• University of Reading

Our Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future

Find out more about the climate of the past and how climate change can present a number of risks and opportunities.

15,162 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    5 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Since early humans first moved out of Africa, the world’s climate has had a continual impact on our history. Now, the climate itself is being shaped by civilisation.

This free online course from the University of Reading will take you on this fascinating journey through time. Over five weeks, we’ll explore how climate shapes the way we live, the food we eat, the water we drink and the cities we live in.

From the fundamental science of the atmosphere to the social, economic and political consequences of climate change, our expert archaeologists, scientists, geographers and engineers will guide you.

We’ll start with an overview of the climatic system, how it’s changed over time and how it’s predicted to change in future. Then, we’ll focus on the impact of climate change on our lives. Finally, we’ll take a look at policy - why it’s needed, what’s been done and what’s next.

Together, we’ll find out what climate change means for you and the part we play in the climate of the future. Looking back, we’ll see examples of inspiring innovation and resilience, and ask: can our ingenuity see us through the challenges that lie ahead?

You can find out more in Maria Noguer’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “2015: a pivotal year for creating a resilient society”.

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What topics will you cover?

Week 1 Climate Change: Observing, Understanding and Modelling

Week 1 provided an overview of the climate system, how this has changed in the past and how it is predicted to change in the future. It presented an insight into the natural and man-made drivers of climate change and the impact that we are already seeing in the world around us.

Week 2 Climate Change and Water

Week 2 considered the connection between our fresh water, a rare and precious resource, and our changing climate. It looked at how climate change affects rainfall, flood risk and water supply in the context of other non-climatic drivers.

Week 3 Climate Change and Food

Week 3 explored how the production, access, cost and consumption of food are intimately connected with climate. It looked at the effects that climate change has on food and the contribution of the food system to climate change.

Week 4 Climate Change and Cities

Week 4 studied the inexorable pull of the cities, and their surprising vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events. However cities are also vibrant hubs of innovation, so the course considered community development examples.

Week 5 The Politics of Climate Change

Week 5 considered how people around the world, from the international level to the local community, are responding to the challenge of all times that is our changing climate.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Understand the causes of climate change in the distant past and the main drivers of climate change today.
  • Describe how climate change is impacting the world around us and the impacts that are expected in the future.
  • Assess how climate change affects our water environment.
  • Consider how our climate is affecting the production, access, cost and consumption of food.
  • Analyse how cities are affecting our climate and at the same time understand the vulnerabilities of cities to extremes of weather and climate. We will also see the role of cities as innovators.
  • Evaluate how the international climate process works and see how people are responding to the issue of climate change.

Who is the course for?

You don’t need any previous experience or qualifications to take part in this course.

Who will you learn with?

I'm a climate scientist at the University of Reading's Walker Institute, with an interest on climate policy and communication. I'm also lead educator on 'Our changing climate: past, present and future

Who developed the course?

University of Reading

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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