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? Smithsonian plant scientist Bert Drake hosted a free 6-part lecture series on the science and history of climate change in winter 2017 that's now completely online, with additional references and suggested reading. In the videos below, discover how we got here, how we move forward, and what it could mean for our food, our coastlines and our homes.  

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.


Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
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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.

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.

Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
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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.

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

Trouble viewing? Watch directly on YouTube.

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.

Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
Creative Commons License:
Thumbnail Image: U.S. Department of Energy

Trouble viewing? Watch directly on YouTube.

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.

Music: "Ruckus 3" by David Depper, courtesy of The Free Music Archive
Creative Commons License:
Thumbnail Image: Duncan Hall (cropped to make graffiti more visible)
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Trouble viewing? Watch directly on YouTube.

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. 

"The 'Anthropocene'" by Paul  J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer
Global Change Newsletter no. 41 (May 2000), p.17-18
Download PDF

"How long have we been in the Anthropocene?" by Paul  J. Crutzen and Will Steffen 
Climate Change no. 61 (2003)
Download PDF

"How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?" by  William F. Ruddiman 
Scientific American no. 292 (March 2005), p.43-53

"The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration" by Will Steffen, et al.
The Anthropocene Review 2015, Vol. 2(1) 81–98
DOI: 10.1177/2053019614564785 

"Was low atmospheric CO2 during the Pleistocene a limiting factor for the origin of agriculture?" by Rowan F. Sage
Global Change Biology no. 1 (April 1995), p. 93-106
DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.1995.tb00009.x

NOAA Technical Report: "Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States" (June 2014)
Download PDF

"Plant responses to low CO2 of the past" by Laci M. Gerhart and Joy K. Ward
New Phytologist (2010) 188: 674–695
doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2010.03441.x

The End of Plenty:  The Race to Feed a Crowded World by Joel K. Bourne Jr.

"Food security and climate change:  Challenges to 2050 and beyond" by Gerard C. Nelson, et al.
International Food Policy Research Institute Issue Brief 66 (December 2010)
DOI: 10.2499/9780896291874
Download PDF Climate Health and Assessment: Food Safety, Nutrition, and Distribution

"Greening of the Earth and its drivers" by Zaichun Zhu, et al.
Nature Climate Change 6, 791-95 (2016)
DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3004

"Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains" by Benjamin Cook, et al.
Science Advances vol. 1 no. 1 (2015)
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400082
NASA mega-drought multimedia

"Elevated CO2 stimulates net accumulations of carbon and nitrogen in land ecosystems: A meta-analysis" by Yiqi Luo, et al.
Ecology vol. 87 no. 1 (2006), 53-56

"Nonlinear temperature effects indicate severe damages to U.S. crop yields under climate change" by Wolfram Schlenker and Michael Roberts
Proceedings of the National Academy of  Sciences, vol. 106 no. 37 (September 15, 2009)
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906865106

"Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition" by Samuel S. Myers, et al.
Nature 510, 139-142 (June 2014)
DOI: 10.1038/nature13179

"Elevated CO2 and Crop Protein Concentrations" by Daniel R. Taub, et al.
Global Change Biology vol. 14 no. 3 (2008), 565-575
DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2007.01511.x