STEM Classes Will Now Address Climate Change

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Agnessa Kasumyan, Staff Writer
October 17, 2013
Filed under News

With the alarming effects of climate change becoming more and more apparent, instructors are aiming to learn how to better explain the science behind the planet’s long-term changes in weather patterns and the effects these changes will have on both nature and society.

This semester, geography professor Darren Leaver is leading a series of STEM Courseware Initiative discussions to describe the causes and effects of climate change to campus instructors, aiming to prepare them for when they discuss the topic with their students.

“The real focus is to learn how to teach about climate change,” Leaver said.

Last semester, the school led a similar program focused on the conflict between religion and science. Leaver said it was about getting instructors to feel “confident and comfortable” when addressing subjects like religion, science and climate change, whereas they “shied away” in the past.

English instructor Emily Fernandez said she attends the meetings because she is interested in issues surrounding climate change and wants to gain as many resources as she can for students in her English 104 class, which is specifically focused on that topic.

Having attended three of the meetings, she has gained a better understanding about the “specifics regarding the science of climate change.”

Although natural cycles contribute to the planet’s changing climate patterns, human impacts have done a significant amount of damage. The burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas, for example, has increased the pace of the planet’s changes in weather and climate.

With scientific evidence to back up climate change and the human population’s huge role in this phenomenon, people should no longer deny human influence with a clear conscience.

According to a study published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), average global surface temperatures have risen at a rate of 0.15 degree Fahrenheit since 1901, with most of the warming having taken place during the past two decades. Atmospheric greenhouse gases, including water vapor and carbon dioxide, trap “outgoing energy” from the Earth’s surface, absorbing and retaining heat, according to policyalmanac.org.

The EPA further states that if greenhouse gases continue to be exploited, the acidity level of the oceans will increase.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that “the warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” which is evident due to increases in the global average air and ocean temperatures, the melting of polar ice caps, and rising sea levels. For example, according to the IPCC, global average sea levels increased at a rate of 1.8 percent every year between 1961 and 2003. Additionally, average arctic temperatures have doubled over the last 100 years.

Leaver said that, in addition to rising sea levels and the glaciers that have “continued to melt [in the] last fifteen 15 years,” climate change can be seen in natural patterns and migrations of certain species. For example, there are certain species of butterflies that break out of their cocoons before spring and certain animals migrate north earlier than usual.

Though climate change cannot be stopped, its effects can be minimized. Leaver says that one of the biggest fallacies is that if we begin changing our habits to reduce our carbon footprint, we’re going to stop climate change.

“Climate change is here,” Leaver said. “It’s going to be here for hundreds if not thousands of years. There is no stopping it, but what we can do is minimize what the impacts will be. Every little thing we do [not only as individuals, but as a planet] will mean that the worst case scenario is a little bit less.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States and China release the largest amount of greenhouse gases; however, only 40 percent of Americans and 30 percent of Chinese believe that climate poses a threat to their nations. In the United States, 57 percent of Democrats believe climate change in induced by humans whereas only 19 percent of Republicans are likely to claim that human activity has had an impact.

The Los Angeles Times, however, no longer accepts letters from readers who deny human impact on the environment, according to reporter Paul Thornton.

Leaver said that the government has reacted very slowly to climate change, with states that are heavily invested in the oil industry more likely to be “apprehensive to change” and perceive regulations as the government intervening in the economy. Luckily, however, he said the state of California tends to be more progressive and conscious of the environment, which influences other states to follow in its example.

“We see it all the time that people are just overall resistant to change,” he said. “Other people don’t want to face the fact that maybe the planet’s future is going to be a little different than what we see today. It’s an uncomfortable thought – maybe we get more heat waves, maybe we get more extreme cold spells, maybe we get more floods, more droughts, and some of those in the same location. People are uncomfortable with dealing with that reality.”

Another issue Leaver says has accelerated climate change is the fact that formerly poor countries have heavily increased industrial production in an attempt to equalize their standards of living to that of Americans; however, doing so has caused an increase in the burning of fossil fuels and exploitation of resources.

Americans consume more resources on a per capita basis than most populations.  Though Americans comprise about 5 percent of the world population, they consume 24 percent of the world’s energy, according to a 2008 Washington State University report.

Though attendees of the STEM dsicussion on climate change are currently only professors Leaver would like to encourage more students to participate in the meetings and fill up a classroom of about 65 seats. The meetings will continue on Oct. 23, Nov. 6, 13, 20, and Dec. 4 in LB 222.

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