A Time to Look Forward: Wyoming Seminary Launches Climate Science and Sustainability Concentration

By Rachel Bartron and Nicole Lewis

Collective and global response to the COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on reducing the expected rate of community transmission and the burden on hospitals which has saved the lives of many, including our most vulnerable. But as the COVID-19 crisis continues, there is another very real and very frightening situation that is not going away and cannot be fixed with vaccination or antibodies and that is climate change. Eight of the last ten years have been the hottest on record with 2020 forecasted to be the hottest yet (More near-record, 2020). The sea level has risen by 21-24 centimeters (8-9 inches) in the last 140 years with the majority of that happening in the last 25 years (Lindsey, 2020). Extreme weather events are on the increase and climatic changes are altering agricultural and societal norms.

As we strive to prepare our students for an exponentially changing world, we must challenge them to think critically about global issues and the impact of human activity on our planet Earth and understand their role as global citizens. At Wyoming Seminary, we have developed a four-year program of student study called the Climate Science and Sustainability Concentration (CSSC). This program focuses on the scientific, global, atmospheric, economic, and societal implications of climate change in the present and future.

Building off of an Earth systems approach, our Lower School students have a depth of knowledge about topics such as particulate matter in the atmosphere, the sources and benefits of renewable energy, oceanic and atmospheric changes, as well as a solid grasp of global data collection. This knowledge is important and helpful as students continue to study the complex and multifaceted science of climate change in the ninth grade STEM Foundations course. With a holistic approach, students investigate ocean acidification, energy transformations, carbon sequestration, and how the use of fossil fuel disrupts the balance of carbon distribution in the Earth's crust and the atmosphere. This broad understanding of the human impact on the delicate balance of Earth's ecosystems provides a strong framework for future studies in biology, chemistry, and physics.

The CSSC program gives students the opportunity to explore environmental issues from an angle that is particularly interesting to them. All students enrolled in the program will learn climate science, but the fieldwork, internships, and research topics they pursue can be embedded in other fields. By utilizing a tailored approach for establishing their own program criteria, students will be motivated to dive deeply into the aspects of climate change that capture their personal interest. Sharing within a small peer group, and then to the community-at-large, will round out the experience by giving every student the chance to act as an expert communicating their work and by exposing students to the variety of mechanisms by which climate change and sustainability affect our lives.

Now, as the world attempts to come back from the COVID-19 crisis, is the time for students to engage in this work. Decisions being made about economic recovery can and should include a look at how climate changes can be mitigated. Historically, carbon dioxide emissions have increased following periods of decrease resulting from economic recessions (Gambrell et al., 2020); therefore, we must not be lulled into complacency based on the current positive trends in atmospheric composition. Sustainability must be part of economic recovery and, as a force for a better, more sustainable future, our students can take advantage of this program to find an interdisciplinary approach to investigate climate reform. For example, a student interested in both economics and climate change might be driven to discover the benefits of incentives that promote energy efficiency and green technologies as countries recover from economic insecurity. An internship with a government entity or a company in the renewables industry might provide a unique opportunity to explore relationships between the economy and the Earth's climate future. The CSSC program at Sem is in line with the sustainability initiatives at many colleges and universities as we all grapple with the path forward through climate changes. We believe that a deep understanding of the economic, political, and societal implications of our environmental impact and the possibility of a sustainable future are good and true stewardship of our planet.

References

Gambrell, D., Goodman, J., Kaufman, L., Millan Lombraña, L., Rathi, A., Roston, E., Shankleman, J., Tartar, A., & Kan, K. (2020, June 9). How to grow green: 26 ways to launch a clean energy future out of the pandemic recovery. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-green-stimulus-clean-energy-future/?srnd=premium#energy

Lindsey, R. (2020, November 19). Climate change: Global sea change. NOAA: Climate.gov. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level

More near-record warm years are likely on horizon NOAA study: Most of the years in next decade very likely to rank as Top 10 warmest years. (2020, February 14). NOAA: National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/projected-ranks