Last year, in the spring of 2014, I took my first sabbatical. I had just won a program award from the American Association of Colleges and Universities to complete an interdisciplinary case study on a real-world issue as a part of their STIRS (Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills) initiative. I wanted to do my project on Arctic Climate Change. So I took two intense online courses, called and emailed people who had apparently infinite patience and the requisite expertise, and ended up spending nearly ten days visiting Fairbanks, Barrow and Anchorage, Alaska. My last few posts are about that journey, which was, for me, life-changing.
But the work of the case study began afterwords. It went through expert reviews, a tough peer review process and so many edits that near the end of 2014 I despaired that it would ever be complete. It was a joy and delight to learn so much, and the subject matter was often emotionally wrenching. Without the generosity of many people who didn’t know me from Eve, especially Henry and others mentioned in my previous posts, this project would not have come to be. All interpretations and shortcomings are, of course, entirely my responsibility.
The case study, along with the 11 others that had been selected from around the US, was published this spring in 2015. It can be found on the AAC&U STIRS website. It is accompanied by a Facilitator Guide. Here is the abstract:
To Drill or Not to Drill: A Dilemma in the Context of Climate Change in the Arctic
Abstract: This dilemma/decision type case study presents a complex real-world situation to students: that of accelerated melting in the Arctic, a consequence of climate change, and its impact on local communities and the environment. The fictional but real-world-based situation calls on students to act as consultants hired by a community of Iñupiat Eskimos at the edge of the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, who wish to make an informed decision whether or not to support some combination of offshore and land-based oil and gas drilling in their area. Through readings, videos and classroom activities the students study the science and evidence for climate change in the Arctic, as well as its current and projected impacts on climate, biodiversity, culture and economy. They study the possible impacts of oil and gas drilling, economic and environmental, as well as the possibility of alternative energy. Throughout, students are encouraged to think about these interlinked issues within a complex systems framework. They then present four scenarios for the community’s consideration.
This case study gives students the tools to think scientifically about climate disruption, to evaluate the reliability of information, to interpret data, to understand where the uncertainties lie, to comprehend the barriers to action, and to begin to visualize alternatives, and perhaps their own role in shaping the world to come.
Picture Credit AP: see article here
BREAKING NEWS: This dilemma gets real this summer. Obama has controversially given permission for Shell to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic, and as I type this, the rig is moving into that ocean (see above picture that shows the rig in Seattle, surrounded by protesters). In a world where the temperature and carbon dioxide continue to rise at a rate that makes a mockery of the proposed 2C ‘safe limit,’ looking for new sources of fossil fuels in a region where government officials speak of a 75% chance of an oil spill, doesn’t seem to be the wisest thing to do.