11am-12pm
Find out how much carbon dioxide humans are producing and the various ideas for reducing it, from renewable energy to geoengineering.
View presentation slides (Power Point)

Lecture 6: "Moving Forward: Confronting Denial and the Truth About Uncertainty"
Tuesday, March 7, 11am-12pm
Why are Americans so divided in their views on climate change? In the series finale, follow the story from climate change skepticism in the 20th century to denial in the 21st.

Want to go deeper into the science and history? Click the tabs below for a list of references, multimedia and other suggested reading.


Pumphandle 2012: History of atmospheric carbon 
This silent NOAA video shows how atmospheric CO2 has risen around the globe from 1979 to 2012, and stretches the timeline to 800,000 years in the past. 
Trouble viewing?  Watch it on YouTube here: 

What's Really Warming the World? (Bloomberg infographic) 

Further Reading:

Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts and Choices. National Academy of Science 2012, Division of Earth and Life Sciences, National Research Council

The Discovery of Global Warming, Spender Weart.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Climate Change 2014 Report

Real Climate: Climate science from climate scientists

Runaway Planet: How Global Warming is Already Changing the Earth (e-book by The Washington Post)


Fourier, J. (1827). "Memoir sur les Temperateurs du Globe Terrestre et des Espaces Planetaires." Memoirs de l’Academie Royale des Sciences, 7, 569-604. In The Warming Papers.

Tyndall, J. (1861). "On the absorption and radiation of heat by gasses and vapours, and on the physical connection of radiation, absorption, and conduction. Philosophical Magazine Series 4, 22, 169-194, 273-285. In The Warming Papers.

Langley, S.P. (1890). "The temperature of the moon." Mem. of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol iv, 9th mem. p. 193.

Arrhenius, S. (1896). "On the influence of carbonic acid [CO2] in the air upon the temperature of the ground." The London, Edinburgh, Dublin magazine and Journal of Science Series 5, 41, 251.

Callendar, G. S. (1938). "The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature." Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. doi: 10.1002/qj.49706427503

Revelle, Roger, and Hans E. Suess. (1957). "Carbon Dioxide Exchange between Atmosphere and Ocean and the Question of an Increase of Atmospheric CO2 During the Past Decades." Tellus 9: 18-27.