Academic Theme 2021
Climate Reckonings, Climate Justice
We live in the Anthropocene, a name acknowledging that human activity has profoundly altered the planet with devastating impacts to its inhabitants.
Academics, business leaders and global leaders are sounding the alarm; in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. We face a direct existential threat.”
The need for a planetary-scale response has been known for over three decades. However, the complexity of these interrelated social and natural systems, in addition to entrenched interests of powerful institutions, have hobbled efforts for systemic change, particularly in the United States. Moreover, the separation between entities primarily causing these effects and the people most directly affected by climatic changes exposes the power dynamics that allow the destructive behaviors that threaten the lives of so many people worldwide to persist.
Indeed, race, socioeconomic status, gender, nationality and other systems of oppression are closely linked to who is most impacted by climate change.
To deepen our collective understanding of global climate change and to empower Whitman community members to respond meaningfully to this challenge at scales both small and large, we have adopted the academic theme “Climate Reckonings, Climate Justice” for 2021–2022.
Intended to generate a broad discussion across the Whitman community the theme will explore the different ways our intellectual traditions engage with, and respond to, the threats to our global climate and the uneven impacts of these threats across populations and places through presentations by prominent leaders, panel discussions, readings, performances and other opportunities to enhance ongoing efforts in classes and through on-campus programming.
While we contend with the notions of adaptation and mitigation as technical responses, we will also attend to the abstraction of a planet-wide threat, the specificity of local disaster, outlets for expressing our grief and insights that convert uncertainty into resolve and meaningful change.
Follow our Instagram account @whitman.academictheme, and the hashtag #ClimateReckoningsClimateJustice.
Recordings of Past Events
Cecilia Bitz, “Why Climate Action Is Needed Now: Envisioning a More Just Future”
Climate change is affecting life on Earth in multiple ways that are widespread and intensifying. Climate change disproportionately affects the oppressed, who are also often the least responsible for emitting greenhouse gases. Immediate large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to build a healthy future for us all. Clean energy is within reach, and environmental justice calls for solutions that respect all peoples and allow all of us to flourish.
This Thursday, at 7 pm, Whitman will be hosting the first public lecture tied to our Theme: Climate Reckonings, Climate Justice. The lecture is sponsored by the Walter Houser Brattain Lectureship in the sciences and will be held in person for Whitman faculty, staff and students at Maxey Auditorium. The general public is invited to watch the lecture livestreamed at https://vimeo.com/event/1277278.
Cecilia Bitz is Chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington. Prof. Bitz studies the role of sea ice in the climate system and high-latitude climate and climate change. She is the Principal Investigator on the Sea Ice Prediction Network and her team created and runs the SIPN Predictability Portal. In addition, she is involved in global coupled climate modeling. Prof. Bitz is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.
This conference celebrates the legacy of Whitman alum and Supreme Court Justice, William O Douglas, consisting of two panels (one on the environmental legacy of Douglas, one on the civil rights/civil liberties legacy of Douglas) followed by a keynote address from the Executive Director of the ACLU-WA.
Opening Remarks: Jack Jackson, Whitman College (Dept. of Politics)
Panel 1: Environmental Legacy of Justice Douglas:
- Heather Elliott, University of Alabama (School of Law)
- Adam Sowards, University of Idaho (Dept. of History)
- Renny Acheson, Whitman College Class of 2022
Panel 2: Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Legacy of Justice Douglas
- Scott Skinner-Thompson ’05, University of Colorado (School of Law)
- Marc-Tizoc González, University of New Mexico (School of Law)
- Alice Lesniak, Whitman College Class of 2022
Keynote Address: Michele Storms, ACLU-WA Executive Director
This event was sponsored by the Governor Arthur B. Langlie Fund for Northwest History, Politics and Public Service and the Robert and Mabel Groseclose Endowed Lecture Fund.
Rising Tide unfolds in a series of vignettes exploring the natural world from which we have emerged - and the human world that has emerged from us. Juxtaposing these two very different paradigms lays bare the starkly different paths before us, and the shining opportunity we have to carve a truly safe and just operating space for humanity. With an original score by composer Laura Kaminsky, the music erects within each vignette a contemplative space for the audience to process what it is we now know.
