Climate change is arguably the most important global challenge in the 21st century. It will reshape weather patterns, storms, sea levels, and agricultural output worldwide. Mitigating climate change will require massive economic transformations, affecting energy, transportation, and industrial sectors. What are the politics of that transformation? What are the political forces obstructing it? How do social movements, institutions, and economic interests interact to shape the national and global response to climate change? This course offers answers and insights, primarily from the perspective of political science. It also draws on knowledge from other disciplines.
This is an engaged scholars course that offers an introduction to contemporary environmental issues. We explore the relationships between human societies and the non-human environment through a survey of topical cases, including: human population growth and consumption, global climate change, toxins, waste streams, water resources, environmental justice and ethics, and agro-food systems. This course also analyzes various solutions—social, political, technical, and economic—put forth by institutions and individuals to address questions of environmental sustainability. Each student must also sign up for a 90-minute weekly engaged scholar lab during the second week of class. Each lab will partner with a community organization to complete an engaged, environmental project.
Scholars in many disciplines have begun using the term the Anthropocene to signal a geological epoch defined by human activity. This seminar examines the Anthropocene idea from the perspective of environmental history. What activities might have changed the planet – the use of fire thousands of years ago, or agriculture, or fossil fuels? Is the Anthropocene another term for climate change, or does it include pollution and extinction? Is it a useful concept? Drawing on anthropology and the sciences as well as history, we will use the Anthropocene to think through environmental change and the human relationship with the non-human world.
We know what causes climate change and we know what to do about it—yet it seems we only keep making it worse. Our climate stalemate suggests we need to look critically at the dominant responses to climate change so as to identify: why they have become commonsensical yet ineffectual or unrealizable; and why other responses remain silenced or unexplored. Such a lens impels us to reconsider silver-bullet “solutions” while creating space for views marginalized by exploitative, racist, patriarchal, and anthropocentric systems. Toward these ends, this course will prepare students to reconceptualize climate change and reimagine our responses to it.