183 Teaching Climate Change as an Upper Division Honors Class at New Mexico State University

Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Contance L. Falk, New Mexico State Univ., Las Cruces, NM

I participated in the AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project in May, 2012, with the intention of offering an upper division honors class on climate change in spring 2013 at New Mexico State University, where I have worked since 1988. I am currently the M. Eugene Sundt Honors professor at NMSU, and professor of agricultural economics and agricultural business. I have no training in physics, chemistry, geology, climatology, meteorology, or any related science. My background has been in economics and business, particularly as they pertain to agriculture. However, I have taught numerous classes on the global food system and sustainability, including classes on sustainable development, organic production, agricultural diversification, value-added marketing, financial feasibility of agricultural enterprises, urban agriculture, and travel classes to Central America. In almost all of my classes, the topic of sustainability arises and the topic of climate change always seems to at least hover in the background. During a travel class to Nicaragua in spring 2012, coffee growers noted that unseasonable downpours in the dry season were making coffee drying (on open-air patios) extremely challenging, and threatened the viability of the entire coffee sector in Nicaragua, a problem they attributed to climate change.

As part of my responsibility as the M. Eugene Sundt Honors professor, I needed to propose a course for spring 2013, and thought to offer an honors class on climate change, and the AMS training program opportunity appeared in a very timely manner. The AMS Climate Diversity training in May was overwhelming in terms of the amount of information that was completely new to me. As a result, I have spent the summer of 2012 reading climate change books by Jim Hanson, Fred Pearce, Diane Dumanoski, and others, and of course, the AMS textbook.

At this point I think that the AMS textbook is not an appropriate primary textbook for an introductory honors class on climate change, especially in a class of students from across campus. Honors classes are supposed to be mostly discussion-based, not lecture-based, and the AMS textbook as a primary textbook would not be ideal for fostering discussion. However, the text will be quite useful as a backup textbook to which students can turn for more detailed explanations for topics such as Milankovitch cycles, for example. My current thinking is that the honors class will focus on science, policy, and politics, with a heavy dose of paleoclimatology. I intend to invite guest speakers such as the state climatologist to talk about extreme weather events and a crop scientist to talk about plant response to increased temperatures. I also have a small amount of money available through the Honors College to fund guest speakers or field trips. I'd like to explore the possibility of organizing maybe a Skype session with some of the speakers that gave excellent presentations at the AMS workshop in May, such as Dr. Julie Palais and Dr. Kristen St. John. To further explore the political side of the climate challenge, the next book on my reading list is Michael Mann's account of the hockey stick controversy and climategate.

In August I will be attending the training program offered by the Climate Reality Project (which includes one full day of training with Al Gore). About 1,000 people will be in this training program, as I understand, and the opportunity will enable me to have a wider network of contacts related to climate change. I also hope to find more good books on climate history, science, and politics while at this Climate Reality training.

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