About this course
The M.A. Program in Climate and Society is a twelve-month interdisciplinary Master of Arts program that trains professionals and academics to understand and cope with the impacts of climate variability and climate change on society and the environment. Through classes and research, students gain knowledge in both climate science as well as social sciences as they relate to climate.
Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are at the forefront of research on climate and climate applications. The M.A Program in Climate and Society combines elements of established programs in earth sciences, earth engineering, international relations, political science, sociology, and economics with unique classes in interdisciplinary applications specially designed for the program’s students.
The M.A. Program in Climate and Society is housed in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) and benefits from a partnership with the International Research Institute for Climate & Society (IRI) as well as other affiliated institutions, and is one of seven full-time Master’s programs offered by the Earth Institute.
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Applicants to the M.A. Program in Climate and Society come from a variety of backgrounds that span from the physical sciences to the social sciences. Work experience in a related field is considered desirable, but is not required. Students are chosen based on their academic background and related work experience. The General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required as part of the application.
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Every student in the Climate and Society program follows a sequence of study that includes six core courses and an internship of the student’s choice. In lieu of the internship, students may choose to complete a research internship with guidance from a faculty member.
These core courses are designed to give students a common set of skills and a shared professional working knowledge of climate dynamics on regional and global scales, statistical evaluation and decision-making and managing or adapting to climate variation, particularly in a development context.
Dynamics of Climate Variability and Change
This course aims to provide students with a practical and critical understanding of the Earth’s climate system, its variability, and our ability to predict it. The focus is on the physical processes acting in the climate system from seasonal-to-interannual variability to the long-term trends and variability associated with global change. Emphasis is placed on interpreting and understanding climate predictions and projections. We continually address the questions, “How is this modeled/quantified/predicted? and “What are the primary sources of uncertainty?”
Regional Dynamics, Climate, and Climate Impacts
The dynamics of environment and society interact with climate and can be modified through use of modern climate information. Many decisions in society are at local scales, and regional climate information considered at appropriate scales and in appropriate forms (e.g., transformed into water stress on crops) is key. By helping students build a sufficient understanding of the science behind the information, and providing examples of how the information can and is being used, this course seeks to contribute toward the wise use of climate information.
Quantitative Models of Climate–Sensitive Natural and Human Systems
This course is intended to equip students with an understanding of how climate-societal and intra-societal relationships can be evaluated and quantified using relevant data sets, statistical tools, and decision models. In addition to exercising statistical techniques, students perform simple decision model experiments and evaluate the results.
Managing Climate Variability and Adapting to Climate Change
This social science course deals with the opportunities and challenges of using climate science to reduce the negative impacts of climate variability and change on economies, societies and ecosystems. Much as improvements in medical science do not automatically translate into improvements in public health, the recent developments in climate science have been adopted very unevenly. This course uses a risk analysis framework, in which students learn to assess the impacts of climate risk, to reduce the gap between the risk perceptions of scientists and the public, to use tools to communicate climate risk effectively to the public, and to promote effective management of climate risk. This risk analysis framework conveys ideas and methods (both quantitative and qualitative) to reduce societal vulnerability and build resilience to climate variability and climate change.
Applications in Climate and Society
This seminar is focused on practical applications of climate information and research. The objective of the course is to teach students to integrate their understanding of climate science, social science, policy studies, and communications to address real world problems, especially those they will encounter in academia or on the job after graduation.
During the summer semester students complete an internship. Some students choose to complete research based internships under the guidance of a faculty adviser.
As part of the M.A. Program in Climate and Society, students must take a minimum of four electives at the 4000 level or above (one social science and four general electives) for a total of 12 credits. These electives can be taken at any of the graduate schools across the Columbia campus provided they allow cross-registration.
Below is a sample of elective classes. Note: the following electives are not offered every semester, nor is this a comprehensive list of available electives for the M.A. Program.
Business & Economics
Energy, Business and Economic Development (U6042)
Energy is a key input in economic development. This course develops the current understanding of the economic process, with a focus on the roles of energy, energy businesses and markets. Students examine development problems and policies in resource dependent economies, middle income reforming economies, low income economies and conclude with a look at the interface between economic development and environmental protection.
Economics of Sustainability Management (K4190)
This course teaches students to use an economic framework to analyze environmental decision-making. Students will be expected to understand, intelligently apply and critique basic micro-economic tools that inform environmental problems. By the end of the semester, students will be expected to use economic concepts fluently to recommend or critique actual environmental decisions. Throughout the semester, concepts and metrics from microeconomic theory, capital budgeting, game theory, information economics and risk management will be utilized.
Environmental Finance (U6235)
This course covers the theory and practice of Environmental Finance. The course assumes that students have an understanding of financial and economic concepts, especially commodity markets, project finance and investing. The course is divided into three segments; the first covers how environmental commodity markets work and how markets can be used to regulate polluting industries. The second segment covers the financing of environmental projects. The last segment covers investing in environmental markets, and socially responsible investing.
Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences (W4008)
Basic physical processes controlling atmospheric structure: thermodynamics, radiation physics and radiative transfer, principles of atmospheric dynamics, cloud processes, applications to Earth’s atmospheric general circulation, climatic variations, and the atmospheres of the other planets.
Climate Change in Africa (U6260)
This course is intended to lead participants to gain an appreciation for the complexity of the climate system, and a basic understanding of baseline observational features and physical arguments related to climate change in Africa. Participants will be expected to learn how to discern which questions we can expect science to answer, and which we cannot. But most of all, they will become familiar with an interdisciplinary approach to climate change adaptation, one that encourages the investigation of complementary perspectives, i.e. local, regional and global, derived from theory or practice, and the synthesis of knowledge from different fields of inquiry, in the physical sciences as well as in the humanities, while seeking solutions to real-world problems.
Earth’s Oceans and Atmosphere (W4930)
Overview of the stratification and circulation of Earth’s ocean and atmosphere and their governing processes: ocean-atmosphere interaction, resultant climate system, natural and anthropogenic climate change.
Carbon and Energy
Carbon Sequestration (E6212)
New technologies for capturing carbon dioxide and disposing of it away from the atmosphere. Detailed discussion of the extent of the human modifications to the natural carbon cycle, the motivation and scope of future carbon management strategies and the role of carbon sequestration. Introduction to several carbon sequestration technologies that allow for the capture and permanent disposal of carbon dioxide. Engineering issues in their implementation, economic impacts, and the environmental issues raised by the various methods.
Energy Project Finance and Valuation (U6040)
This course provides an introduction to the processes and issues involved in developing and financing a major international energy project. It examines the interests and roles of the project stakeholders: governments of the countries in which the energy is produced and consumed, project sponsors (multinational oil and gas companies, state-owned enterprises and other equity investors), lenders (public and private), local partners, and energy buyers. The course will use as a model a multi-billion dollar project in the Middle East that supplies liquefied natural gas (LNG) to South Korea, India, Europe and the United States, and will compare this project with other LNG projects as well as an international oil pipeline project and an international power project.
Urban Energy Systems and Policy (U8778)
This course examines the unique nature of energy use and planning in urban areas. As the home to significant and ever-growing rates of energy consumption, urban areas are logical candidates for energy planning efforts. Understanding how cities use energy, the institutional, market, and regulatory environment in which urban policymakers operate, and what steps cities are taking to better manage their energy use are the core topics of this course. We also will focus on energy-related business opportunities that exist in urban areas, examining the challenges such businesses face in dealing with multiple decision-makers or opinion leaders.
Adaptation and Policy
Climate Change Law (L6038)
This course begins with an overview of the causes and effects of global climate change and the methods available to control and adapt to it. We will then examine the negotiation, implementation and current status of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol. The focus will then turn to the past and proposed actions of the U.S. Congress, the executive branch and the courts, as well as regional, state and municipal efforts. The Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act will receive special attention. We will evaluate the various legal tools that are available to address climate change, including cap-and-trade schemes, carbon taxation, command-and-control regulation, litigation, securities disclosures, and voluntary action. The roles of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, nuclear power, coal, and forestry and agriculture will each receive close attention. Implications for international human rights, international trade, environmental justice, and international and intergenerational equity will be discussed. The course will conclude with examination of the special challenges posed by China, proposals for adaptation and geoengineering, and business opportunities and the role of lawyers.
Adaptation to Climate Change (U6259)
Climate change policy in recent decades has centered on two core concepts, mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere) and adaptation (coping with the impacts that these gasses have and will produce). This course concentrates on the latter. It familiarizes students with current approaches to projects and programs that promote adaptation, showing both the utility of the approaches and some of their limits. The concepts of vulnerability, resilience and adaptive capacity are studied in detail; students learn to engage critically with these concepts.
International Relations of the Environment (U6243)
This course examines issues central to the theory and practice of international environmental politics. It provides a foundation of conceptual frameworks and factual knowledge important for individuals planning work in this or related fields. Readings, lectures and discussion address many issues but we focus on factors that contribute to or impede the creation and implementation of effective international environmental policy. The environment has become an important issue in international relations and, as the class progresses, international negotiations will take place within several global environmental regimes. We will incorporate such current developments into the class whenever possible. The course will consist of four interrelated sections: (1) The Process and Difficulty of Creating and Implementing Effective International Environmental Policy; (2) The Setting for International Environmental Politics: Issues, Trends, Law, and Actors; (3) Issues in Creating Effective Environmental Policy and Regimes; and (4) The Future of Global Ecopolitics.
Sustainability Management (K4100)
This introductory course will begin by clearly defining what sustainability management is and determining if a sustainable economy is actually feasible. Students will learn to connect environmental protection to organizational management by exploring the technical, financial, managerial, and political challenges of effectively managing a sustainable environment and economy. This course is taught in a case-based format and will seek to help students learn the basics of management, environmental policy and sustainability economics.
