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Q&A with Jessica Rowland about Climate Change and Sustainability Course

October 30, 2018 - Colton Newman

Q&A with Jessica Rowland about Climate Change and Sustainability Course

1. What is your background that has provided the knowledge you need to teach this course?

I studied paleoclimatology and climate science at the University of Arizona, where I earned my MS in geosciences. After that, I gained experience in science communication and advocacy as an intern for a DC-based earth science nonprofit. Once I began teaching in the UNM Sustainability Studies Program, my focus widened beyond the scientific realm to a more holistic approach that fully includes social and economic components. Because the urgency of addressing climate change is growing, the policy tools and solutions are too - so, the students and I are effectively on a journey of learning together this semester.

2. This is the second time you have taught this class, what was the thought behind creating it; and what, if anything, did you change from the first time you taught it?

I last taught the class in 2013, and initially created it as a way to bring together climate science, economics, and policy in one course. Most courses focus on just one of these aspects, and I wanted to integrate them in a way that would encourage students to approach climate change in a more thoughtful manner. This time around, the class has been completely redesigned with updated readings (a lot has changed over the past five years!) and more engaging assignments.

3. What kind of projects can students expect to take on while in the Climate Change and Sustainability class?

Students have two projects they are working on throughout the semester. One is a climate advocacy project, in which they connect with a local organization and make a meaningful contribution to a climate change related issue. This project allows students to devise a unique plan of engagement based on their interests and the needs of the organization. The other project is a climate policy proposal, in which students act as novice policymakers to craft a feasible piece of policy that aims to reduce the impacts of climate change. Students design a policy that integrates the scientific, economic, and policy frameworks discussed in the course and includes quantitative metrics for success.

4. What are some goals you have set for the students enrolled in this class?

I expect students to think critically about global climate change, and to evaluate a variety of strategies to address the challenge. They will develop their analytical, methodological, and communication skills to ultimately act as policy makers who communicate complex ideas and recommend specific courses of action to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

5. Out of the semesters worth of reading is there a reading that is assigned that you believe captures what you are trying to teach the best?

The August 2018 New York Times Magazine article, "Losing Earth," sheds insight into the US approach to understanding and regulating anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions during the critical decade of 1979-89. Additionally, the October 2018 IPCC special report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees C of warming by 2100 succinctly conveys the urgency of the issue and the necessity of rapid action.

6. What are some outcomes that you expect students to take away from this course?

My aim is for students to fully recognize the urgency of the problem, to be able to identify challenges and opportunities for change, and to act as fully engaged global citizens. We can and should choose to do things differently - as individuals and as societies - to ensure that future generations inherit a biodiverse planet that functions in a way similar to what we currently understand.