- Fry String Quartet
- Rob Davies, physicist
- Laura Kaminsky, composer
What draws a physicist specializing in quantum optics to develop a course in The Science of the Anthropocene? Climate change.
Physicist Robert Davies talks about careers in science (emphasis climate science and atmospheric physics) and about Earth System / Human System interactions. Robert Davies is professor at Utah State University and member of The Crossroads Project.
Christa Heavey, “Transportation Electrification: A Key Strategy for Decarbonization and Challenges with Implementation”
The transportation sector accounts for the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation electrification is a key strategy for addressing climate change, due to the lower emissions associated with using electricity as a fuel, especially as the penetration of renewable energy increases. However, challenges exist associated with integrating electric vehicles into the grid. Christa Heavey will discuss the opportunity for electric vehicles as a critical step for decarbonization, as well as the challenges for implementation.
A video recording of this event is available to members of the Whitman community.
Christa Heavey graduated from Whitman in 2012 with a B.A. in Mathematics-Physics, and she also holds an M.S. in Civil & Environmental Engineering (Atmosphere/Energy focus) from Stanford.
Take a look around the room that you’re in. Each item—the 2×4s that make up the walls, the flooring, the concrete foundation below your feet—has a climate impact. The construction supply chain, from raw materials to end-product manufacturing, makes up 10% of global emissions according to the World Economic Forum. How we manage building materials impacts global supply chains and can have a measurable impact on climate change. The Pacific Northwest is a leader in developing new and innovative ways to manage the climate emissions “embodied” by the materials of our built environment. Communities like Portland, Oregon are rethinking how they use and re-use building materials to support climate justice, grow their local economies, and mitigate the effects of climate change. This panel will provide an overview of the concept of embodied carbon, discuss the climate impacts of building materials, and feature an example of how the EPA, local government, and NGOs are partnering to address the impacts of climate change by centering environmental justice and community resilience.
- Kat Compton, Scientific Coordination, Outreach, and Communications and Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Whitman class of 2008)
- Theresa Blaine, Materials Management & Stewardship Team, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Shawn Wood, Construction Waste Specialist, City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
- Jackie Kirouac-Fram, Executive Director of Portland’s ReBuilding Center
A video recording of this event is available to members of the Whitman community.
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Penn State University. His Nature paper in 1998 reported the use of proxy temperature measurements to map out global average temperatures from 1400 to the present. The famous figure from this paper, the so-called hockey stick graph, shows the slowly decreasing average temperature of Earth until the end of the 1800s where the temperature makes a sudden and consistent rise to higher temperatures that has continued to this day. Dr. Mann's body of work has earned him many awards in several fields including geosciences, conservation organizations, science communication, and science education. He has been a vocal advocate for addressing climate change at the federal level.
Panel discussion: Understanding changing marine ecosystems – how do we get the science right?
Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is both warming and acidifying marine environments, and many marine biologists are working to understand how marine ecosystems are responding and will respond to these changes. Consequently, there is a growing body of robust and reliable scientific understanding of the responses of marine ecosystems to global environmental change. However, recently some prominent claims in this field have been called into question. Currently, a large group of papers claiming that rising levels of CO₂ in ocean water radically and dangerously disrupt fish behavior is under scrutiny, and there are good reasons to believe that work is unreliable. This panel will bring together three marine ecologists with different interests and experience to discuss the importance of reliable science to our understanding of how global environmental change is influencing marine ecosystems.
The three marine ecologists are:
- Dr. Dom Roche
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow hosted jointly by Carleton University (Canada) and the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland).
Dr. Roche has co-authored several papers exploring the reliability of the claims that rising CO₂ in the oceans disrupts fish behavior. One of his papers, a particularly transparent, thorough, and robust replication involving multiple coral reef fish species, was published in Nature and has been widely discussed in the media. Dr. Roche is active in the growing science reliability movement, and is on the Board of Directors of SORTEE (Society for Open, Reliable, and Transparent Ecology and Evolutionary Biology).
- Dr. Cascade Sorte
Whitman ’99. Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine.
