Educating Socially Engaged Environmental Scientists
Friday, April 3, 2009
This year, Earth Day falls on April 22, and for its 39th anniversary, the eco-minded among us will be taking stock of advancements made by the green movement, as well as the challenges that remain. “It is great news that the public has become more aware of the damage we are causing to our ecosystems, but Earth Day should also be an opportunity for us to think about the social costs associated with global warming,” says botanist Clint Springer, Ph.D., of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
“Human activities like fossil fuel combustion and land-use change have rapidly altered the global climate, and unfortunately, will continue to do so into the foreseeable future,” he says. “It is crucial that we understand how climate change affects the lives of people in vulnerable populations.”
Springer, an assistant professor of biology who studies the effects of global climate change on the physiological functioning of plants, is currently teaching “Global Change Biology: The Science and the Societal Impacts,” a course that addresses the problem on both fronts.
“This course trains graduate and advanced level undergraduate biology students not only to master the scientific and technical information necessary to understand the causes and consequences of human-induced climate change, but asks them to evaluate the potential social impacts of unsustainable activity in developed and developing nations,” notes Springer.
So far, Springer’s experience with the class has been rewarding. “I am thrilled by the students’ level of engagement in the issues,” he says. “I hoped the course would expand their knowledge of climate change, but also instill a sense of social responsibility and a call to action. Interestingly, no matter the topic, our discussions turn in the same direction each time we meet: What do we do about these problems; how can we fix them?”
Course participants are also investigating concomitant challenges created by climate change. Among them are the decrease in biodiversity and the increase in the spread of human disease, the dwindling supply of freshwater resources for the future, and many other related issues. “It’s important for them to see the cause and effect nature of the problem,” he says.