Option 1

Academic Programmes at Oxford

Climate Change In The Anthropocene : Global Catastrophic Risk & Management

Dr Ken Addison



Unprecedented rates of rapid climate & environmental change are beyond doubt and greatly concern the international community, corporations and governments. Virtually all human activities disturb Earth's environmental systems, increasing with the size and technical prowess of human populations since later prehistory 11,700 years ago. We are now redefining the present geological epoch as the Anthropocene as a consequence of our impact on Earth's boundary layer ~ the instable envelope embracing the landsurface, atmosphere and oceans on which we and all other biological systems depend.


Global economic and political security depend on accurate scientific predictions of global environmental change, technological capacity to respond and political will to mitigate impacts. The 5th Assessment Report of the widely-respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013-14 emphasises our options for reducing environmental impacts or facing the consequences. Global financial crises from 2008 delayed timely action and the lack of a post-Kyoto accord (2012), form a core part of the contemporary debate. Current excitement over natural gas fracking, tar-sand oil and Arctic Basin marine resources (made accessible by global warming !) runs at variance with progress on carbon reduction and renewable energy and pushes us towards Dangerous Climate Change. Will international action enshrined in the 2017 Paris Climate Agreement be implemented, binding ~ and in time ?


Why have global environmental crises arisen now? What triggered dramatic increases in environmental awareness, placing environmental issues on international agendas? How can we avoid or mitigate their effects. What happens if we cannot? Answers to these questions concern students and practitioners across socio-economic, political and natural sciences. Successful Earth Systems management and socio-economic and political stability demand we understand our environmental impact. Failure by wealthy industrialised and industrialising nations to respond to environmental impacts of sustained development raises international tension, especially amongst disadvantaged and marginalised nations.



Academic Aims


The Option’s prime aim is to extend awareness and understanding of key global environmental crises facing the international community to students irrespective of their academic backgrounds. We identify the principal components and dynamics of natural environmental systems and the context of rapid natural climate and environmental changes of the continuing Quaternary ‘Ice Age’. We examine how industrial, agricultural and other activities of human societies interrupt their operation, generating environmental disturbance and change. Impacts leave tell-tale environmental signatures so an important early step is to evaluate the nature of surviving evidence for environmental impacts and changes.


Having established these cause-and-effect relationships, we examine several crucial aspects of global environmental crises, with particular perspectives from Britain and the European Union. This most heavily industrialized and populated zone on Earth, and its intensive agricultural systems, render it self-sufficient in temperate foods. It also possesses one of the longest continuous records of human occupation since the most recent world-wide glaciation. Much of the origins and consequences of rapid environmental change are found here.



Academic Programme


Key Lectures and Seminars provide a general review of the principal themes, which students then explore in more detail in Tutorial essays or seminar papers, choosing a weekly topic from the list below:


Week 1: Nature & Context of Earth’s Climate & Environmental Systems


Key Illustrated Lecture : The Landscape legacy of the Late Quaternary Ice Age in Britain

Seminar/Tutorial : Archaeology & Geology ~ environmental detectives. Scientific & documentary evidence

of environmental change in the Landscape.


Week 2: Climate Change : past & present


Key Illustrated Lecture : Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change : Science, Impacts & Mitigations

Seminar/Tutorial : Quaternary cold & temperate stages. Holocene climate ~ the past 11,600 yrs.

The Medieval Warm Epoch (c. 800-1300 CE) & Little Ice Age (c. 1350- 1850 CE).


Week 3: Global Climate Forecast to 2100 CE


Key Illustrated Lecture : IPCC Global climate change forecasts to 2100 CE. The Anthropocene.

Seminar/Tutorial : “Greenhouse”enhancement. Ocean-Icesheet response. Atmosphere-Ocean circulation.


Week 4: Landsurface Impacts of Global Climate Change


Seminar : Earth-Atmosphere interactive systems ~ thermal, hydrologic & biospheric regimes & responses.

Tutorial : Sea level change & Coastline Management. Water Resources. Agriculture & the Biosphere. River Management & Slope Instability.


Week 5: Global Risk : Securing Earth’s Environmental Future in the Anthropocene


Seminar : Environmental governance in the Anthropocene. Dangerous Climate Change at 1.5 – 2.0 degrees C


Tutorial : International environmental treaties & protocols. Greenhouse emissions. Environmental protection,

conservation & management. Sustainable Development.


Preliminary Reading


Students undoubtedly benefit from referencing some/all of these general texts reading prior to arrival in Oxford, when more detailed lists accompany Tutorial essay titles are distributed.


Smithson, P., Addison, K. & Atkinson, K., 2008, Fundamentals of the Physical Environment, (4th Edtn.)

London: Routledge (ISBN 10 0-415-39514-3)


IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: 5th Assessment Report. Working Group II ~ Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge(UK) & New York:

Cambridge University Press. Summary for Policy makers & Technical Summary (ISBN 978-1-107-64165-5)


Davies, J., 2016, The Birth of the Anthropocene, : University of California Press. (ISBN13 – 9780520289970)


Richardson, K., Steffen, W. & Liverman, D., 2011, Climate Change : Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions, Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press. (ISBN 978-0-521-19836-3)


Stern, N. 2009, A Blueprint for a Safer Planet : How to Manage Climate Change, London: The Bodley

Head. (ISBN 97818-47920-386)




© Dr Ken Addison, St.Peter's College, University of Oxford: for 2018

Courses & Options

A range of available Academic Courses and Options are available, see below, and follow the links for further information.

Intending participants select the Course of their choice and are then asked to elect to study one of its particular Options in order of preference. Most students are likely to secure their first-choice Option.

The Medieval Studies Course also has an Interdisciplinary Seminar studied by all participants, irrespective of their Option choice.


English literature

Option 1: Rediscovering Shakespeare

Option 2: Jane Austen in Text and Context

Option 3: The Inklings In Oxford (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis et al.)

Option 4: Introduction to Topics in the English Language


Option 5: Prison Literature : The Freedom of Imprisonment

Environmental studies

Option 1: Climate Change In The Anthropocene : Global Catastrophic Risk & Management

Option 2: Environmental Change & British Landscape Development 11,500 BP -1700 AD


Residential Field Programme: The Development of British Landscapes (required for Environmentalists, Medievalists; optional for others)

Medieval studies

Option 1: Conquest and Colonisation : England and her neighbours: 1016-1296

Option 2: Death, Nature and the Supernatural in Medieval Literature

Option 3: Medieval Margins: Identity and Otherness


Interdisciplinary Seminar: The Arthurian Tradition (required study taken by all Medievalists)