Carbon: A Love Story

Schools of Public Engagement: Global, Urban, & Environmental

Liberal Arts
Undergraduate Course
Degree Students
Carbon: A Love Story
Fall 2023
Taught By: Alan McGowan
Section: A

CRN: 15863

Credits: 4

Humans started to fall in love with carbon with the discovery of fire, or rather the controlled use of fire, by our ancestor Homo Erectus during the early Stone Age, about 2.6 million years ago. It is one of our greatest innovations--try to imagine life without fire! Carbon, the essential element of organic life on earth, was the key element in all of the fuels in that fire. During the Industrial Revolution, which used carbon-based fuels to power the machines that increased the standard of living for many, we became addicted to carbon. Only recently have we realized the dangers of a carbon-based economy with its production of greenhouse gases and global heating. In this course we study carbon and our relationship to it. We first consider the distribution of carbon bonded with other elements in gases, oceans, minerals, organic materials, and much more. We also examine the vast planetary cycles of carbon in photosynthesis, animal metabolism, and the return of carbon to the atmosphere as CO2. We then trace humans' long history of carbon release through burning wood, mining peat, clear-cutting forests for agriculture, and combusting fossil fuels. Along the way we focus on processes such as Iron and Bronze age forging, Medieval deforestations, colonialism and mass extraction, the expansion of agriculture and the rise of the plantation, the arrival of the steam engine and the industrial revolution, the global explosion of energy production and the rise of the petroleum state. We will also consider the highly uneven nature of these human impacts leading to climate change, as well as current efforts by activists, scientists, planners, and policymakers to address climate injustice. In the end, the course is an effort to capture our deeply intimate relationship with this element.

College: Schools of Public Engagement (NS)

Department: Global, Urban, & Environmental (GLUE)

Campus: New York City (GV)

Course Format: Seminar (R)

Modality: In-Person

Max Enrollment: 18

Add/Drop Deadline: September 11, 2023 (Monday)

Online Withdrawal Deadline: November 19, 2023 (Sunday)

Seats Available: Yes

* Seats available but reserved for a specific population.

Status: Closed*

* Status information is updated every few minutes. The status of this course may have changed since the last update. Open seats may have restrictions that will prevent some students from registering. Updated: 7:16pm EDT 9/28/2023

Meeting Info:
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Times: 2:00pm - 3:40pm
Building: 66 5th Ave
Room: 716
Date Range: 8/28/2023 - 12/11/2023