New course to focus on climate change

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You can’t use natural cycles as a way to say that we don’t need to do anything, because the earth is doing it to itself and therefore there is no issue.”


The impact of global increases of carbon dioxide due to fossil fuel use, and increases of methane and nitrous oxide due to agriculture is the primary factor that many scientists believe could change the ecology and climate of the earth for millennia. In the spring semester of 2014, a new course on global climate change will begin for environmental science majors to increase environmental literacy in the Johnson State College community.

Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences Tania Bacchus has been studying global climate change for more than 20 years, and that has been her field of expertise. After discussions about changing requirements for the environmental science major, Bacchus felt that it was time to introduce a new course.

“Every few years we kind of look at where we are, what we’re offering and how relevant it is to jobs students might get when they graduate,” she said. “It’s sort of part of a program review.”

Bacchus said that to start the new class off, she wants students to understand what the current debate is first by looking at how the earth undergoes climate change without people.

That is where she started her work in 1990. The first project that Bacchus was involved in looked at how the earth’s climate changed after the last ice ages. Her team looked specifically at how New England changed when then-present ice started to melt. Since then they have been trying to understand the natural forces that operate over a period of time, and how that differentiates from what is happening today with human use of fossil fuels.

“You can’t use natural cycles as a way to say that we don’t need to do anything, because the earth is doing it to itself and therefore there is no issue,” said Bacchus. “That is what the skeptics of global climate change say.”

According to Bacchus we also don’t use the term “global warming” anymore, because as the climate changes, not all places get warmer. Some places in the Gulf Stream in Europe may actually get colder over the next few decades.

One of the projects students in the class will be doing will involve talking to the community and doing a survey to find out what myths are out there regarding climate change. They’ll build a questionnaire, administer it to faculty, staff, and other students, and then poll the results to see what they can do to make people more environmentally literate.

Johnson State College is also a part of a group of people working in collaboration with Vermont EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which gets a large grant from the federal government. Three of the faculty members in the Environmental and health sciences department are working with scientists from UVM, Saint Michael’s, and other institutions to deal with how climate change is going to affect Vermont, and how they can advise the legislature to help move the state forward in dealing with climate change.

At the moment, the department is planning to offer the class every other spring, but that could change due to demand for the class. Also, the first time it is offered, the class will not be available to the general college community, but just to environmental science majors.

The hope is to eventually integrate this course into the new general education program that rolls out in the fall of 2014, and at that point the only prerequisite will be to take Earth Science. If it does become a general education class, Bacchus believes that it will fit very well under the sub-heading of global perspectives, and it will be offered more frequently than currently planned.

Bacchus said they have to work out all of the kinks first before opening it up to the entire community. “It’s always a good thing to test it on the major first before you offer it to a more extensive audience where, perhaps, the preparedness for a class of that nature is not where it needs to be.”

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