Prof. Sorte is an expert on the effects of global environmental change in marine ecosystems. She has published extensively on the effects of climate change and rising carbon dioxide levels on the structure of marine ecosystems, on the interactions among marine organisms, and on the physiology of marine organisms.
- Dr. Alexa Fredston
Postdoctoral researcher in the department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources at Rutgers University.
Dr. Fredston is a quantitative ecologist with interests in the impacts of climate change on marine biogeography. She is also committed to the principles of open science, including transparent and reproducible workflows and open code, as means of improving the reliability of science in marine ecology and beyond.
Presented by Biology and Environmental Studies, in conjunction with the academic theme Climate Reckonings, Climate Justice.
Feb. 3: Equity in Practice
Although the scale of global climate change can be intimidating, many of the tools to mitigate its effects rely on local action. Deliberate engagement on local climate action and environmental justice can address (rather than reinforce) historical inequities in our energy, housing, and transportation systems. Community mobilization and decision-making, collaboration with local policymakers and funding partners, and equitable climate action can strengthen communities while reducing greenhouse gases. Juliana Williams (Class of 2007) and Jaimes Valdez (Class of 2003) both got their start in climate organizing at Whitman and have continued to work on local and equitable energy solutions ever since. Learn about models for inclusive climate action, tools for developing equitable, high-impact local programs, and lessons on how to maintain mental health in the face of climate change.
A video recording of this talk is available to members of the Whitman community.
Juliana Williams (she/her) graduated from Whitman in 2007 with a B.A. in Geology, and she also holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland. She currently works for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Jaimes Valdez (he/him) graduated from Whitman in 2003 with a B.A. in Physics and Environmental Studies. He currently works for the City of Portland as a manager for the Portland Clean Energy Fund.
Revitalizing Indigenous Knowledges in the Face of Climate Change
Climate change is reorganizing the ecological world upon which our social, economic and political institutions depend, yet public response in Western nations has been meager. Why have so few taken any action? This gap between awareness and action has been a central concern to climate scientists, educators, social scientists and others who believe in the necessity for democratic participation and hence seek to mobilize the public (Hulme 2009). My first book Living in Denial: Climate change, emotions and everyday life describes how privileged people collectively resist integrating information about climate change into daily life due to a desire to avoid thinking about highly disturbing information. I call this collective phenomenon the social organization of climate denial.
For the past 15 years I have been working as a consultant on natural resource policy for the Karuk Tribe in California. The cultural and emotional landscape concerning climate change is quite different in Karuk country. Not only is there virtually no traction for the “climate skeptic” frame, there is none of the handwringing or paralysis that pervades the more privileged progressive environmental community. Instead, Indigenous peoples and Native Nations can be found leading the way in climate change policy, strategy and resistance by participating in the political process, engaging in sustainable land stewardship, and being at the forefront of many climate change activism efforts. This talk blends my expertise on climate apathy with my ongoing work with the Karuk Tribe on restoring Indigenous fire, showing how the threat of climate change and awareness of climate change can be strategic opportunities for human survival by working against the disempowering language of inevitable disaster which many scholars myself included have identified as reinforcing political paralysis.
Coastal Enhanced Weathering as an emerging Negative Emission Technology
Climate change is impacting humans and the environment around the world. To meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 2°C by 2100, Negative Emission Technologies (NETs), which actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, are required. In this talk, Dr. Andrews will discuss Coastal Enhanced Weathering, a NET developed from decades-long research into chemical weathering, the Earth’s natural process for regulating atmospheric CO₂ levels. She will share results from Project Vesta’s interdisciplinary research program on Coastal Enhanced Weathering, aimed at assessing its safety, efficiency, and scale potential, updates from the world’s first field trial, and outputs from social license studies conducted with the local community at the trial site.
Dr. Grace Andrews is an aqueous geochemist who has dedicated her career to understanding the Earth’s carbon cycle and combating climate change. She works on emerging Negative Emission Technologies (NETs) which address climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. Grace currently serves as the VP of Scientific Research for Project Vesta, a public benefit corporation (PBC) conducting the R&D behind an ocean-based NET called Coastal Enhanced Weathering. As part of her academic career, Grace received her PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Northwestern University. Following that, she worked for the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation in the United Kingdom and deployed the first large-scale pilot projects of a NET called Terrestrial Enhanced Weathering.
