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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Interdisciplinary panel continues climate conversation started by Klein

Exploring the role of education in a time of global uncertainty, an interdisciplinary panel and Q&A served as a follow-up to writer and climate activist Naomi Klein’s Feb.13 talk. Moderators Hannah Laga Abraham ’23 and Ivonne Serna ’23 asked five faculty members from across the disciplines — Carolyn Finney, scholar in residence in environmental affairs; Jamie McCallum, professor of sociology; James Sanchez, professor of writing & rhetoric; Kirsten Coe, professor of biology; and Tara Affolter, professor of education studies — to discuss their fields’ relevance in the midst of the climate crisis.

The event aimed to create an ongoing dialogue on environmental issues. The overarching question guiding the conversation was, “Why are we here?”

“Being at an institution that is deeply enmeshed in the systems perpetuating this crisis doesn’t give us an excuse to avoid these conversations,” Serna said. “It makes it our responsibility to have them.”

Dan Suarez, professor of environmental studies, opened the panel by asking what exactly it would mean to reform institutional pedagogy in light of the increasing severity and scope of compounding environmental changes.

Affolter and Finney both discussed the importance of intersectionality in engaging with issues of climate change.

“We first need to look at whose voices matter, who’s in the room to ask the questions, and who’s not here and why,” Affolter said. “Part of the importance of our place here is to decenter ourselves and learn to care beyond what we know and understand.”

Finney urged her colleagues and the audience to consider the history of marginalized groups    many of whom are now disproportionately affected by climate change —  in environmental discourse.

“I keep hearing the term, ‘state of emergency,’ but there are people who have been living in a state of emergency for the past 400 or 500 years,” she said.

McCallum emphasized the importance of including the sociological lens in climate change analyses. “There is a social crisis that has to do with alienation, isolation, division, and loneliness that is influencing the climate crisis,” he said.

Sanchez spoke about  the impact of rhetoric in environmental discourse.

“There’s a difference between being convinced and being persuaded,” he said. “I could be convinced that climate change is real, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to actually get out and do anything.”

Finney said that persuasion will only come by making climate change personal to everyone. She said that means finding emotional links with others who may not agree.

“If someone told me they were skeptical about climate change,” she said, “I wouldn’t ask them why  — I would ask them what they value and what they prioritize,” she said. “Skepticism from climate change arises because people have fears about something else in their lives.”

During the Q&A, the panelists responded to questions about how to move from white guilt to white accountability.

“I see moving from guilt to accountability as a personal question, but also one that can be reflected in our pedagogy,” Coe said. “I think it has to do with investigating and understanding the origins of our privilege and being interested in those questions.”