Integrating Climate Science and Sustainability on a Diverse Urban Campus

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Monday, 3 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
William C. Heyniger, Kean University, Union, NJ

Integrating Climate Science and Sustainability on a Diverse Urban Campus

I. Summarize your experience at the course implementation workshop. My experience attending the 2013 Climate Studies Diversity Workshop is nothing but inspirational! Kean University is a perfect example of a diverse campus, so the workshop afforded me the opportunity to absorb different teaching methods and experiences of similar diverse campuses and educators from across the United States. What a great testament to the conference creators experience in assembling such commonality (diversity in individual campuses) yet has a global appeal. I was intrigued on how each attendee either has or will be applying the lesson learned from the workshop back at their home campus and inquired with many of them on their populations and how do they ‘apply Climate Science'? I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in discussing this topic. From the initial evening session until the concluding Friday morning, ALL of my senses were energized by the increased revelations of climate change and impacts. At the close of the workshop, I exited enlightened on the massive amounts of global research underway in Climate Science, in many different ‘variations'. The sheer volume of data being collected, researched, and utilized really put into perspective how little humans don't understand the earth's climate. My thoughts swirled on my return trip home on HOW I can apply this newly created knowledge base? The trips to every location provided unique chapters that ultimately coalesced into the broad sphere of climate science that I will never forget and am excited to share with my colleague and students. The workshop organizers greatly enhanced the future of my teaching style by inviting experienced individuals offering insightful research presentations, information, background depth and origins of climate science and ideas on how to effective exist with climate change in the near and distant future. I found these sessions especially invigorating to incorporate in my ‘version' of teaching Climate Science, and for that I was very grateful.

II. Plan for implementing AMS Climate Studies.

The B.S. in Sustainability Science program at Kean University admitted its first cohort of majors in the autumn 2010 semester. It is designed to prepare them to be critical thinking, problem-solving, change agents. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know it. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about [emphasis added].

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,

Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history…These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems…The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century.

Dolores LaChappell asked, How did we reach such a state of insanity? David Orr opined,

Nearly all discussions about the transition to a sustainable society have to do with what governments, corporations, and individuals must do. But one thing that these have in common are [sic] people who were educated in public schools, colleges, and universities. We may infer from the mismanagement of the environment throughout the century that most emerged from their association with these various educational institutions as ecological illiterates, with little knowledge of how their subsequent actions would disrupt the Earth...the ecological crisis represents, in large measure, a failure of education."

The sustainability science degree at Kean is designed to address this failure. It will do so by preparing students to answer four questions considered essential for sustainability to be realized. First, what are the unique characteristics of Earth that have allowed life to develop and evolve? Second, what specific actions/behaviors of humans are compromising those characteristics? Third, why do humans exhibit these actions/behaviors? And fourth, what must be done to correct these actions/behaviors? The AMS Climate Science course will contribute to answering the first question directly by helping students understand that the climate of Earth is one of the unique life-supporting characteristics of it. It will contribute indirectly to answering the second and fourth questions by helping students understand how human action might be affecting the climate and what corrections to their behavior are necessary. It is essential that sustainability professional not succumb to the propaganda and misperceptions that often plague the issue of climate change, which is why Climate Science and Sustainability is a required course in the program.

III. Relevant information about your college and department.

With approximately 17,000 students, Kean University is the third largest university in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation. It has been identified as having the 5th most culturally diverse student population in the nation. The Center for Sustainability Studies was formed in 2011 as the academic home for the sustainability science degree. Currently, there are 40 majors in the program.