Exploring Climate Justice in Whitman Classes
This course examines the physical principles that govern energy transformations. It will focus on the use of energy in the world, specifically its production, transportation, consumption, and the implications this use has for the environment. Topics will range from the mechanical to electricity and magnetism and from thermodynamics to atomic/nuclear physics. Energy resources both new and traditional (fuel cells versus oil) will be addressed as well as environmental issues ranging from global warming to the disposal of radioactive waste. This course assumes a basic familiarity with algebra.
GENS 176: During the last four decades, numerous scientists and repeated studies have accumulated evidence pointing out the potentially devastating aftereffects of creating energy from underground hydrocarbon resources. Weather instabilities, flooding, and wildfires of the last decade suggest these consequences are now apparent, palpable, and arriving with greater frequency and growing power. Concurrently, art and writing in genres accessible to the majority of the public illuminates messages about human-caused climate change and its damage to ecosystems and their dependent human communities. After a brief exploration of how Earth history contextualizes the evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we examine the styles and efficacy of science-focused writing asking, what makes writing about the science of climate change and its consequences effective? How can art and writing about carbon capture affect public consciousness and societal decision-making? What roles do beauty, anger, nostalgia and suffering have in effective writing?
SOC229, Spring 2022: This course explores central debates in environmental sociology, including how the environment shaped by society, how is society shaped by the environment, who controls access to environmental resources, and who is impacted by environmental hazards. The course includes a focus on environmental inequality, discussions of climate denial and climate policy, and case studies of natural resource and energy issues relevant to the climate crisis.
“Smoky Drive from Lubbock to Austin” by dingatx
ENVS/SOC353, Spring 2022: Environmental justice is one of the most important and active sites of environmental scholarship and activism in the world today. This course integrates perspectives and questions from sciences, humanities and social sciences through the examination of a series of case studies of environmental injustice in the United States and worldwide. We will focus on climate justice alongside other areas of environmental justice, and identify causes and consequences of environmental and social inequalities.
Demand Environmental Justice, image by Ricardo Levins Morales
BIOL 115: Although for many people in our society, the direct effects of climate change have only recently become evident, for close observers of the non-human world, effects of climate change have been evident for decades. In this class, students become those close observers as they practice recognizing biological patterns in the region between the Columbia River and the Blue Mountains. Students interpret their observations in light of the basic ecological and evolutionary principles they learn in the classroom. Students will finish the semester with an appreciation for how climate influences ecological and evolutionary processes, an understanding of how climate change is influencing ecosystems, and the ability to make and interpret their own observations of climate impacts on ecosystems.
GEOL 130, Spring 2022: An introductory course in meteorology designed for non-science majors with an emphasis on the weather patterns and climate of the Pacific Northwest. Topics covered include Earth’s heat budget, atmospheric stability, air masses, midlatitude cyclones, global circulation patterns and climates, and the origins of violent weather phenomena.
ENVS 300, Spring 2022: Students will learn about studies of the relationship between climate change and conflict from an interdisciplinary point of view. This course will include historical examples of the climate-conflict nexus, and conclude with the students conducting a quantitative analysis of their own. Lectures and discussion include a variety of topics relevant to the relationship between climate and conflict. Among such topics are: community violence, civil war, crime, and international war.
IDSC 150, Fall 2021: Drawing on the insights of a variety of speakers from Mali and Burkina Faso, this course will address issues in the experience of climate change in a particular locality, encouraging students to draw comparisons between their own experiences and those of speakers from a different context. It will also address intersections of climate change with issues of justice, demography, migration, conflict, cooperation, traditions, and modernity. Themes will include effects of climate change in Bandiagara District and the Sahel more broadly; the interaction of climate change, demography, and violent conflict; local adaptation initiatives and their challenges and successes; managing conflicts regarding natural resources, and the intersections of traditions and modernity with adaptation initiatives.
This course is made possible by the O’Donnell Visiting Educators (OVE) program, which is generously supported by the Ashton J. and Virginia Graham O’Donnell Endowed Chair in the Global Studies Endowment.
Climate Theme pedagogy discussion, August 19, 2021. A recording is available to members of the Whitman community.