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New Course on Energy, Climate and Society Is a Cross-College Collaboration

Earth hands

Earth hands

The energy consumption of 21st century societies is causing the Earth’s climate to warm at an alarming rate, but our way of life is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Knowing how we came to this moment in time, where the longevity of human life on the planet is in question, is critical to solving the problem of climate change. CDS 101: Energy, Climate and Society is a new class being offered in Spring 2023 that aims to provide historical context, scientific understanding and potential paths forward to the climate crisis. 

Given the complexity of not only reducing carbon emissions, but also responding to the ways in which the climate has already begun to change, experts from across scientific disciplines must work collaboratively. Relatedly, it is important to consider how the climate crisis is manifesting itself in art, literature and social consciousness more broadly to understand how people are making sense of this threat.

CDS 101 will be co-taught by three professors from across the university. Paul Shepson, dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) and an atmospheric chemist, will provide students with the scientific foundation to understand the process of climate change and related challenges we will likely face in the future. Michael Rubenstein, associate professor of English and director of the Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences, will help students make sense of how we came to this climate impasse and its cultural representations. Christine Gilbert, assistant professor of climate communication in the School of Communication and Journalism, will teach students communication best practices and provide insight into how public discourse around climate change shapes our reality and our personal responses.

The types of questions that will be addressed in this class include: 

  • how did we become aware, culturally and scientifically, of the crisis
  • what are the cascading impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services 
  • how has climate change as a cultural phenomena been explored 
  • why is the subject of climate change divisive 
  • what is the role of art and literature in addressing the climate crisis 
  • how have we and how should we talk about climate change 
  • what can we as individuals do in response to a societal-level issue 
  • how do we address climate change 

It will explore these issues from several transdisciplinary perspectives, from climate science to chemistry to economics, to urban planning to communication to literature and film.

While CDS 101 fulfills a Stony Brook Curriculum (SBC) requirement — exploring interconnectedness (STAS) — it is meant to introduce students to the wide range of approaches to “working on” the issue of climate change. For example, some students may feel best served by exploring a physical science major or an engineering degree to be part of the technical climate solution. Others may want to explore how manifestations of the fear and anxiety related to climate change are processed in society. Still others may be interested in understanding how best to communicate about climate change to policy makers or the public. CDS 101: Energy, Climate and Society is meant to be a jumping-off point for students to gain an understanding of the wide collegiate and eventual career opportunities available to them should they wish to address the problem of our times.

For the complexity of addressing climate change is overshadowed only by the urgency of doing so.

Students who want to be reminded to sign up for this class during Spring 2023 registration may fill out this form

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