Environmental news is often grim.

Had a scientist in the early 1990s suggested that within 25 years a single heat wave would measurably raise sea levels, at an estimated two one-hundredths of an inch, bake the Arctic and produce Sahara-like temperatures in Paris and Berlin, the prediction would have been dismissed as alarmist. But many worst-case scenarios from that time are now realities.

As the empirical data piles up, it’s also clear that climate science is itself not up to the task of solving the climate crisis:

A recent essay in Scientific American argued that scientists “tend to underestimate the severity of threats and the rapidity with which they might unfold” and said one of the reasons was “the perceived need for consensus.” This has had severe consequences, diluting what should have been a sense of urgency and vastly understating the looming costs of adaptation and dislocation as the planet continues to warm.

The ideas in this course range across the natural sciences, social science and humanities and all help us to contextualize, understand, and address the climate crisis and other environmental challenges.

So how are we, as humans, facing the current environmental situation?

Depending on how you ask people questions about climate change, the majority still believe, incorrectly, that there is disagreement among climate scientists about the severity of the crisis:


Source: Weather is turning into big business. And that could be trouble for the public.

Source: How 19 Big-Name Corporations Plan to Make Money Off the Climate Crisis

Stoknes, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action (2015)

Distance: environmental problems are often far from us and in the future: humans are not good at dealing with the future, nor things remote from us.

Doom: framing climate warming as a disaster to be addressed by loss, cost, and sacrifice forces most people to avoid the topic: humans are loss-averse.

Dissonance: when we can’t resolve what we do with what we think; engage in symbolic but largely ineffectual activities (recycling, reusable grocery bags, etc.).

Denial: that there is a problem at all; humans do this in self-defense, believing that their livelihoods and lifestyles are being attacked.

Identity: humans seek information that strengthens existing belief and identity; identity is difficult to change; easy to be offended if you think your identity is being attacked; fear of and anger about being “controlled” by others. (82)

But you guys are not the common rabble, destined to wallow, gormlessly, in the Four Ds and an I!

What this class was (is) about: ways to approach the complexity

One) Sort out the complexity: the Approaches & Perspectives

  • Population
  • Economic market mechanisms
  • Collective action and institutions
  • Ethics and morals
  • Risk and hazards
  • Political economy
  • Social constructivism

Each of these perspectives…

  • have benefits and disadvantages
  • can serve as very specific ways to address environmental challenges
  • work well with contextualizing natural science
  • are core ideas for environmental literacy
  • …you can follow up on these ideas in future courses, projects, directed readings, etc.

Two) The Objects of Concern:

An approach to the environment that does not begin with the idea that the environment is nothing but one big bummer conflagration of problems and crises.

What motivates many of you is a desire to understand the environment and engage with it – research, advocacy, and solving environmental problems.

Find the environmental objects you are interested in, then dive in and seek to understand them in all their complexity.

Three) How To Do Something

Woven into the course is a range of skills (transferable skills!)

The Research Process: the course project

  • The chapter review: start with a broader context
  • Your values: what motivates you?
  • Focusing in on a doable idea
  • Using research resources to find relevant, viable literature and materials
  • Annotated bibliography: Critically evaluate your literature
  • Project proposal: in the form of OWU’s TPG and SIP grants
  • Present your work: communication skills

Along the way, you also learned other transferable skills

ENVS 100.2 and 400.1 Conversations: a few more skills

  • 100.2: Thinking ahead and planning your environmental efforts at OWU
  • 400.1: Assessing and reflecting on your time at OWU
  • Networking and engagement with
    • fellow students
    • campus staff (B&G, AVI, ABM)
    • campus organizations (Sustainability Task Force, Citizens Climate Lobby, E&W, Tree House, etc.)

Mostly – in sum – Do Something

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