Rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, extreme flooding and worsening wildfire seasons.
The effects of global warming are apparent. The science is clear.
The climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges facing society, and one of the biggest concerns for today’s youth.
“It’s going to be a big part of their lives because they’ll be the ones responding to it,” said professor James Voogt, chair of Western University’s department of geography and environment. “But they’re energized to take action.”
A new major at Western, Climate Change and Society, aims to harness that passion and help students address the multidimensional challenges the climate crisis poses.
Housed in the geography and environment department, the module connects many existing courses taught in science, social science and the humanities into one integrated focus of study.
Associate professor Tony Weis led the proposal to get the new program off the ground.
“We developed this module because we believe climate change is an immense civilizational challenge, and something universities have a responsibility to teach not only in individual classes, but in an integrative way,” Weis said.
A review of Ontario universities shows the program, recently approved by Western’s Senate, is unique and could attract more environmentally motivated students to Western.
The program concentrates on the human dimensions of climate change and the associated consequences, challenges and responses. The wide-ranging impact of climate change will be studied across many disciplines including anthropology, biology, economics, history, philosophy, political science and sociology.
“No one discipline has a monopoly on understanding the challenges associated with climate change,” Weis said. “Responding to those challenges will require a magnitude of societal changes relating to agriculture and food systems, energy generation, the built environment, transportation networks, uneven consumption and much more. These issues are not simply political, economic, technological, social or cultural – they’re a combination of all these things.”
The module is designed to equip students with the tools to communicate the essential aspects of climate science and think critically about how the media and popular culture convey climate change. They will learn to analyze and interpret scientific data in a variety of forms, to understand the different value systems underpinning human-environmental relations, and to navigate the politics of knowledge regarding climate change and how to arrive at scientific consensus.
“This module covers everything from individual action up to collective action and what we need to do as a society at the municipal level, the provincial level, the federal level and internationally,” Voogt said.
There is no one silver-bullet response to climate change, and Weis said it is a challenge to present the information in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
“We want to communicate the science and the associated political, economic and cultural challenges in a sober way, but also do so in a way that points towards solutions and invigorating action,” he said.