Environmental Science for Sustainable Development (U6240)
The Earth’s systems are experiencing dramatic changes that bring into question the sustainability of our planet. Essential to addressing these changes is an understanding of the functioning of the Earth’s systems. This course provides fundamental knowledge of the topics within the natural sciences that are critical to address the issues of sustainable development. The interactions between the natural and human environment are complex and interconnected. A strong understanding of the functioning of Earth’s processes is essential to addressing sustainable development challenges.
Global Food Systems (U6411)
Introduces and explores systems of producing and ensuring equitable access to food. The course begins with an overview of the core bio-physical elements of food production: land and soil, water and biodiversity. The course then surveys a selection of important smallholder farming systems that provide food and livelihoods for more than two billion people on the planet. Building on this understanding, students will examine the underlying history, science and impact of the Asian Green Revolution that doubled global food supplies between 1970 and 1995. Country case studies from Asia and Africa will be examined to understand the roles of science, policies, politics, institutions and economics in advancing agriculture and food security.
Urban Policy and Development
Critical Issues in Urban Public Policy (U4260)
This course is designed to prepare future policymakers to critically analyze and evaluate key urban policy issues in New York. It is unique in offering exposure to both practical leadership experience and urban affairs scholarship that will equip students to meet the challenges that face urban areas. Students will read academic articles and chapters from books dealing with urban politics and policy, and will hear from an exciting array of guest lecturers from the governmental, not-for-profit, and private sectors. Drawing from my experiences as former Mayor of New York City, I will lay out the basic elements of urban government and policymaking, emphasizing the most important demographic, economic, and political trends facing urban areas.
Urban Energy Systems and Policy (U8778)
This course examines the unique nature of energy use and planning in urban areas. As the home to significant and ever growing rates of energy consumption, urban areas are logical candidates for energy planning efforts. Understanding how cities use energy; the institutional, market, and regulatory environment in which urban policymakers operate; and what steps cities are taking to better manage their energy use are the core topics of this course. We also will focus on energy-related business opportunities that exist in urban areas, examining the challenges such businesses face in dealing with multiple decision-makers or opinion leaders.
Seminar In Urban Politics and Policy (U8232)
All public policy occurs within a political context. The purpose of this seminar is to examine the politics of America’s large cities. While we rely on case material from American cities the theoretical and applied problems we consider are relevant to understanding public policy in any global city. Cities are not legal entities defined in the American Constitution. Yet, historically they have developed a political process that at once seems archetypically American and strangely foreign. We will consider whether America’s traditional institutions of representation “work” for urban America; how the city functions within our federal system; and whether neighborhood democracy is a meaningful construct. We will also consider the impact of politics on urban policymaking. Can cities solve the myriad problems of their populations under existing institutional arrangements? Are cities really rebounding economically or does a crisis remain in communities beyond the resurgence in many downtown business districts? Do the economic and social factors which impact urban politics and policy delimit the city’s capacity to find and implement solutions to their problems? Finally, can urban politics be structured to make cities places where working and middle class people choose to live and work and businesses choose to locate; the ultimate test of their viability in the twenty first century.
GIS for International Studies (U6275)
This course is designed to provide students with a comprehensive overview of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and remote sensing technologies as they are used in a variety of social and environmental science applications. Through a mixture of lectures, readings, focused discussions, and hands-on exercises, students will acquire an understanding of the variety and structure of spatial data and databases, gain a knowledge of the principles behind raster and vector based spatial analysis, learn basic cartographic principles for producing maps that effectively communicate a message, and develop sound practices for GIS project design and management. The class will focus on the application of GIS to assist in the development, implementation and analysis of environmental and social policy and practices at the global and regional scale.
Managing Risks of Natural and Other Disasters (U6760)
The aim of this course is to provide students with insights and skills they need to respond to and manage natural and man-made disasters during their future professional careers. The course provides a conceptual framework that should allow students to develop and include policies into their future professional activities with the aim to minimize the exposure of people or entire populations to disasters and foster the populations’ disaster resilience.
Writing About Global Science for the International Media (K4180)
The course engages students through exercises and hands-on experiences that will produce feature stories and polished journalism techniques. The writing skills that the students will hone help them make science accessible to those seeking answers about nature, but who may not necessarily be science savvy. Students studying policy can use this skill set to help develop environmental policy through their ability to engage in conversation and communicate with non-scientists on environmental and scientific issues.
New Media in Development Communication (U6212)
New Media in Development Communication is an inter-disciplinary course that will introduce students to advanced concepts in communications skills and policy, with an emphasis on applicability in developing countries. The world is in the midst of simultaneous revolutions in communications technologies and the attitudinal changes brought about by the forces of globalization. The media plays an increasingly crucial part in international affairs, both in affecting and recording change. This course will give students hands-on experience with new technologies (such as Internet publication, video, and cell phones) combined with guidance in the principles of creating editorial products. It will address evolving policy issues and new challenges in development communications, such as state censorship and communications in the context of natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Special attention will be given to the challenges and opportunities of working under technologically primitive field conditions with modest resources. The course will offer occasional guest speakers who are leading figures in the field.
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How to Apply
The application requires the following supplemental information, most of which can be uploaded directly:
*In a separate document list the relevant science classes taken and the grade received
**A writing sample is NOT required
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