Feb 162012
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

In the political realm, the words “climate change” trigger controversy and debate. When used by politicians, they can inflame arguments and polarize voters.

But at CSU, professors are trying to peel back the political layers and hold a more academic discussion. In classes spanning 27 different departments, professors bring up climate change, sometimes as part of lectures and sometimes as a class focus.

They don’t always agree on the politics –– CSU has its skeptics –– but they generally agree climate change is happening and discussing it in a college environment is important.

Jerry Magloughlin, a professor in the department of Geosciences, brings up climate change twice in his introductory geology course: once in relation to glaciations and once as a way to discuss scientific thinking.

Magloughlin thinks that climate change is occurring, but that some aspects of it are still uncertain. In his class, he asks his students to think critically about what they hear on the topic, especially from the media.

“I’m trying to tell people to be cautious,” Magloughlin said. “If I’m trying to counter anything, it’s the perception that we’ve got it all figured out and that people should stop thinking.”

Atmospheric science professor Scott Denning teaches ATS 150, Global Climate Change, a class open to all majors which gives an introduction to the science behind climate change.

He said he thinks that climate change is a basic topic that all students should be exposed to before graduation.

“Deciding what to do about climate change is political, and it is not my place to tell people what to do,” Denning said. “Learning the basic facts about climate change is not political. People need to understand the basic science so that they can develop informed political opinions.”

Denning is a member of Changing Climates @ CSU, a group founded by English professors SueEllen Campbell and John Calderazzo which brings together diverse faculty that teach about climate change.

A list compiled by Changing Climates @ CSU shows that at least 80 faculty members have taught about climate change or are interested in teaching about it.

But is it possible to bring up such a divisive topic while staying away from politics?

Bill Gray, an outspoken climate change skeptic and professor emeritus of atmospheric science, said he thinks it is, as long as professors bring up the debates linked to the issue.

“Climate change research should be in all curriculum, but it should not be taught from one point of view,” Gray said.

When politics do come up in the classroom, current professors handle them in the context of the class. Campbell for instance, refers back to class texts asking students to compare viewpoints of the writers they examine.

Political science professor Michele Betsill, who teaches two classes involving climate change, said she tries to get her students past the black and white arguments of politicians to examine the shades of gray.

“I think many students walk into climate-related courses standing on one side or the other,” Betsill said in an email to the Collegian. “But my goal in my own classes is to help students on both sides see that things aren’t so clear cut and gain a better understanding of and respect for different perspectives.”

Overall, CSU students and faculty alike seem to want the classroom to be a place where students are encouraged to think critically.

Douglas Winter, a 32-year-old graduate student in agricultural business, said he thinks climate change should not only be discussed at CSU –– it’s an ideal place for the conversation.

“Colleges are a place where 18-to-20-year-olds are coming into their own and being exposed to new ideas. Talking about any political issue is important,” Winter said. “That’s what college campuses are for.”

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Courses that include Climate Change

HIST 355 American Environmental History
GEOL 120 Exploring Earth: Physical Geology
BUS 635 Economics for Global Business
CO 300 Writing Arguments (some sections)
PO 362 Global Environmental Politics
CON 476 Introduction to Sustainable Building
ATS 150 Global Climate Change

List courtesy of Changing Climates @ CSU. Not exhaustive.

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