1 Introduction – Why Every Discipline?

“We have a responsibility as well as a tremendous opportunity to educate our students about the history, the science, the politics, and, hopefully, the opportunities for adaptation and mitigation of global climate change no matter what lies ahead”

Eric Fretz, Climate Change across the Curriculum, p. xi

It is not hyperbole to say that climate change is an existential threat to human civilization as we know it. Climate scientists agree that we have passed the point of inevitable, life-changing, warming of our planet. This is bad news, but they also agree that we can still impact how bad the news is. Communities of informed and committed individuals can, and I believe will, make the necessary changes in our way of using the Earth’s finite resources, to avoid the worst-case scenarios. That catch is that the time frame for acting is growing smaller and our future, and the future of our students, requires that we all talk about the problems and the solutions.

Climate change is a “hyperobject[1]” and a “wicked problem”[2][3]. That is, it is a problem that is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize and, for which, solutions require cooperation of people from different walks of life, governments, and self-interests. Climate change isn’t the only problem with this description and, whether we want to or not, our students and our colleagues must be prepared to address this type of problem. Thus, it can be seen as a moral imperative, certainly at least an ethical responsibility, to help advance in our students the skills and abilities to contribute to the solutions.

But doesn’t climate change belong in the science classroom? The answer to this is yes, but the answer is also that it belongs in all classrooms. As Eric Fretz lays out in the introduction to his wonderfully useful collection, Climate Change across the Curriculum[4], the reality of a climate-changed world calls into question the very assumptions of progress and advancement and forces us into a moral dilemma that our actions and inactions may lead to a death sentence for our descendants. Thus, we have duties and obligations (cue Immanuel Kant) to future generations and the liberal arts, business, and health sciences, have much to contribute to arming our students with the power to respond to this reality.

The solutions will come from math and science, as well as the tools and skills to assess the problems, but psychology and health and wellness disciplines will aid us in how we react and adapt to our changing reality. Sociology, History and Political Science will provide the lessons and structures for responding as a society and Philosophy and Ethics will help us develop the ethical system that shifts our relationship back to nature. And, of course, literature and poetry will be critical for helping us to make meaning of it all.

I hope that this resource starts the creative flow. May it help start conversations among your colleagues and provide a path for bringing climate conversations and information into each and every one of our classrooms.

  1. Morton, Timothy. 2010. The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press.
  2. Rittel, Horst WJ and Webber, Melvin M. 1973. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy Sciences 4 (2): 155–69.
  3. Kolko, Jon. 2012. Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving: A Handbook & Call to Action. ac4d.
  4. Fretz, Eric J., ed. 2016. Climate Change across the Curriculum. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.


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Resources for Teaching Climate Change Across the Curriculum Copyright © 2021 by Walter Shriner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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