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Climate change shaping environmental science education


Thursday, January 31, 2013

While the subject of climate change is controversial, many experts agree that catastrophic consequences could result from a lack of action. Many point to rising global temperatures as the cause of unpredictable and often devastating weather systems. The scientific community is examining ways to reverse this situation or plan for future weather-related disasters.

While employment opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are expected to grow by 17 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the emerging field of climate science could grow at a significant rate in the coming years as well. Students searching for a college or considering their choice of major may want to explore the field of climate science, as the need for skilled scientists who understand this complex subject is likely to increase.

Relatable science
Climate change is a highly complex topic. In addition to human factors such as the burning of fossil fuels and carbon footprints, the range of environmental impact also must be considered. As a result, this broad and very new field of study may be overlooked or avoided by undergraduate students. To address the shortfalls in climate science education, a professor at the University of Hawaii recently published the first college textbook focusing on climate change aimed primarily at undergraduates.

Charles Fletcher, associate dean and professor of geology and geophysics at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at University of Hawaii, Manoa, published "Climate Change: What the Science Tells Us," earlier this month. In it, Fletcher makes complex topics such as the impact of greenhouse gases, global climate models, oceanic and atmospheric processes, and weather patterns associated with climate change relatable to today's STEM undergraduates.

"Our climate is changing now in rapid and dangerous ways," said Fletcher. "But by and large, we are not teaching the current generation of students about the reality of this phenomenon."

An urgent need
Fletcher is not the only educator who is concerned about the state of climate science education. Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College in Maine, recently announced that the liberal arts college would focus all curricula at the school on climate change. In addition, the university is the first higher education institution in the U.S. to divest itself of investments in fossil fuel, which many education experts believe will become the norm in the future.

All over the country, students and educators are addressing the issue of climate change. For instance, Western Michigan University is currently offering a lecture series focusing on the socioeconomic and political aspects of rising global temperatures. The series is open to students and members of the public. The effects of climate change on global ecosystems and responsible environmental stewardship are among the topics for discussion.

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